View Full Version : Winter Festivals

November 16th, 2012, 12:03 PM
The Mamas & the Papas - California Dreamin'

Simon & Garfunkel - Hazy Shade of Winter

The Rolling Stones - Winter

The Beach Boys - Fall Breaks and Back to Winter

Sagittarius - My World Fell Down

With the end of the Harvest season comes Winter. The days are colder, the nights longer. It is often challenging. But, it's simply part of Nature's cycle. Winter will end, Nature will renew. We just have to get through it.

Some animals migrate, some hibernate, others, such as humans, store food during Harvest. The lesser amount of light causes mood disorders, called seasonal affective disorder, or more commonly the winter blues. So, the winter festivals, especially those close to the Solstice, not only observe the shortest days of the year and celebrate the beginning of the cycle of renewal, but the bright lights and celebrations actually help combat winter depression.

Dean Martin - Winter Wonderland

Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer - Baby, It's Cold Outside

Here, we'll cover those festivals. Tell us what you do.


Advent is the preparation for Christmas, beginning the fourth Sunday before December 25, and concluding on December 24. In the States, it's usually easy to remember when it begins, as it usually falls on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November, with Thanksgiving Weekend marking the shift from Fall to Winter. In 2012, however, Thanksgiving is a little earler than usual due to November 1 being on a Thursday. In 2012, Advent begins on December 2.

That first Sunday, Advent Sunday, involves making Advent calendars, Advent wreaths, and lighting candles. An explanation of Advent and the symbolism of the Advent Wreath, with it's circle, evergreens, and candles...

Advent Sunday in Vienna

An Advent Calendar marks each day of Advent with large rectangular windows, one opened each day, containing a poem or verse, as well as treats. Making an Advent Calendar...

Enya - O Come, O Come, Emmanual

Celtic Advent Carol

Next: St. Nicholas

November 17th, 2012, 08:26 AM
Every year my birthday coincides with the Leonid meteor shower. Most years I bundle up against the cold and find a dark spot in the pre dawn to shiver under the shooting stars. The dark and cold are reminders of my mortality, and the fact that it's my birthday reminds me I am aging, growing, learning, changing. I often hear sounds of animals, or the sounds of a community waking up around me. The stars above and the thoughts in my head give me a sense of my place in the Universe, of my relationship with all these things.

I use my birthday as a day of celebration and a week of reflection. A review of the past year, some hopes for the year ahead.

Thanksgiving is a day off of work. A day for a hike. A day for one of my favorite meals. A day for me to contemplate the meaning of gratitude and the meaning of thankfulness...I think they are not the same thing. I let thoughts clatter through my head the way the dry leaves blow along the curbside.

My primary Winter Holyday, and one of my favorite and important Holydays of the year is Winter Solstice. I am, from my DNA outward, a Sun worshipper. I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I really feel the impact of Winter in all aspects of my life. Solstice is such a welcome relief from the glut of Christmas that is going on all around me. It's quiet, and simple, and all about what is most essential to life. Food, warmth, shelter, community. I create a beautiful golden altar, and a simple meal of bread and soup, and whenever I am able, a bonfire. My ritual, for me is deep and powerful. It is the day on which I decide whether or not I am going to renew my contract with the Universe. If I am going to go willingly and with intention on another ride round the Sun.

I sit in stillness, in the cold and the dark. I think about all it means, all the energy and intent it takes, and the cooperation of vast numbers of people, for me to survive another year. And then, if I am willing, I drink wassail as a sign of my convenant, and the bowl is passed round to any who are gathered for them to accept or reject. Then gingerbread is passed round, and we return to the fire, and we sing a song or two, and celebrate the beauty of light in the dark...starlight, moonlight, candle light, firelight, and the headlights that guide us safely home.

With this on my mind, it's too early for me to share about my next Winter Holyday, Feb 2, which is also packed with meaning. For I have miles to go before I get there.

November 17th, 2012, 12:27 PM
Thank you.

Just did my Sun Salutations, myself. Aside from the sun aspect, it helps get the body up and active and limber, which I really need in the mornings. :)

If you have a big natural phenomenon like that accompanying your birthday, it's worth feeling the cold to experience it, I think.

I sit in stillness, in the cold and the dark. I think about all it means, all the energy and intent it takes, and the cooperation of vast numbers of people, for me to survive another year.

