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Traditions: Soyal

We did it, friends! We have made it through the longest night of the year! It's time for the days to start getting longer, although here in Minnesota it doesn't make much of a difference, because we all know if the sun is shining bright from late December to February it is too cold to go outside.

Cultures around the world have solstice celebrations, and for many ancient people the lengthened days indicated a triumph of good over evil.

The Hopi indigenous tribe (southwestern United States) celebrates solstice during their Soyal ceremony. This is the time when the Katsinam, guardian spirits of the Hopi, descend the San Francisco Peaks to carry light and the sun back to the people. The Katsinam will bring food and gifts and also offer up prayers for a good growing season to come, and also teach lessons on appropriate behavior and the results of poor behavior.

Before the Katsinam arrive, the Hopi prepare prayer sticks comprised of feathers and needles called pahos, which are used to bless their community. Once the Katsinam arrive, the people gather in the kiva, an underground chamber, while ceremonial rituals and dances are performed to usher the light back to the world. Although Soyal ceremonies are considered sacred to the Hopi people and are not available for public participation or viewing, we do know that someone will carry an effigy of a plumed snake (Palulukonuh), the evil being that threatens to swallow the sun, and a ritual dance is performed to drive the snake back and persuade him to not swallow the sun.

Although the general public cannot attend Soyal ceremonies, travelers can learn more about the Hopi tribe by visiting northern Arizona by stopping at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa and support local Hopi artisans by participating in the Hopi Arts Trail.

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