Make the most of the year’s shortest day

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Cultures around the world celebrate the winter solstice

Fire, dance and prayer usher in beginning of longer days

Check out Vancouver's lantern festival or celebrate Maya culture in Mexico

CNN  — 

For millennia, cultures throughout the world have observed the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, as a sacred event. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22, when the sun appears at its southernmost point in the sky.

Ancient peoples whose survival depended on a precise knowledge of seasonal cycles marked this first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the opportunity for renewal, a casting off of old habits and negative feelings and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer.

Many of the ancient symbols and c