On the night of winter solstice, as seen from a northern sky, the three stars in Orion's Belt align with the brightest star in the eastern sky Sirius to show where the Sun will rise in the morning after winter solstice. Until this time, the Sun has exhibited since summer solstice a decreasing arc across the Southern sky. On winter solstice, the Sun ceases to decline in the sky and the length of daylight reaches its minimum for three days, during which the sun does not move on the horizon. After such a time, the Sun begins its ascent into the northern sky and days grow longer. Thus the interpretation by many cultures of a sun reborn and a return to light. This return to light is again celebrated at the vernal equinox, when the length of day equals that of night.
The fellow nested in the text is an altar dating to 1800 BCE within an astronomically aligned Monte Alto complex in Guatemala.
There are many ceremonies and holidays that concur with the Winter Solstice, with Christmas being the one that comes to mind for many of us in the western world.
Here are a few that caught my fancy from Wiki>>
n late seventh century Japan, festivities were held to celebrate the reemergence of Amaterasu or Amateras, the sun goddess of Japanese mythology, from her seclusion in a cave. Tricked by the other gods with a loud celebration, she peeks out to look and finds the image of herself in a mirror and is convinced by the other gods to return, bringing sunlight back to the universe. Requiems for the dead were held and Manzai and Shishimai were performed throughout the night, awaiting the sunrise. Aspects of this tradition have continued to this day on New Years.
The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning "hitching post of the sun" or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km. from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists. The Monte Alto culture may have also had a similar tradition.
Makara Sankranti, celebrated at the beginning of Uttarayana, is the only Hindu festival which is based on the celestial calendar rather than the lunar calendar. The zodiac having drifted from the solar calendar has caused the festival to now occur in mid-January (see precession of equinoxes). In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as the festival of Pongal. The day before Pongal, the last day of the previous year, they celebrate Bhogi. In Assam it is called Magh Bihu (the First day of Magh), in Punjab Lohri and in Maharshtra it is called Makar Sankranti and is celebrated by exchanging balls of sesame candy (Til Gul) and requesting each other to be as sweet as the candy balls for the next year. It is called Makara Sankrant because the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Capricorn on 14th January (Makar meaning Capricorn). It is celebrated with much pomp in Andhra Pradesh, where the festival is celebrated for three days and is more of a cultural festival than an auspicious day as in other parts of India. In some parts of India, the festival is celebrated by taking dips in the Ganga or another river and offering water to the Sun god. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow punya. In many countries, mainly in Gujarat, families fly kites from their roofs all day and into the night. It is a form of celebrating and welcoming the longer days. In a symbolic way, thousands of kites with different colors flying in the sky give us a feeling of the earth welcoming the brighter, warmer sky. It is also very common to feed gras to the cows on this day. In Assam on Bihu Eve or Uruka families build house-like structures called bhelaghar and separate large bhelaghar are built by the community as a whole. Different sorts of twine are tied around fruit trees. Traditionally, fuel is stolen for the final ceremony, when all the bhelaghar are burned. Their remains are then placed at the fruit trees. Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest. Since the festival is celebrated in midwinter, the foods prepared for this festival are such that they keep the body warm and give high energy. Laddu of til made with jaggery is specialty of the festival.
Mummer's Day, or "Darkie Day" as it is sometimes known, is an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration that occurs every year on December 26 and New Year's Day in Padstow, Cornwall. It was originally part of the 'pagan' heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated all over Cornwall where people would guise dance and disguise themselves by blackening up their faces or wearing masks.
Early Germans (c.500-1000) considered the Norse goddess, Hertha or Bertha to be the goddess of light, domesticity and the home. They baked yeast cakes shaped like shoes, which were called Hertha's slippers, and filled with gifts. "During the Winter Solstice houses were decked with fir and evergreens to welcome her coming. When the family and serfs were gathered to dine, a great altar of flat stones was erected and here a fire of fir boughs was laid. Hertha descended through the smoke, guiding those who were wise in saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those persons at the feast". There are also darker versions of Perchta which terrorize children along with Krampus. Many cities had practices of dramatizing the gods as characters roaming the streets. These traditions have continued in the rural regions of the Alps, and various similar traditions, such as Wren day, survived in the Celtic nations until recently.
I love this stuff.