The Winter Solstice is an event that has been recognized as a holiday across the world and nearly since the beginning of recorded time. It marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year, and is usually seen as signifying the beginning of the rebirth of the natural world. In times when nature was relied on for life and for death, people celebrated the winter solstice largely by honoring the gods they believed were responsible for the life-giving emergence of the sun. Today, there are still many ways for people to not only remember the traditions of centuries ago, but to continue to honor the natural forces that give us life.
Gather together with friends and family. In nearly every culture from across the world, the winter solstice is a time to spend with loved ones, whether it is done while feasting, dancing, singing or sitting around a fire. At the longest, darkest time of the year, it is also a time to find those who care about us the most.
Give gifts. The idea of gift-giving is one of the oldest traditions of the winter season, and many cultures used this as a way to signify the gratitude felt for the event that marked the beginning of the end of the winter season. To follow in a German tradition, fill slippers and shoes with small gifts. To follow in the footsteps of Russia, give gifts of small, white, deer-shaped cookies, considered to be good luck. Gifts were also shared between the Greek and Roman people. For many, including the Druids of England, the gifts were given to the needy in a gesture of generosity to start the new year.
Light the Yule log. The tradition originated with the Germanic and Scandanavian people. Once the Yule log is lit, it signifies the beginning of a feast that will last until the log burns out.
Feast! The feast is one of the staples in nearly all cultures who celebrate the solstice. There are a variety of food and drink that are traditionally served at each culture's solstice feast.
Tell stories. In many cultures, it is customary to tell stories, poems and tales of the previous year and even to listen to fortune-tellers predict what will happen in the upcoming year.
Take a purifying bath. Ritual bathing is a frequent occurrence in solstice celebrations and the specifics of the baths vary from culture to culture.
While there are similar themes that run throughout solstice celebrations, each culture has their own specific practices.