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Winter solstice: time to celebrate brighter days ahead

Winter solstice occurred Thursday at 12:30 a.m., Eastern time. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice celebrations help beat back winter's gloom and usher in longer days.

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In more modern times, the winter solstice has inspired many other celebrations around the world.

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In China, Dong Zhi, the annual winter solstice festival, has been celebrated for centuries. The ancient Chinese believed that the yin qualities of darkness and cold were at their most powerful point during the winter solstice, but it was also the turning point that gave way to the light and warmth of yang. Today, many believe longer days signify an increase in positive energy, which is why Dong Zhi is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese, second only to the Chinese New Year.

Among other winter solstice commemorations in the US, an annual song and dance festival called Christmas Revels, is held in celebration of the forthcoming longer days. This event, which originated in Watertown, Mass., has spread to several other cities in recent years, including Cambridge, Mass., New York City, Washington, D.C., Hanover, N.H., Oakland and Santa Barbara, Calif., Houston, Tacoma, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo.

However one chooses to honor this year's winter solstice, many in the Northern Hemisphere will surely give thanks for the steady, if slow, return of the sun. 

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