Reminds me of an old song by music's greatest sun worshiper, Brian Wilson: "You Need a Mess of Help To Stand Alone."

November 17th, 2012, 12:46 PM

Chet Atkins - Jolly Old St. Nicholas

December 6 is a major day on the Advent Calendar: St. Nicholas Day.

Nicholas was a 4th Century Bishop known for his generosity, charity, and gift giving. The most famous story involved a poor man who couldn't afford a dowry for his daughters. The family was in such bad shape that it seemed the daughters would be forced into prostitution. Nicholas came to help them, but either because he was too modest or didn't want the man to feel humiliated by accepting charity, he came during the night and threw three purses filled with gold, one for each daughter, through the window. It some tellings, it was over a period of three nights, with the father lying in wait to learn who his benefactor was. When the man tried to thank him, Nicholas told him not to thank him, but to thank God. In another telling, Nicholas learned of the man's plan, and dropped the third purse down the chimney, instead. Another version saw the third daughter washing her stockings and hanging them over the embers to dry, with the purse landing in the stocking.

His Feast Day became associated with emulating his acts. Nuns would leave baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doors of the needy. In the Low Countries, sailors, for whom Nicholas was their Patron, would go to the harbor towns to participate in the church celebration for him, then buy small gifts for their loved ones and children. The big gifts would be given on Christmas, but the smaller ones would be given on St. Nicholas Day as "a gift from St. Nicholas."


St. Nicholas Day became a children's festival, the tradition being St. Nicolas visits on the night of December 5, leaving gifts for the children of the household. Another legend told of a butcher that abducted three young boys with the intention of having his wife turn them into meat pies. One version has the butcher chopping the children up and salting them in a tub. Nicholas rescued, or in the darker version, resurrected, the boys, making him a protector of children. In French tradition, the butcher became Le Père Fouettard, forced to do penance by accompanying Nicholas on his gift giving rounds. His job is to leave lumps of coal to naughty children.


In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas's assistant is the benevolent, but mischievous, Zwarte Piet.


Initially, he was depicted as a Moor, as Nicholas was from Asia Minor. Later folklore had him a slave named Peter that was freed by St. Nicholas. His roots appear to be in the Persian figure of Hajji Firuz, the black skinned herald of Nowruz, the Persian New Year (and the oldest Vernal Equinox celebration). Hajji Firuz accompanies Amoo Norooz, who, like St. Nicholas, is a white bearded old man who brings gifts to children.

Sinterklaas in Dordrecht

Knecht Ruprecht is the German assistant to St. Nicholas.


He carries a long staff and sometimes a bag of ashes. According to folklore, he rides a white horse, and is accompanied by fairies. He's mischievous and leaves lumps of coal and the like for naughty children. The folklore depicts him either as a former farmhand, or a foundling raised by St. Nicholas from childhood.

In the Alpines, St. Nicholas's assistant is a creature called Krampus.


It used to be that Krampus stole naughty children in the night and took them to his lair, possibly to be his Christmas dinner. But, in modern times, he just does the leaving lumps of coal thing, and runs around giving the kids a scare during the festivities. He still often has the sack or washtub strapped to his back to take the naughty children away in, though.

Here Comes Krampus

A Krampuslauf, a whole parade of Krampuses!

In parts of Germany and the US is Belsnickel.


This masked, ragged, figure was a fur trapper or hermit, whose job is to scare naughty children into behaving, but he'll also bring treats for the good children. In parts of Canada, there's the tradition of Belsnickling, where people wearing multiple layers of clothing and scarves go from door to door, singing, where they are given food and drink until their identities are guessed.

In the same way different cultural traditions were blended in the US to create our modern Halloween, so to was done with St. Nicholas. The Dutch version of the Saint was combined with the English Father Christmas to become Santa Claus (Santa meaning Saint and Claus being an abbreviation of Nicholas).


His look was based on early 19th Century Dutch merchants, though still in the Bishop's red. This image was popularized by the 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore. He delivers gifts on Christmas Eve, riding a sleigh with eight reindeer, and coming down the chimney. He lives at the North Pole with elves who make the toys. The British Father Christmas, who wore green through Victorian times, has become the American Santa Claus, now in the familiar red.


A couple of looks at St. Nicholas Day, the man, the legend, the traditions, and raising some questions...

A Catholic St. Nicholas Day celebration

Next: Bodhi Day

Aine de Morrigan
November 18th, 2012, 07:34 AM
Thanks for all the info, Perceval! I'd never heard of that Krampus character, and I'm glad I didn't in my childhood - he looks and sounds pretty terrifying. I found the concept of Father Christmas a little creepy as it was when I was very young, the way he comes into your house and sneaks around. In a good way, though.

Cheddarsox, I absolutely love the sound of your solstice celebrations. I'm still very much in the process of figuring out the shape and feel of my wheel of the year, so I don't really have any traditions as such. I do celebrate the solstice, and like you it has been one of my favourite sabbats or holydays or whatever you like to call them. Last year I got up to watch the sun rise, and had the live feed of Newgrange on my laptop at the same time - it was cloudy, so there wasn't much to see, but I'll definitely be incorporating that into my celebrations every year from now on.

I tend to tie it into Christmas a lot in my head, though. We don't go too crazy about Christmas in my family and my circle of friends, and none of the people close to me are very religious either, so I have the space to make it my own in my own mind. A lot of our traditions stem directly from traditional solstice celebrations anyway - the food and the lighting of the candles etc. For example, we have a few nights during the Christmas season when we traditionally leave a candle burning in the window - for example, Christmas Eve and the night before the 6th. Ostensibly, I think it's to guide the wise men, but it's a much older tradition, and I think of it as welcoming the sun back after the solstice.

November 18th, 2012, 12:44 PM
I tend to tie it into Christmas a lot in my head, though. We don't go too crazy about Christmas in my family and my circle of friends, and none of the people close to me are very religious either, so I have the space to make it my own in my own mind.

Being from the States, I have our particular mindset when it comes to the holidays. While Americans are aware of the religious and cultural origins of various holidays, we tend to see not being that particular religion, ethnicity, or culture as no reason not to celebrate it, focusing more on the higher, universal, meaning of the celebration. That's how we wound up mixing Irish, East European, and Latin American traditions into Halloween.

The most blatant example is St. Patrick's Day. The number of people who participate in my town's St. Patrick's celebrations is in the six figures, and you know they're not all Irish or even Catholic. The local Hindus even bring a little of Holi into the celebration. It's the country's primary welcoming of Spring and a celebration of it's Irish heritage. "Everyone's a little Irish on St. Patrick's" is the popular saying. It's date (right before the Vernal Equinox) and main color (green) likely have a lot to do with what it evolved into in the States.

Of course, what seems perfectly natural for us Yanks regarding the holidays must seem strange to people in other parts of the world. :)

November 18th, 2012, 01:15 PM

The eighth day of the twelfth month on the Chinese Calendar is Bodhi Day. In Japan, it falls on December 8. It commemorates the day that Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical Buddha, achieved enlightenment. After years of ascetic practices, he decided to sit under a Pipul tree and meditate until he found the root of all suffering, and how to free oneself from it.


According to one tradition, he made a vow to Nirvana and Earth to find the root of suffering, or die trying. Another tradition had him tempted by Mara, the demon of illusion.

In the Pali Canon, he discovered his past lives in the cycle of rebirth. Then, he discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of the Eightfold Path, or the Middle Way. Then, as the morning star rose on the third night, he discovered the Four Noble Truths, finally achieving Nirvana.

Traditions include staying up the entire night before in meditation, and, more recently, decorating trees with lights until the Solstice.

A Bodhi Day service in Seattle

Namo Amituofo (By Night)

Pop Heart Sutra

Next: Hanukkah

Aine de Morrigan
November 19th, 2012, 07:45 AM
Being from the States, I have our particular mindset when it comes to the holidays. While Americans are aware of the religious and cultural origins of various holidays, we tend to see not being that particular religion, ethnicity, or culture as no reason not to celebrate it, focusing more on the higher, universal, meaning of the celebration. That's how we wound up mixing Irish, East European, and Latin American traditions into Halloween.

The most blatant example is St. Patrick's Day. The number of people who participate in my town's St. Patrick's celebrations is in the six figures, and you know they're not all Irish or even Catholic. The local Hindus even bring a little of Holi into the celebration. It's the country's primary welcoming of Spring and a celebration of it's Irish heritage. "Everyone's a little Irish on St. Patrick's" is the popular saying. It's date (right before the Vernal Equinox) and main color (green) likely have a lot to do with what it evolved into in the States.

Of course, what seems perfectly natural for us Yanks regarding the holidays must seem strange to people in other parts of the world. :)

I think we tend to do that a bit here in Ireland - the universalising of holidays, I mean. As far as I can tell, it's more common in English-speaking countries, whereas for example the Germanic countries have held onto their particular traditions a lot more. I suppose we don't have such a big mixture of cultures to pull from and to get mixted together, because nobody emigrated to Ireland until relatively recently - it was the other way around! But I definitely know what you mean. We don't really celebrate Christmas as a Catholic/Christian holiday either - although to be honest, a lot of people do go to mass on Christmas day, but that's often the only day that people go, and it has very little to do with belief.

Yes it amuses me how much St Patrick's Day is celebrated over there! I imagine it originally stems from the huge numbers of Irish people who emigrated out there. I actually tend to tie it into the vernal equinox too. I actually wonder if it was originally deliberately set at that time.

November 19th, 2012, 12:38 PM
I think we tend to do that a bit here in Ireland - the universalising of holidays, I mean. As far as I can tell, it's more common in English-speaking countries, whereas for example the Germanic countries have held onto their particular traditions a lot more. I suppose we don't have such a big mixture of cultures to pull from and to get mixted together, because nobody emigrated to Ireland until relatively recently - it was the other way around! But I definitely know what you mean. We don't really celebrate Christmas as a Catholic/Christian holiday either - although to be honest, a lot of people do go to mass on Christmas day, but that's often the only day that people go, and it has very little to do with belief.

Yes it amuses me how much St Patrick's Day is celebrated over there! I imagine it originally stems from the huge numbers of Irish people who emigrated out there. I actually tend to tie it into the vernal equinox too. I actually wonder if it was originally deliberately set at that time.

Yeah, it happened because of the large Irish population, especially in major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago.

As far as the date of Vernal Equinox celebrations, the pre-Christian Celts did it with the full moon following the Equinox, the same way the Jews and Christians did with Passover and Pascha (or Easter in the German based languages). The Persians were the main ones celebrating Spring's arrival on the Equinox, and the Romans picked up a lot from the Persians, with the Germanic people, in turn, picking up a lot from the Romans. When they decided to stop being barbarians and become civilized, civilization, to them, meant Rome, so they became as Roman as they could.

Now, there's an interesting scenario: Suppose, back in those key years, the Germanic tribes had decided civilization meant Celtic instead of Roman? Would Kildare and the Celtic Church have become Christianity's spiritual center instead of Rome and the Roman Church? Would we have wound up with a Celtic structured Church led by a Matriarchal line of Brigids instead of a Roman Empire structured Church led by a Patriarchal line of Popes? It was the Celtic influence that was partially responsible for Mary's rise in importance, after all... But, I digress.

Interesting idea for speculative fiction, though, I think...

Oh, wait... What was I getting to? Oh yeah... I think St. Patrick's becoming associated with the arrival of Spring was just a nice coincidence. It just works, as with the saying: "Winter trembles on St. Brigid's Day, and runs for it's life on St. Patrick's."

November 19th, 2012, 01:11 PM

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish celebration of the rededication of the Second Temple during the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd Century, BC. It lasts for eight days and nights, and, it's date based on the lunar calendar, is sometime between late November and late December. In 2012, it will begin on the evening of December 8.

Judea was part of the Seleucid Empire. The policy of King Antiochus III was to allow his Jewish subjects to worship as they wished. His son and eventual successor, Antiochus IV (who gained the throne by murdering his older brother's toddler son), wasn't so tolerant, however. After being humiliated by the Romans in Egypt (which is a great story in itself. How many wars are won by simply drawing a circle in the sand?), he invaded Jerusalem, and sacked and looted the Temple. He outlawed Judaism and ordered an alter to Zeus erected at the Temple. He also ordered the sacrifice of pigs in the Temple, knowing that was anathema to the Jews.

Judah the Hammer successfully led the Jews in revolt. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated. A new alter was built.

According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed to keep the menorah of the Temple lit, but there was only enough for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight nights, enough time for more oil to be prepared. An eight day festival was declared by the sages to commemorate the event.

Each night, a light is lit on a nine branch Menorah. The extra light, raised above the others, is to light the others, and in case it's needed for regular use, because using the Hanukkah lights is forbidden. Fried foods are eaten, symbolizing the importance of oil.

How to light the Menorah

How to celebrate Hanukkah

It had been a minor Jewish festival, but grew in importance due to the influence of the US. There, Jewish children were feeling left out of Christmas celebrations, so Hanukkah became prominent. It had been tradition to give children coins, but it became gifts, like Christmas.

Another tradition is eating dairy foods, especially cheese. This comes from the story of Judith.


Holofernes, an Assyrian general, had surrounded the village of Bethulia during his attempt to conquer Judea. The Assyrians cut off the water supply. Judith went to the Assyrian camps, pretending to surrender. She was taken to Holofernes, who was smitten by her beauty. In his tent, she plied him with cheese and wine, and when he fell into a drunken sleep, she beheaded him, and escaped the camp with the head. When the Assyrians found the headless corpse of their general, they became fearful, while the Jews became emboldened. They successfully counterattacked, driving off the Assyrians.

Adam Sandler - The Hanukkah Song

The Dreidel Song

Chanukah, Oh Chanukah

Hanukkiah Li Yesh

Ocho Kandelikas

Kad Katan

Sevivon Sov Sov Sov

Haneirot Halolu

The Weavers - Mi Yimalel

Ner Li, Ner Li

Chanukkah Jewish Rock of Ages

The Maccabeats - Candlelight

Matisyahu - Miracle

Next: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

November 20th, 2012, 10:54 AM

In heaven, the blessed thy glory proclaim;
On earth we, thy children, invoke thy fair name.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria!
Ave, ave, Maria!
-The Lourdes Hymn

On the Advent Calendar, December 8 marks The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the tradition that she was free from Original Sin and possessed sanctifying grace from conception, the Divine life always infusing her soul, the Holy Spirit always indwelling. She is described as the New Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies embodied in her.

An explanation of the meaning of the Feast

Celebration at a San Antonio residence. Um, yes, Catholicism is different in Texas...

In Malta

In Naples

In the Philippines

Celtic Woman - Ave Maria

Lourdes Hymm (Immaculate Mary)

Salve Regina

Next: Egil Skallagrimsson's Day

November 20th, 2012, 03:38 PM
One nice thing about being solitary is doing your own thing. :) I do a 12 day Yule and I start my it on Mother's Night, the night before the solstice. I then do the solstice, nine virtues and New Year's Eve. It's just taking time to honor my distir, reflecting on what I want the new year to be. We will have a diner on Christmas cause the family will be around and do presents but there is not Santa in our house. We let our son know his gifts are from loved ones.

November 21st, 2012, 10:04 AM

In the Ásatrú religion, December 9 is Egil Skallagrimsson's Day.

Egil was an Icelandic Viking with a large misshapen head, lust for gold, and extremely violent berserk nature. According to legend, he committed his first murder at the age of seven.

Despite this, he was also a great poet. His poetry saved his life, once, when he had been shipwrecked in Northumbria, and brought before his mortal enemy, King Eiríkr Bloodaxe, who sentenced him to death. Egil had composed a poem the night before, and recited it. It so moved Eiríkr that he allowed Egil to go free.

He was a scholar of runes. One story is that an attempt to poison him failed when a rune he'd carved shattered his poisoned cup. In another story, he visited a sick woman. She'd refused a local land owner's hand in marriage, so the man attempted to carve love runes, but accidentally carved ones that caused illness. Egil burned those runes, and carved new ones for health, leading to the woman's recovery. He then composed and sang a song warning against carving runes if you don't know how to read them.

One of his most famous poems...

The Battle of Brunanburh

Faun - Egil Saga, telling the story of the sick woman and the runes.



Our Lady of Guadalupe

November 21st, 2012, 08:27 PM
Wow. Thanks for sharing all this interesting stuff! :)

November 22nd, 2012, 11:41 AM
And thank you for reading it.

November 22nd, 2012, 12:07 PM
Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Dallas, Texas, USA

And now for something uniquely North American...

In Mexico and the US, December 12 is the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The story...

On the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a peasant, was walking from his village to Mexico City for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac, he saw a vision of a girl about 15 or 16 years of age, surrounded by light.

Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the Aztec language that was still the primary one spoken there, she asked that a church be built on that site, in her honor. From her words, he recognized her as the Virgin Mary.

He told his story to the Archbishop, who didn't believe him. He instructed Juan Diego to return to Tepeyac Hill and ask for a sign. When he told Mary this, she instructed him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. In December, flowers didn't bloom, let alone on the usually barren Tepeyac Hill. Yet, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, which weren't native to Mexico. Mary arranged them in Juan Diego's tilma cloak, made of ayate fiber, a fabric made from the threads of the maguey agave.

He brought the cloak to the Bishop on December 12. When he opened it, the flowers fell to the floor, and in their place was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric.


So, it was decided the church would be built. Juan Diego needed to return home, though. His uncle was gravely ill, and he needed to be there for his final moments. A priest accompanied him to administer last rites. When they got there, though, the uncle had recovered. He told them he'd seen a vision of Mary, and described her exactly as what Juan Diego saw. He recovered from his illness, after.

A more detailed account of the story of Juan Diego

The icon remains on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and is one of the most visited Marian shrines in the world, with several million people, a year.


It's Mexico's most popular religious and cultural image. Among St. Mary's many titles are Queen of Mexico, Patroness of the Americas, and Empress of Latin America.

Miguel Sanchez described the icon as the Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation, believed to be Mary: "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

Her belt is interpreted as a sign of pregnancy. She was called the "mother of maguey." Maguey sap is the source of the alcoholic beverage pulque, "the Milk of the Virgin." Many legends and myths exist regarding the drink's origin, but the most popular was it was created by the Aztec goddess Mayahuel. It was a ritual drink in Aztec times, used during, among other things, human sacrifices. Some argue that the rays of light surrounding Mary also represent maguey spines.

There are some rather unusual things about the icon. It's maintained it's structural integrity for almost 500 years, while that particular fabric usually only lasts 15 to 30 years before degrading. An amonia spill in 1791 caused it considerable damage, but it was said to have repaired itself with no external help. On November 14, 1921, a bomb damaged the alter, but left the icon unharmed.

Then, there are the eyes...

Photographers in 1929 and 1951 found an image reflected in Mary's eyes, tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect that is found in human eyes. Upon further enlargement, there seem to be more figures, there.


Something astronomers find interesting if the placement of the stars on the Mantle. It seems they align with the constellations that were in the sky of Mexico on December 12, 1531, at 10:26 AM.


When analyzed, the only brushwork that can be detected is some re-touches that were done, later. The pigments and binding medium are consistent with 16th Century methods of painting sargas, but the colors and luminosity are exceptional. While the technique of painting on fabric with water-soluble pigments is well attested, one surviving since the 16th Century is unprecedented.

The more it's analyzed, the more mysterious it becomes. But, that's Mary for you.

She's the most popular figure of home alters, the Prayer of Roses being as follows, after lighting the rose scented candle:

Merciful Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, show clemency, love and compassion to those who love you and search for your protection. May the sweet fragrence of roses reach your divine son, our lord Jesus Christ, that he may hear our prayers. Wipe our tears and give us comfort and assistance. (concentrate on your desires) Amen


La Veladora, which contains an eternal flame, San Antonio, Texas, USA








November 23rd, 2012, 01:29 PM

Hazelius Lucia

Ex Tenebris Lux (Out of Darkness, Light)
Motto of St. Lucia

One of the main events on the Advent Calendar is St. Lucia's Day, December 13. Nobel Prize winners are always fascinated by the Lucia processions that are a part of the festivities, as the prizes are awarded during the Lucia celebrations in Sweden. It's the beginning of the Yule festivities.

In the old times, in the Julian Calendar, December 13 was the shortest day of the year. In cold, dark, Scandinavia, the night before was a time of fear. It was the Lussinatta, or Lussi Night.

Food was what was stored from the harvest, and had to last the long, cold, winter. The Lussinatta began the Dark Time, when evil spirits roamed the land, waiting for a human victim to cross their path.

On Lussi Night, a malevolent female being, the Lussi, rode through the skies leading the Lussiferda. Between then and Yule, it was especially dangerous to be out after dark, when trolls and other dark forces were out. It was important to have certain Yule preparations done, before Lussi Night. Naughty children had to be especially careful, lest the Lussi come down the chimney and steal them away. Not that the Luusiferda discriminated when people were outdoors. Anyone was in danger of being taken away by them.

