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Discover How Six Countries Celebrate Winter and a New Year

From solstice festivals to new year’s parties, these time-honoured rituals help warm up winter

A close up photo shows five thin sesame crackers on a table

While winter days may be some of the shortest of the year, these cultures make the most of them when they gather for these celebrations.

China: Dongzhi

A spoon holds three tangyuan, yellow, green and white rice balls

Usually observed on December 21, 22 or 23, Dongzhi is an important time for families to come together and trade good wishes for the new year. The festival’s signature delicacy is tangyuan, brightly-coloured glutinous rice balls, served in broth or deep-fried. Their round shape symbolizes unity and togetherness.

Canada: Lantern Festival

Vancouver’s Secret Lantern Society has been hosting this family-friendly event since 1993, with a nod to the darkest day of the year. Taking place on December 21, attendees can usually partake in lantern-making lessons and a 600 candle-lit labyrinth. The festival’s grand finale, a fire show, is the much-anticipated highlight.

India: Lohri

Hands are shown held out towards a bowl of fire on a table

Both the harvest and the end of winter are celebrated in the the state of Punjab and other northern regions on January 13. Towering bonfires are ignited to honour the god of fire, Agni, and revellers indulge in song, dance and treats of gur rewri (sweets made from sesame seeds and jaggery).

Iran: Shab-e Yalda

Celebrated also in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, tables laden with nuts and summer’s last fruit, like watermelon and pomegranate, welcome Iranians to family dinners that mark the end of autumn and the longest night of the year on December 21. The vigil continues until dawn, during which elders often read poems from Persian poet Hafez and wishes are made by all.

Ukraine: Malanka

A person dressed in an elaborate costume made with grass and flowers stands in the street

On the night between January 13 and 14, Ukranians, as well as Russians and Belarusians,  gather to celebrate New Year—as per the Julian calendar—with parades, pranks, costumes, house-to-house carolling, food and more. The holiday gets its name from Mother Earth’s daughter, Malanka, and is also a celebration of the imminent arrival of spring.

USA: Soyal

Led by the tribal chief, the Indigenous Hopi people in Northern Arizona observe the all-night festival of Soyal with storytelling, gift-giving and purification rituals. Kachina, the protective spirits from the mountains, are also welcomed and dolls fashioned in their likeness are often crafted in advance of the celebrations.

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Image Credit: iStock.com/ajaykampani, iStock.com/Hendra Su, ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo, REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo