5 things you need to know about Winter Solstice

Most of us have heard of the Winter Solstice festival that falls on Dec 22 (04:49 GMT) every year but how many of us actually know what it means and what it's about?

For those of us who are unsure, here are five points to note about the occasion:

1. It is known as the longest night of the year

This also means that the shortest day of the year falls on the Winter Solstice festival. According to Huffington Post, the days get progressively longer despite the cold winter after the winter solstice. This continues until the summer solstice in 2016.

The word "solstice" means "the sun stands still". An article on National Geographic stated that the start of winter means the sun gets ready for its steady climb towards the long and warm days of summer.

2. It is also known as 'Dongzhi'

The Chinese designate this day for family gatherings and eat traditional Chinese food together. Some of these food include tangyuan (small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour with sesame seeds and bean paste), jiaozi (ground meat wrapped into a thin piece of dough shaped as a dumpling) and Chinese radish.

This year, Chinese artist Liu Bolin had a few models painted in camouflage colours to blend in with the background of his artwork for the festival. According to Reuters, Liu said that he wants to show his concerns about China's air pollution problem through this series.

3. People all around the world celebrate it

From Europe to Asia, almost everybody celebrates this festival.

In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. Huffington Post reported that people light candles, dance around bonfires and share festive meals, or sing and pray. There are some people who also keep vigil to make sure the sun will rise again.

Sounds like a cult? Maybe a little. Pagans and some of those who believe in the subset of paganism, such as Shamanism and Druidism, also use magic and spells to channel power of divine spirits, reported English news site Sky News.

4. The Christmas tree was originally a winter solstice tree

The Druids, who were the priests of the ancient Celts, used evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during winter solstice rituals.

Decorating trees in the festive season came from the Druidic rituals and a German tradition, which according to legend was started by Martin Luther.

5. Kissing under the mistletoe originated from this festival

In Norse mythology, the mistletoe has a connotation of love and friendship, according to The Telegraph. It is understood that kissing under the mistletoe came from a folklore to do with Baldur, Thor's grandson.

A nightmare that scared Baldur sent his mother and wife scurrying to find a plant to cure him. But Baldur's mother and wife had missed the arrow of a mistletoe when they gave the plant to him, and he was eventually pierced and killed. Thus, people believe that kissing under the mistletoe reminds us not to forget our loved ones, according to Irish news site Newstalk.