Festivals of Lights

Festivals of Lights

Winter is a season of festivities. Below we have compiled a list with many of them along with books to accompany each holiday. We hope you enjoy.

Winter Solstice:

“Around December 21, the Northern Hemisphere tilts the farthest away from the Sun. This is called the northern winter solstice, and it is when we have the least amount of daylight of any time of the year. During this time, the Sun appears lowest in the sky, with the least angle to Earth, and we receive less sunlight and warmth. This is also when the days are shorter and the nights are longer” -Smithsonian Science Education Center

  • Celebrations taking place on the winter solstice:
    • Yalda
      •  an evening of festivities and merriment that begins when the sun sets on the last day of fall (last day of Maah e Azar on Jalali Calendar) and continues until the dawn of the first day of winter, or first day of Maah e Dey
      •  one of the most ancient festive ceremonies that has been celebrated in Iran for centuries since the time of the Persian Empire. Besides Iran, Yalda is celebrated in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and some ceremonies similar to Yalda are also celebrated in Pakistan and Northern India at about the same time of the year. By tradition Iranians gather in the homes of the elders of family on yalda night, eat, drink tea and sharbat (sweet drinks made by mixing homemade fruit syrup and water) and be merry. 
      • The main Yalda fruits are watermelon, pomegranate, persimmons, apples and pears, though other fruits such as oranges, tangerines and kiwi are also available in Iran at this time of the year. In old times the summer fruits such as watermelon, pears and apples were kept from spoiling in a special cold storage called “anbar.”
    • Dongzhi Festival
      • Falling on the shortest day and the longest night of the year (either December 21 or 22), the Winter Solstice festival or Dongzhi Festival (冬至, Dōngzhì) is commonly regarded to be one of the most important Chinese festivals, and like most other Chinese festivals, is a time for families to get together, worship their ancestors, and feast on an array of traditional delicacies
      • Dongzhi roughly translates to ‘winter’s extreme’ or ‘winter’s arrival’. The festival celebrates the start of winter, with the date marking the turning point on the calendar where the days that follow start to get longer as the nights get shorter. 
      • The Winter Solstice Festival has its origins in the Chinese concept of yin and yang, an ancient symbol of harmony and balance. In Chinese culture, there is a belief that when the days are short, there is insufficient Yang energy, which is why during Dongzhi we try to consume foods that are more yang (warm) in nature to counteract the yin (cold) of winter, such as tangyuan. Other popular dishes during this time include mutton hotpot, babao porridge (also called eight-treasure porridge), and jiaozi (dumplings)



“Deepavali or Diwali is known as the “Festival of Lights” and is a Hindu holiday widely celebrated in India, in South Asia, and across the Hindu diaspora.  Diwali is a time for gathering with loved ones, celebrating life, and committing to making the right decisions in life.” -Hindu American Foundation



“Hanukkah (Chanukah) is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.  Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees’ recapture of the second Temple from the Syrian Greeks, and its rededication, marked by the kindling of lights on a menorah or chanukiah” -Chabad.org



“Created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates history, values, family, community and culture. The ideas and concepts of Kwanzaa are expressed in the Swahili language, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. The seven principles which form its core were drawn from communitarian values found throughout the African continent. Kwanzaa gets its name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” and is rooted in first fruit celebrations which are found in cultures throughout Africa both in ancient and modern times.” -National Museum of African American Culture and History


Chinese/Lunar New Year:

“Lunar New Year is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. It is the most important holiday in China, and it is also widely celebrated in South Korea, Vietnam, and countries with a significant overseas Chinese population. While the official dates encompassing the holiday vary by culture, those celebrating consider it the time of the year to reunite with immediate and extended family.” -National Museum of Asian Art



“Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many countries, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season organized around it.” -Wikipedia

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