Winter Solstice – Rituals Around the World

Since prehistoric times the winter solstice has inspired celebrations and rituals in cultures around the world. Written while living in Alaska, Winter Solstice, from my album Polar Suite, awarded with an artist award from the prestigious Rasmuson Foundation, captures the intensity of winter, when days are cloaked in darkness and we are inclined to reflect upon our lives. The journey of a lonesome cello which, while surrendering to the elements of the Arctic winter, is a reminder of how much landscape and emotion are intertwined. Several midwinter celebrations in western culture were derived from the pagan solstice celebrations of classical Rome. Referred to as “Saturnalia”, a celebration dedicated to Saturn, the god of time and agriculture, that was held in December. In Scandinavia the traditional festival of lights honors the early Christian St. Lucia, and merged with earlier Norse solstice traditions. This blended naturally with solstice traditions such as lighting fires to scare away spirits during the longest night of the year.

Work is incredibly evocative & well-suited for film and dance […]

Rasmuson Foundation, Anchorage, Alaska

Occurring six weeks before the Chinese New Year, the Chinese celebration of the winter solstice is called Dong Zhi (“Winter Arrives”). Dong Zhi welcomes the return of longer days and the increase in positive energy for the forthcoming year. At the winter solstice Iranians celebrate the triumph of Mithra, the Sun God. They celebrate his triumph over darkness in the ancient festival of Shab-e Yalda which translates to “Night of Birth”. In the Southern Hemisphere the winter solstice is celebrated in June. In Peru the Inti Raymi (“sun festival”) takes place on the solstice, and is dedicated to honoring Inti, the sun god.

For the Native American Zuni of New Mexico, the winter solstice signifies the beginning of the year. They mark it with fasting, prayer, and a ceremonial dance called Shalako. The Native American Hopi of northern Arizona celebrate solstice with the Soyal. The Hopi Sun Chief announces the setting of the sun on the solstice with an all-night ceremony.

In Japan, the winter solstice is a traditional practice centered around starting the new year with health and good luck. A sacred time of year for all of us to welcome the return of a sun that will nurture our souls after a long and challenging year that lies behind us.

  • Christel Veraart would like to thank Rasmuson Foundation for their generous support of this project.

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