Celebrating the solstice by jumping off a hundred-foot pole
As far as marking the seasons go, Mexico and Guatemala’s Danza dos Voladores is certainly more heart-stopping than a maypole or a Santa Claus parade.
Basically, five men free climb a 30 m pole, and attach ropes around their ankles. Then four of them launch themselves into the air, descending to the ground on the end of the ropes as they unravel – while the last man dances slowly perched at the very top, playing the flute or drums:
People in Central America came up with the ritual as a means to beg the gods for rain during a severe drought (we’d love to have been a fly on the wall during that planning meeting), but it’s now considered a way to mark the four seasons.
We’re including it on this list because it is traditionally held on December 21, a significant date in the Maya Long Count Calendar.
Appropriately for such an acrobatic feat, people who choose to do it consider it a calling – meaning their one job is to spin around a hundred-foot pole in mid air.
Not a bad job, all things considered, and you can get started early. People as young as 14 and as old as 70 have been known to be Voladores.
People in Poland are REALLY happy to see the end of winter
When the harshness of winter finally gives way to spring, everyone has their preferred way of welcoming the new season and bidding adieu to the previous season.
In Poland, they prefer to put the old season to bed by burning it in effigy.
More accurately, they burn a doll made in the likeness of Marzanna. She's an old pagan goddess who was in charge of death AND winter, so she was already popularity-challenged.
When the spring equinox rolls around on March 21, people, either individually or in official groups, will make dolls of Marzanna and either set them on fire, toss them into the lake, or set them on fire AND toss them in the lake.
The symbolic “killing” of winter is so popular in Poland, even schools are, by law, required to suspend classes and hold fun activities instead.
And on years where the winter has been super-harsh, we’re betting those effigies are burned and/or drowned with quite a bit of gusto.
Romans celebrated the solstice by putting their slaves in charge for a few days
Ancient Roman society was actually pretty conservative, despite what the huge moral excesses of some of the emperors would have you believe.
So it was with great joy that everyone looked forward to the Saturnalia, a week-long festival coinciding with the December solstice where all the social laws were relaxed and people just cut loose.
After the obligatory sacrifice to Saturn and public feast was done, households would appoint a “lord of mis-rule,” who would live up to the name by issuing “decrees” that competed with each other for weirdness, like ordering someone to run around the villa with a flute-playing slave on their back, or demand someone else say awful things about themselves in precise detail. This was on top of the usual merry-making, drinking and public gambling.
Slaves made out the best, though. For the duration of the festival, their roles were reversed with their masters. Wearing the master’s clothes, being served dinner first, they had one week to forget they were slaves.
And, because this was Rome, where fighting to the death at the local arena was considered fine entertainment, there was a dark side too. There are records of some of the more remote army camps where they’d celebrate the Saturnalia by choosing a soldier by lot, treating him like royalty and allowing him to do as he pleased for a few days, then executing him when they were done.
Fortunately, modern versions of the holiday are tame affairs completely free of the more blood-thirsty parts of the Saturnalia (like this one in Chester, England).
We prefer the ones on this list that don't involve bloodshed, but at the very least, it goes to show how creative people get when they want to take their mind off the winter.