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A Journey Into Paradise

Celebrating the Winter Solstice in Mexico,Dec. 21

20 December, 2013

In recent years,the winter solstice in Mexico has gained a large amount of international attention,thanks in large part to the end of an era as marked by the ancient Mayan calendar on this date in 2012. Although this day has passed,the winter solstice is still a great time to visit Mexico,where a variety of traditions still take place to honor this special day.

Scientifically speaking,the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere,when the northern half of the planet is tilted away from the sun,making it appear to be lower in the sky when viewed from the ground in this region. Throughout history the winter solstice has been a time of celebration marked by festivals and gatherings.

For the Mayans,as for many other cultures around the world,the solstice marked a time of renewal and looking forward to longer,warmer days ahead. Today,Mayan priests in Mexico’s popular Riviera Maya region still burn incense,chant and offer prayers in honor of this milestone,while in other areas offerings are made in the form of time capsules,or ceremonies involving traditional dance and music. This is also an excellent time of year to visit the Riviera Maya,which is home to a variety of ancient Mayan ruins and archaeological sites.

In fact,Smithsonian Magazine actually named the ruins at Chichen Itza in the Riviera Maya one of the “best places to see and celebrate the winter solstice.” Here,the sun itself plays a role in the occasion,when it rises at dawn and appears to roll up the Kukulcan pyramid’s edge before heading to its rightful place in the tropical winter sky.

Interestingly,in Mexico traditional piñatas are also linked historically to the winter solstice,which is seen to represent a time of rebirth and letting go of past wrongs. Piñatas are used in a variety of celebrations throughout the year in Mexico. These colorful hollow figures are made of crepe,tissue paper or papier-mache,which covers a clay interior that is filled with sweets. Children (and often adults!) are blindfolded and take turns hitting the piñata in an attempt to break it open and release the contents,a tradition that is tied to similar practices historically performed by indigenous peoples throughout Mexico. In an effort to accelerate conversion to Christianity,16th century Spanish missionaries linked this fun and festive practice to the concept of having faith,hope in the future and letting go of original sin.

Where would you prefer to spend the winter solstice in Mexico? Share your favorite destinations in the comments section below!

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