The Winter Solstice – Yalda, Dharma and Pongal

Solstice is a twice-yearly astronomical event that occurs when the sun is at its highest or lowest point in the sky. Many of us may be familiar with in in terms of it’s relation to Yuletide traditions and celebrations, but that’s only a small part. The word actually derives from the Latin solstitium, which means “sun stop” Depending on which hemisphere you’re in, the solstice marks the start of summer or winter.

The winter solstice occurs at a time when the sun is at its lowest point, signifying the day of the least amount of sun of the year; ie the darkest day and why for so many it is a time of celebrating the return of the light in the days ahead.

Why is the Winter Solstice Celebrated Globally?

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and many cultures celebrate the return of the sun during this time. The Northern Hemisphere is experiencing its darkest and coldest season. After the solstice, however, the days begin to lengthen again.

For many cultures, the winter solstice was a time of celebration because it signaled the approach of warmer weather. People lit bonfires and sacrificed animals to honor the sun gods in ancient times. People around the world continue to celebrate the winter solstice in a variety of ways.

Often times we hear references of the Roman Saturnalia or familiar Yuletide traditions related to this season. But there is so much more in the world and we often overlook the diversity and richness of the celebrations across the globe.

Even food and meaning has a role, such as in China, the consumption of dumplings and rice cakes signifies a prosperous new year. In Japan, families eat soba, which is made from buckwheat, together. In this post we take a brief look at three different holidays you might not be aware of.

What is the Spiritual Significance of the Winter Solstice?

Winter is a season in which nature appears to be dormant. The trees are devoid of leaves, the ground is covered in snow, and the air is still. This silence can serve as a reminder that there is more to life than what is visible and tangible. It is a time for contemplation, introspection, and reflection.

The winter solstice is a time of light celebration for some. After months of darkness, we are reminded that there is light even on the darkest days. This light can represent possibility, love, and hope. It can serve as a reminder that no matter how dark the world may appear, there is always light to guide us.


Yalda is a Persian holiday commemorating the winter solstice and the year’s longest night. It is a time to gather with family and friends, eat seasonal fruits and nuts, and stay up all night to observe the sunrise.

Yalda is a tradition that has been celebrated in Iran for centuries and is cherished by many. The holiday is rich in symbolism and significance because it represents the triumph of light over darkness. Yalda is a time for Iranians to reflect on the previous year and look toward their future with hope and faith.

The festival dates back to the time when ancient Iranians venerated fire and water as symbols of life and light. Today, Yalda is a cherished celebration that brings people together to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Family and friends traditionally gather to partake in feasts of seasonal fruits and nuts and rice, bean, and lamb-based dishes.

Yalda has grown in popularity among Iranians in the diaspora in recent years. While many still enjoy the holiday’s traditional foods, others have begun experimenting with new recipes that reflect the diversity of their culture and heritage.

votive memorial candles

The Winter Solstice is a time for Buddhists to reflect on the Dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. The Dharma has three main categories: wisdom, ethics, and meditation.

Understanding how things are is the meaning of the first category, wisdom. This includes understanding the Four Noble Truths: that life is filled with suffering, that suffering has a cause, that suffering has an end, and that there is a path to liberation from suffering.

The second category, ethics, refers to how we conduct ourselves daily. The central tenet is compassion for all beings. We should strive to live in a manner that causes as little harm as possible and brings as much happiness into the world as possible.

Meditation, the third category, refers to introspection and reflection. This facilitates awareness and the practice of mindfulness.


Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated for four days in Tamil Nadu, India. The first day of the celebration is dedicated to the worship of the sun. On this day, farmers give thanks for a successful harvest and pray for future prosperity. Pongal celebrations consist of feasting, traditional music, dance, and bulls with elaborate decorations.

On the festival’s second day, family and friends exchange gifts and visit one another’s homes. Cows are decorated with garlands and paint and given a special meal of rice and milk on the third day. The fourth day is set aside for cleaning the home and preparing special dishes to be shared with neighbors.

Pongal coincides with Makar Sankranti, the winter solstice, and signifies the beginning of the sun’s six-month northward journey.

In all of Tamil Nadu, Pongal is celebrated with great fervor and enthusiasm. People light bonfires and burn discarded clothing and household items to mark the beginning of the new season. This time is also dedicated to the sun god, for whom people pray and prepare special treats in the shape of the sun.

Welcome In The Light

The Winter Solstice is a potent time to let go of the past and welcome the future. The Winter Solstice is a time of reflection and contemplation for many people. It is time to evaluate our lives and consider what we wish to alter.

Additionally, the Winter Solstice is a time of new beginnings. It is time to set our intentions for the coming year and sow the seeds of our future. The time has come to let go of the past and embrace the future with optimism and possibility.

The Winter Solstice is a potent reminder that we are in a constant state of change. This truth can help us flow with life rather than resist it if we accept it. When we let go of what no longer serves us, we make room in our lives for new experiences.