Farm animals were given extra feed for the longest night. It was said that the animals could speak to each other, that night.

The tradition of Lussevaka was to stay up through the Lussinatta to guard oneself and the household.

Then, in the 700s, the Catholics came, and brought with them St. Lucia.


Lucia is the Queen of Light. She was an Italian Martyr who helped hide Christians in the tunnels during the persecutions. According to legend, she had her hands full carrying supplies, so, to light her way in the tunnels, she placed candles in a wreath she wore on her head. Some of her legends and iconography would later be added to the Irish Brigid.

Her Feast Day is December 13, which, again, in the Julian Calendar, was the shortest day of the year. She represents the Light within even the darkest of times. The Italian tradition is for children to leave coffee for her in the morning, as she visits and leaves gifts, the night before.

Despite the similar name and her Feast Day falling the same day, there's no connection (and researchers have looked very hard for one) between the Italian Saint and the Nordic witch. It's just one of those interesting coincidences.

Lucia changed December 13 for the Scandinavians.


No longer was the Lussinatta something to fear. The longest night was simply part of the yearly cycle, but the Light would not only return, it was always present. The all night vigil, the Lussevaka, became an all night party for Lucia, the Light countering the Dark Lussi.

How important is she to them? When Scandinavia became Lutheran, they dropped most of the Catholic Saints. They kept Lucia.


On December 13, 1944, the Lucia processions and traditions arrived in Denmark as a passive protest against the Nazi occupation, "to bring light in a time of darkness." It's been a tradition there, ever since.

The traditional sweets are Lucia buns.


A girl in every town is elected to be Lucia, who leads the processions with her Maids each holding a candle, and sometimes Star Boys. They collect for charities and the like. The Lucia of Sweden, with her Maids and Star Boys, takes part in the processions in St. Lucia's home town of Syracuse, the Lutherans celebrating alongside the Catholics in Italy.


A Lucia celebration in Sweden




The Philippines


Lucia has been a subject of some controversy among modern pagans who follow Nordic or Germanic paths. Some reject her due to her Italian and Catholic origins. Others keep her, on the basis that she's a vital part of Yule and the Nordic culture and identity. Still others keep the traditions but substitute a Nordic or German figure such as Holda or Freya for Lucia, the idea being to make the Lussi a dark aspect of Freya, to be countered by the light aspect. It's not a perfect fit, as the Nordic mythology lacks the Star Maiden archetype or powerful Solar figure associated with Winter that Lucia is.

Elvis Presley - Santa Lucia

Välkommen Lucia

Goder Afton

Sofia Karlsson - Luciasang

Sofia Källgren - Sprid ditt ljus


A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day by Jon Donne

Next: Saturnalia

November 24th, 2012, 12:11 PM

Saturnalia was the ancient Roman festival honoring Saturn, the God of Time and Agriculture. It was initially on December 17, but later expanded through December 23.

It began with a sacrifice at the temple, and was followed by feasting, gift giving, parties, and the overturning of social norms, including permitting gambling. Masters served their slaves.


Saturn was believed to have reigned during the Golden Age, a time when people were believed to have enjoyed the bounty of the Earth without labor and lived in a state of equality. Saturnalia was supposed to reflect the conditions of the Golden Age.

It's roots included the ancient Greek harvest festival of the Kronia, was was in late July to early August, and included feasting and masters waiting on their servants. Saturnalia began developing into it's familiar form in 217 BC, following a severe loss in a battle against Carthage. It wasn't unusual for the Romans to offer cult to the gods of other nations to gain their favor, so they adopted the Greek rites.

According to the Talmud, it also drew from an ancient Jewish Winter Solstice festival dedicated to Adam. The tradition was that Adam saw the days getting shorter, and thought the world was returning to the chaos and emptiness from before creation. He fasted for eight days. When he saw the days begin to grow longer, again, he realized it was simply the natural cycle of the world, so he made an eight day celebration.

After Rome went from being a republic to an empire, the tradition of the King of the Saturnalia was introduced. the master of ceremonies. He would issue absurd commands that had to be obeyed, and would influence the later Christian tradition of the Lord of Misrule at the Feast of Fools.

