Winter Solstice Foods from Around the World

Throughout history people have marked the longest night of the year through ritual and festivals and food has always been a huge part of winter solstice celebrations. The winter solstice is traditionally celebrated as a symbol of the changing seasons and of the Earth’s rebirth. As a result the traditional winter solstice foods accompanying it often have an emphasis on the Earth itself – incorporating nuts, berries, spices, squash, potatoes and hunted game like goose and venison.

While these traditions come from the northern hemisphere and often from countries with far worse extremes, I feel our South African winters still get cold enough to warrant a hearty winter meal to celebrate the days getting longer again. To mark this year’s solstice, I gathered some interesting information on how cultures around the world celebrate and which traditional treats they have to offer. I’ve also included a recipe for you to try out, of course.

Winter Solstice Foods

Denmark

Yule celebrations are probably the ones most of us are familiar with because they are strongly linked to traditional Christmas celebrations. Traditionally, Danes would celebrate yule by gathering together in the deepest part of winter where fires were lit to symbolise the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun and to ward off the darkness. People would feast, make merry and exchange gifts (sound familiar?) and Yule foods included festive meats, winter vegetables and colourful preserved fruits.

China

Noodles, unsurprisingly, serve as a popular winter solstice food in China. In some parts of the region the people have a saying that goes “When daylight starts to get longer, every day gets longer by the length of a thread.” To mark this change in the seasons, the noodles that are prepared for the solstice festival are called “Long Thread Noodles”. Dumpling soup is another favourite Chinese festival dish which is meant to keep away frost during the winter. Many mutton dishes and hot foods are also eaten to bring warmth to the body.

Italy

Italians are another culture that takes their solstice celebrations seriously and to honour the passing of winter, Italy celebrates the festival of St Lucia. St. Lucia is famed in Italy because she brought wheat berries to their starving ancestors during a famine. Since her feast once coincided with the solstice, this day has become the traditional winter celebration. Cuccia is the traditional cooked wheat dish that is commonly eaten on this day. It is very similar to a rice pudding but uses boiled wheat instead of rice to create a yummy chewy pudding.

Winter Solstice Foods

Portugal

During the festive season in Portugal, residents take to the streets and celebrate with cakes and pastries. The Portuguese have their own take on the “winter bean” tradition where a broad bean is baked into a Bolo-Rei. Bolo-Rei is a cake baked from a soft, white dough and decorated with raisins, various nuts and crystallized fruit. The tradition dictates that whoever finds the bean has to pay for next year’s cakes.

Sweden

Italians aren’t the only ones with a famous St Lucia. In Sweden the winter solstice is marked by celebrating St Lucy’s day. St Lucy is known in Sweden for bringing food to the persecuted Christians in Rome. She would wear candles on her head so she could have her hands free to carry more food and so Swedish winter celebrations are centred around light and food. St Lucy’s day’s most popular dish is Lussekatter, which is an S-shaped bun with a delicious saffron flavour and dotted with raisins. Here is a recipe so that you can make your own scrumptious saffron buns: Traditional Swedish Lussekatter recipe.

So if you are considering celebrating the solstice this year you now have a guide to some tasty traditional food options. The most important thing is to spend the time with good company, so celebrate by spending time with friends and family and maybe indulge in a glass of mulled wine while you say cheers to the winter.

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