Winter solstice around the world

People walk along the Railway Reserve Walkway during the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
1 of 8MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
People walk along the Railway Reserve Walkway during the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
A symbol of Matariki flies over One Tree Hill in Auckland this morning.
2 of 8JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
A symbol of Matariki flies over One Tree Hill in Auckland this morning.
Glow in the dark butterflies lit up on the pathway of the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
3 of 8MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
Glow in the dark butterflies lit up on the pathway of the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
A couple look out over Auckland after the Matariki dawn service on One Tree Hill.
4 of 8JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
A couple look out over Auckland after the Matariki dawn service on One Tree Hill.
Nick Davidson, 14, during the fire and drumming performance at the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
5 of 8MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
Nick Davidson, 14, during the fire and drumming performance at the Matariki celebrations in Nelson.
The sun rises over Auckland following the Matariki dawn ceremony on One tree Hill.
6 of 8JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
The sun rises over Auckland following the Matariki dawn ceremony on One tree Hill.
A dawn karakia was held atop One Tree Hill or Maungakiekie to celebrate Matariki.
7 of 8JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
A dawn karakia was held atop One Tree Hill or Maungakiekie to celebrate Matariki.
Crowds gather on Auckland's One Tree Hill for the Matariki dawn service.
8 of 8JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
Crowds gather on Auckland's One Tree Hill for the Matariki dawn service.

While Matariki heralds the Maori New Year and recognises the winter solstice, other countries also have their own solstice traditions, which range from covering door posts with butter to having goat's blood sprinkled on their faces.

Many of these traditions are no longer practised, and most occur during the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice in December.

SCANDINAVIA

On the winter solstice in ancient Finland, Sweden and Norway, people would smear butter on doorposts as a sacrifice to Beiwe, the sun goddess of fertility and sanity.

Folklore states that Beiwe would travel through the sky on a structure made of reindeer bones and her worshippers would sacrifice white female animals, which they would string onto sticks and adorn with colourful ribbons.

Today, young girls and boys in Scandinavia vie to play Saint Lucia on Saint Lucia Day, which was the winter solstice on the old Julian calendar.

They wear a robe, red sash, crown of candles or lights and hand out treats to children. Lucia will also visit the elderly and hospitals, singing songs and spreading joy.

PAKISTAN

The Kalash people of Pakistan have an ancient tradition where a demigod would return to Earth to collect prayers to take back to the supreme being.

During this time, women and girls would be purified by taking baths while men would not be allowed to sit on chairs until the evening, when goat's blood would be sprinkled on their faces.

KOREA

A Korean legend holds the belief that a disobedient man, who hated red bean porridge, died during winter solstice and became an evil spirit that spreads smallpox.

It is tradition to eat red bean stew to ward off disease and to gift to those in mourning.

SOUTH AMERICA

The Inti Raymi, or festival of the sun, was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honour of the sun god.

One tradition was to tie the sun to a hitching post, one which still exists at Machu Picchu. This was done to prevent it from escaping.

The ceremony was suppressed by the Catholic Church and is now instead celebrated by street parties, which include hundreds of costumed actors recreating the ancient rite.

SLAVIC COUNTRIES

Karuchun was celebrated by Slavs on the longest night of the year, when it was believed evil spirits were the most powerful. It is believed that the sun dies out because he is defeated by the Black God.

In honour of the sun, Slavs danced a ritual chain dance, and burned fires at cemeteries to keep their dead loved ones warm.

TURKEY

The Aegean civilisations had a winter solstice tradition which would involve wine miracles, where water or juice would be left in a room overnight and turned into wine by the next morning.

It was believed to be performed by Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest. Humans, and later goats, were also sacrificed to the god.

EUROPE

Ziemassvetki was a winter festival tradition of the people of Latvia, Baltic states and Romuva.

During this festival a fire kept burning until it died, which signalled an end to the unhappiness of the previous year.

The people would then feast, but a space at the table would always be reserved for ghosts.

Carollers would also go door to door singing songs, which is still practiced today.

ANTARCTICA

Kiwis and Americans in Antarctica make the most of the winter solstice with lavish dinners and days of drinking. The solstice often marks half of their tour of duty and is recognised with parties and games.

NEW ZEALAND

Matariki is linked to the Pleiades cluster of stars and usually occurs in May or June. It is Maori New Year but also recognises the winter solstice.

One legend says that the god of the winds Tāwhirimātea became angry when the Earth mother and sky father were separated from their offspring so he hurled his eyes into the sky, forming the stars, while another pertains to Matariki being a mother surrounded by her six daughters.

Are you celebrating Matariki?

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