Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World

The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st across the Northern Hemisphere.

It documents the shortest day of the calendar year. And while enduring the longest night might feel a tad morbid—the date also signifies the glorious start of what we know to be winter.

And that’s reason enough to celebrate. Bring on all those deep-white-powder days!

Here’s a handful of the best places to take in the longest of nights, from a remote and truly dark state park to a full-fledged pagan ceremony that stretches the length of all those dark hours.

Get Pagan: Stonehenge, England

Embrace the longest night of the year, the start of winter, and the pagan rituals that mark the Winter Solstice by visiting England’s Stonehenge, where thousands of druids—and onlookers—gather each year.  Anticipate chanting, dancing around bonfires, more than a few…fantastical tales…and a renewed celebration come dawn once the sun finally rises, indicating that the Unconquered Sun still burns—the monument was constructed so that its central axis aligns perfectly with the sun that rises after that long night. Tours are even organized from London, including bus transport and exclusive access to the druid/pagan celebration.

Go Solo: Cherry Springs State Park, PA

At Cherry Springs, one of the 11 Dark-Sky Parks designated by the nonprofit, International Dark-Sky Association, you’re destined to see more than 5,000 stars in the sky (compared to the 500 or so typical to moderately light-polluted locales). Colder temps will likely keep the crowds away, meaning you should have long stretches of that night sky to yourself, especially if you opt to camp in one of the primitive spots available in the 84-acre park. But if it’s too cold to pitch a tent, you can always secure a hotel room or B&B in the quirky town of Coudersport, 15 miles away, and visit the park’s observation field for a few hours.

Start Pedaling: Solstice Chase, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

This fat-tire bike race takes place on 16 December, broken out into either 15- or 30-KM routes. And though the race takes place during the daylight, carving along the snow-packed singletrack that winds through the winter-white landscape of St. Croix Falls about 50 minutes from Minneapolis, the event culminates in a community festival celebration and a hearty embrace of winter. Considering the race starts this year at the Trap Rock Brewing Company, expect plenty of libations as well. Better still, you can participate in this winter-loving event and still find a way to celebrate Winter Solstice proper when it hits on 21 December.

Light it Up: Chinese Lantern Festival in Vancouver, Canada

This five-week celebration of Chinese culture stretches from 15 December to 21 January, and the lengthy darkness of the winter solstice makes the perfect night to take in the massive lanterns, performances, marketplaces, and food trucks in Vancouver’s Pacific National Expedition center. Beyond the stunning display of 35 lanterns, you can also watch two performances nightly, including acrobatics, folk dance, and Chinese music, as well as copious activities for the kids.

Embrace Tradition: Yule Log, Riga, Latvia

Riga refers to the winter solstice as Yule Log Eve, and celebrates the return of winter at the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum with songs, games, fortune-telling, and rituals like dragging the yule log from one homestead to the other to gather all the misfortune from the past year. Then the masked revelers set the log ablaze, burning away all negative thoughts, failures, and fears—while priming for the next year and (yes) warming their hands. Expect dancing, elaborate costumes, animal masks, lots of layers, hot tea, and crisp gingerbread biscuits.

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