The Native American tribes of the Zuni and the Hopi, residing in the southern United States, celebrate the Winter Solstice on December 22nd as Soyal. The main point is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year and is a time for purification. For the Hopi, it’s a major festival that lasts 16 days, starting with prayers and supplications, and ending with a feast and a Kachina dance. It’s a time when stories are passed down to children from the elders, and children are taught life lessons.

The idea behind of the ceremony is the sun god was believed to have travelled far from the tribe at the Winter Solstice, so the tribe had to entice the sun back to them. They did this in a number of ways. In Kivas, sacred underground ritual chambers, opened to mark the beginning of the ceremony, and representing the home world of the Kachina spirits. In there, they would make preparations, such as making prayers sticks to use in the rituals, and used to bless all the community, which includes animals, homes, and plants as well as people.

Kachina dances were performed for the Solstice Ceremony. Kachinas were spirits whose powers could be used to benefit the community, in ways like evoking rainfall and providing protection. They are represented by dolls that are given to children, and in the dances by participants wearing masks and colourful costumes. 16 days before the Winter Solstice, the first Kachina visits the tribe, appearing as a tired, old man, staggering over to the dance plaza, where he dances and sings a sacred song.

Though we don’t know any recipes associated with Soyal, try out this Hopi Corn Stew from our recipe box!

– Emily Hotton