Winter solstice: The weirdest celebrations across the world

Winter solstice: Unusual celebrations across the world

Today is the shortest day of the year

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Today (December 21) marks the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere... and there are all manner of different rituals to celebrate our darkest day.

We will only see seven hours and 49 minutes of daylight, which might sound miserable, but from now on the hours of daylight will start getting longer. So yay!


It might not seem like an obvious cause for celebration, but countries appear to disagree, judging by this collection of bizarre rituals.


The winter solstice is known as Touji and people believe they should have a hot bath with the citrus fruit yuzu in order to help protect them against colds.

But it's not just people that are now having baths, as last year a zoo created a yuzu hot tub for Japan's favourite animal, the capybara.

One of Japan's famous hot tubs, which will no doubt be full today


The country has a tomb-shaped stone called Newgrange, thought to have been in place for around 5,000 years. Archaeologists discovered that on the winter solstice light shines through a passageway as there is a window in the stone, positioned in exactly the right place.

The passageway leads to a chamber where the bones and ashes of the dead were laid to rest. So now people take part in a lottery to win a place outside the stone, where they play drums in order to greet the sun as it shines. 


Indigenous Mayans honour the sun god by going through a ritual called polo voladore, which means the flying pole dance. This involves three men climbing a 50 foot pole, one plays music whilst the other two wrap a rope around the pole which is attached to one of their feet.

The two men then jump off the pole and if they land on their feet it is taken as a sign that the daylight hours will become longer.

A bunch of 'voladores' performing their ritual


The Peruvian tradition dates back to the time of the Inca people, when up to 200 llamas would be sacrificed. The celebration included a parade of ancestral mummies from temples and shrines, as well as special dances and the burning of leaves.

Now actors go to the ruins of Cuzco, which was the capital of the Inca empire, to re-enact the tradition. They praise the sun god and do a ceremonial reading, before sacrificing just one llama. After this they play drums panpipes and horns.


In a similar way to Japan, the Chinese use the winter solstice to pray for health and guard against illness. They celebrate winter's arrival, an event known as dong zhi, by cooking food. In the south they cook glutinous rice flour balls and in the north they make dumplings.

This is supposed to symbolise harmoniousness and reunion and the day is seen to mark yang, masculine and positive energy. This means the people see it as a good day to store energy, and a good time to change their diet and avoid becoming ill.