The winter solstice occurs today, December 21 at 6:38 p.m. EST, marking the official start of the astronomical winter and the shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere.
The winter solstice occurs at the moment when the Earth's axis is tilted the farthest away from the sun.
This year, the winter solstice is even more significant, as it coincides with a total lunar eclipse for the first time since 1638.
Many different cultures recognize the annual event through holidays, festivals, rituals and celebrations.
In Poland the ancient December solstice observance involved people showing forgiveness and sharing food.
In the northwestern corner of Pakistan, a festival called Chaomos, takes place among the Kalasha people.The only tribe in the area, who never converted to Islam, celebrate the new year with a vibrant flurry of dancing, food, chanting and prayers to the Balomain spirit. The festival lasts for days and moves throughout the valley.
Copious amounts of local brewed mulberry wine to drink as you dance in giant circles around bonfires to mesmerizing chanting accompanied by drum beats. Girls wear intricate costumes made of cowery shells, coins
and beads with heavy headwear while women paint their faces with ink.
Just before the main festival, seasonal foods are offered to the ancestral spirts and a kotik light is lit.
In Guatemala on this day, Mayan Indians honor the sun god they worshipped long before they became Christians with a dangerous ritual known as the polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”.
Three men climb on top of a 50-foot pole. As one of them beats a drum and plays a flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer.
The ancient Incas celebrated a special festival to honor the sun god at the time of the December solstice. A local group of Quecia Indians in Cusco, Peru, revived the festival in the 1950s. It is now a major festival that begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away.
So go out and start your own Winter Solstice traditions tonight!