It’s the longest night of the year, known as the start of winter (astronomically, at least). For many cultures across the globe, though, the Winter Solstice serves as a symbol of hope and a beacon for brighter days ahead, both literally and figuratively. The 2023 Winter Solstice is set to take place on Thursday, December 21st, and if you’re planning on celebrating in a grand way, then set your sights on spectacular Caracol in Belize for overnight camping, pok-ta-pok, and more.
What Is the Winter Solstice?
If you live in the world’s Northern Hemisphere, you might have noticed that with the onset of the Fall season, the days started getting shorter. This happens as this part of the world slowly grows farther away from the sun, thanks to the earth’s tilt on its axis as it orbits the sun. During the winter solstice, the sun will appear at its lowest (and farthest south) point in the Northern Hemisphere sky. As a result, we will experience the shortest day of the year (and the longest night).
Why Some Cultures Celebrate the Solstice
Although some winter solstice traditions have changed over time, they are still a reminder of indigenous peoples’ understanding of the intricate workings of the solar system…and the ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.”
– Rosalyn La Pier
Across the globe, and throughout history, cultures have celebrated the Winter Solstice as “the return of the sun”. That’s because, following the solstice, the days gradually begin to lengthen. In fact, the days following the Winter Solstice will see daylight increase each day by just a few seconds at first and then up to three minutes by March.
From Europe to North America, communities have revered the solstices (winter and summer) and all that they symbolize. In fact, many scholars, including Rosalyn LaPier, an Indigenous writer, ethnobotanist, and environmental historian, have pointed out that the most compelling evidence of this is that many ancient sites seem to have been constructed to align with the sun on the solstice days.
To many cultures, past and present, the solstice represents the beginning of change – from cold to warm, and from dark to light. For the ancient Maya of Belize and the rest of Mesoamerica, the winter solstice signals the beginning of a period of contemplation – in preparation for the blessing of spring to come.
Fun Fact: On the evening of the solstice (Thursday, December 21) and the evening of the following day, you can look southwest and watch the sun set at its leftmost position of the year. Then, on the morning of December 21, you’ll be able to watch the sun come up at its rightmost possible spot, in the east/southeast.
A Night at the Plaza: Celebrating the 2023 Winter Solstice at Caracol
The National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) in Belize, alongside the Institute of Archaeology and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology, is planning on bringing in the 2023 winter solstice with a bang. Venture through the lush greenery of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and Chiquibul Forest Reserve to spend a night at Caracol. Belize’s biggest and most spectacular Maya site will come alive on December 20th and 21st with “A Night at the Plaza”.
According to NICH, A Night at the Plaza will feature spectacular displays, like a game of Pok-ta-pok – the ancient Maya ballgame that has seen a recent revival in Central America. It’s an overnight camping event, and the cost of entry will cover a Belizean-inspired dinner and breakfast, the Pok-ta-Pok game, and a sunrise fire ceremony in honor of the solstice. There will also be cultural presentations and a guided tour.
Though camping gear and other essentials aren’t included, attendees will be able to set up camp in a designated secured open area. Usher in the coming season of light nestled in the natural splendor of Belize. Contact the Insitute of Archaeology via email ([email protected]) or phone (+501 822 2106) for pricing and other information about A Night at the Plaza.