In this material we will describe some of the most interesting and unusual traditions related to the winter solstice. We must remember that every year on December 22, the winter solstice is celebrated in the northern hemisphere, marking the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year, while in the southern hemisphere of the globe the summer solstice is celebrated with effects. conversely, the moment marking the beginning of astronomical summer.
One of the oldest sources mentioning a holiday related to this day was found in ancient times, in Mesopotamia. This event lasted 12 days and was meant to help the god Marduk to balance and control the monsters of chaos for the next year.
Also during this time of year, the day of Mithras was identified, a Persian god who was later adopted by some communities in the Roman Empire. The veneration of this god is over 4000 years old and its existence was found in both the pantheon of India and the Medo-Persian. Considering the evolution of the two peoples, the cult of Mithras departed from the religion of India, but in Persia the followers of his holy book, Avesta, multiplied even more. This god is considered as a protector and benefactor of people, a mediator between Ahura-Mazda, the god of good and paradise, and Ahriman, the god of darkness and hell. On the day of the solstice the initiates of the Mithraic cult had to recite and answer a series of symbolic questions, a tradition that has been preserved even today in the territory of Iran. Shab-e Yalda is the festival that marks the end of the short days and the defeat of darkness by the illuminated side. The translation of the word Yalda is birth, and during this ceremony the families gather, read poems and light the candles to help them wait for the end of the longest night.
Also in Europe there are some very interesting and unusual traditions related to the passage of the longest dark period of the year. One of the most famous events takes place at Stonehenge, a monument that was specially positioned to mark this date. Thousands of visitors gather at this sacred place to sing, dance, contemplate the ancient ritual of over 4000 years and wait for the sunrise that will fill them with energy. A similar holiday also takes place in Ireland at Newgrange, an ancient place over 5000 years old that has an underground passage leading to a secret room perfectly aligned with the place and time of sunrise during this period. Over 30 000 people register annually to participate in this event, but only 60 are chosen through an organized lottery.
The indigenous Hopi people of present-day northern Arizona celebrate the winter solstice as part of their religious tradition of kachina (or katsina), which are spirits representing the natural world. In the Soyal solstice ceremony, led by a tribal chief, the sun is welcomed back to its summer path with ritual dances. Gift-giving to children, prayers for the coming year, singing, and storytelling are also part of the festivities. Prayer sticks and kachina dolls are often made in preparation for the celebration.
In Central Europe there is another way to spend this night, a festival more frightening and not so fun for children. Krampus is a pre-Christian character, half demon half tap, and is the main figure in a ritual that takes place in Central Europe during the winter solstice. The purpose of Krampus is to scare people, and especially children, so that they become aware of the bad deeds done that year. His name originates with the German krampen, which means “claw,” and tradition has it that he is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church attempted to banish Krampus celebrations because of his resemblance to the devil. Many traditions have associated this character as an opposite of Saint Nicholas because they reward those good and obedient children, but we must not forget that the tradition of this ritual is older than the spread of Christianity in Europe and ancient practices have been adapted to our times.