Winter solstice, the longest night of the year, occurs twice a year when the sun is farthest from the tilting planet's celestial equator. It transpires in the Northern Hemisphere on December 21 or 22 and in the Southern Hemisphere on June 20 or 21.
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin word solstitium, which means “the sun stands still.” Because it has reached its southernmost position as seen from Earth, the sun appears to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction. Whereas the summer solstice celebrates the beginning of warmer weather and the start of the harvest season, the winter solstice notes the last harvest and the coming of a deeper winter.
Since ancient times, cultures all over the world had certain rituals and customs meant specifically to welcome the return of the sun, as the days after the winter solstice will get longer through the rest of the year. Many of these strong traditions are celebrated by both natives as well as diaspora communities who have brought their traditions with them to other parts of the world, thereby creating a melting pot of winter solstice fetes across the globe. From more famous celebrations like those at Stonehenge to more obscure ones such as those of Native American tribes, here are some winter solstice traditions that help light the way to longer days.