Wednesday December 21st, 2016 is the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. If you need that further explained, check the link.
Long before the invention of electric lights, or the widespread use of oil and gas, extra darkness was kind of a big deal. Especially since it typically meant that things were going to get colder for the next few months. People dealt with this different ways; but a common reaction was to throw a party. The more lights and company the better to drive away the dark.
Not to leave anyone out, here are just a few ways the day is observed:
Saturnalia - For the Romans this day marked the celebration of the God of Time, Saturn. Originally it was just one day, but in later eras expanded to a a week long festival. During this time social norms were suspended and everyone turned to gambling, drinking, feasting, gift giving, and...other things.
Dong zhi - This is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other Asian cultures. Dongzhi is literally translated to mean ‘the extreme of winter’, and the festival is designed to celebrate the return of longer daylight hours and ultimately an increase of positive energy. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony, and this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù 復 which means ‘returning’ (of the longer days, of the light, of warmth).The Dongzhi Festival is traditionally a time for the family to get together;families in southern China often make and eat tangyuan, balls of glutinous rice, occasionally brightly coloured, cooked in a sweet or savoury broth while in northern China, people typically indulge in dumplings, either plain or stuffed with hearty meats.
Shab-e Yalda-Iranians around the world celebrate Yalda, which is one of the most ancient Persian festivals. The festival dates back to the time when a majority of Persians were followers of Zoroastrianism prior to the advent of Islam. On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.Ancient Persians believed that evil forces were dominant on the longest night of the year and that the next day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda. We have talked about Zoroastrianism before.
Shalako-Shalako is a series of dances and ceremonies conducted by the Zuni people New Mexico at the winter solstice, typically following the harvest.After fasting, prayer and observing the rising and setting of the sun for several days before the solstice, the Pekwin, or “Sun Priest” traditionally announces the exact moment of itiwanna, the rebirth of the sun, with a long, mournful call. With that signal, the rejoicing and dancing begin, as 12 kachina clowns in elaborate masks dance along with the Shalako themselves—12-foot-high effigies with bird heads, seen as messengers from the gods. After four days of dancing, new dancers are chosen for the following year, and the yearly cycle begins again.
Toji- In Japan, the winter solstice is less a festival than a traditional practice centered around starting the new year with health and good luck. It’s a particularly sacred time of the year for farmers, who welcome the return of a sun that will nurture their crops after the long, cold winter. People light bonfires to encourage the sun’s return; huge bonfires burn on Mount Fuji each December 22. A widespread practice during the winter solstice is to take warm baths scented with yuzu, a citrus fruit, which is said to ward off colds and foster good health. Many public baths and hot springs throw yuzu in the water during the winter solstice. Many Japanese people also eat kabocha squash—known in the United States as Japanese pumpkin—on the solstice, as it is thought to bring luck.