Winter solstice rituals in the southern hemisphere

Posted on 21 June 2019

Today we officially celebrate the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. What is the history and significance of this day though, and how do we celebrate it now?

Image: Colin Lagerwall

Derived from the latin word ‘solsititium’, solstice literally means ‘stopping sun’, and occurs twice and across both hemispheres of the earth on its tilted, rotating axis. According to National Geographic, the angle at which the earth is tilted on its axis is estimated to be at a 23.4 degree angle, at which point either the northern or southern hemisphere is pointed closest, or in our case furthest, from the sun. The solstice ushers in a new season, and the winter solstice celebrates the beginning of the return of the sun to the world as the days get progressively longer again.

There’s great hype and festivity around the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, roughly around Christmastime in the Western modern tradition.



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In the Pagan tradition, Yule is celebrated on the day of the winter solstice, generally accepted as the ‘longest day of the year’ for the shortest daytime light and longest nighttime. Celebrations include the creation and burning of a Yule log. Different trees have different symbolism, but your choice of log is decorated with evergreen plants like mistletoe or holly, and is burned in a hearth. Although Yule preceded what we know as Christmas, the Christianic celebrations are celebrated at about the same time of the year, and certain Yuletide traditions have been naturalised into Christmas celebrations. Yule logs nowadays can also take the form of a chocolate, Swiss-Roll-style cake.


The Australian Aboriginal community is thought to have been the first to celebrate the change in season with the winter solstice.



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You can join the nude solstice swim out at Canberra Lake Burley Griffin, an artificial lake at the centre of the Aussie capital. Participants strip down and plunge in the waters where temperatures skinny-dip below the zero-degree mark.



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In the Aussie island state of Tasmania, the Dark MOFO festival runs through most of June. From 6 to 23 June this year, the festival celebrates the winter solstice with cultural events and entertainment; there’s music from international artists, art exhibitions across the city at the capital, Hobart’s, galleries and performances in theatres and concert halls all over the town. Its summertime alternative is the Mona Foma festival.

New Zealand

In Māori tradition, the winter solstice was a very important day and celebrated because it signalled and commemorated the triumph of light over darkness. Commemorative events are known to take place at Aotearoa Stonehenge, a modern adaptation of Britain’s own Stonehenge, named after New Zealand in the Māori language.


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Featured image: Colin Lagerwall

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