The custom of gift giving would be adopted by both the Christian festival of Christmas and the Nordic pagan festival of Yule. Saturnalia's human shaped biscuits were precursors of the modern gingerbread man. The dancing and singing in the streets led to our modern caroling. The parties and drunken revelry would find it's modern form in New Year's Eve.


Saturn, himself, would become part of several Winter archetypes, including Old Man Winter, Father Christmas, Father Time, and the depiction of the outgoing year as a white bearded old man (with the incoming year depicted as a baby).


The annual Saturnalia parade in Chester, England

Next: Unduvapa Poya

November 25th, 2012, 12:34 PM

In Sri Lanka, the December full moon marks the Unduvapa Poya festival, honoring Sangamitta. In 2013, it will be December 16.

Sangamitta was born in the 3rd Century BC in India, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka the Great and his queen, Devi, a Buddhist. With her brother Mahinda, she entered an order of Buddhist monks. They went to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism.

Her father was reluctant to let her go, but she convinced him. He sent with her several other nuns to start the female Buddhist monastic order of Bhikkhunis. She brought a sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree and planted it in Anuradhapura, where it survives to this day.


That day is celebrated as Sangamitta Day, or Unduvapa Poya.


Ten nuns initiate the festivities. Buddhists first perform the Five Precepts; bathing, shaving, wearing white robes, and kneeling with clean bare feet in a shrine before a Buddha-statue. It's done three times with feet, hands, elbows, knees and head touching the floor. Then, the following prayers are recited with folded hands, palms at the heart.

As long as this life lasts.
I hereby take refuge in the Buddha.
I hereby take refuge in the Dhamma.
I hereby take refuge in the Sangha.
I hereby seek shelter in the Buddha for the 2nd time.
I hereby seek shelter in the Dhamma for the 2nd time.
I hereby seek shelter in the Sangha for the 2nd time.
I hereby request protection from the Buddha for the 3rd time.
I hereby request protection from the Dhamma for the 3rd time.
I hereby request protection from the Sangha for the 3rd time.
I will hereby respect these Three Jewels the rest of my life!
I accept to respect & undertake these 5 training rules:
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Killing.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Stealing.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Sexual Abuse.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Dishonesty.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Alcohol & Drugs.
As long as this life lasts, I am thus protected by these 5 precepts..

Next: Beiwe

November 26th, 2012, 11:48 AM

Beiwe was the Sun goddess of the Sami, the indigenous people of Fennoscandia. In that far north region, the sun was highly valued.

During the Winter Solstice, a white, female, reindeer would be sacrificed to her, so she would return and end the long winter.

According to tradition, she'd ride through the air with her daughter, Beaivi-nieida, in an enclosure covered with reindeer bones, bringing green plants to the cold earth for the reindeer to eat.

Doorposts would be covered with butter so Beiwe could eat it, and regain her strength as she continued on her journey.

The flying through the night sky, and reindeer would, of course, be adapted for the pre-Christian Yule for Odin, and the modern Christmas for Santa Claus.

Next: Pancha Ganapati

November 27th, 2012, 11:34 AM

Pancha Ganapati is the modern five day Hindu festival that runs from December 21 - 25. It's dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Patron of the Arts and Guardian of Culture. It was developed as a Hindu alternative to Christmas.


It centers on new beginnings and mending past mistakes. Each day is related to a color. A specific sadhana, a spiritual discipline, for each day is focused on by the family.


A shrine is made in the living room, centered with a statue of picture of Ganesha. As he's depicted as coming from the forest, pine boughs and banana leaves are often used. Each day, the shrine is decorated with the color associated with that day, representing Ganesha's Five Powers.


A tray of sweets, fruit, and incense is offered to Ganesha, each day, with chants and songs of praise. Then, sweets are shared. Gifts are given each day to the children, and placed before Ganesha, not to be opened until the 25th.

December 21 (Golden Yellow): This is about love and harmony among immediate family members. The family sits together to ease any strained relationships. Amends are made, forgiveness is offered. They speak of each other's good qualities, and resolve to remember the futility of trying to change others, and work to change themselves to be an example for others to witness. They pray for the well being of the household.

December 22 (Royal Blue): This is about harmony with neighbors, relatives, and close friends, and presenting them with gifts. Apologies are offered and misunderstandings are cleared up. Friends and relatives in far off places are called.

December 23 (Ruby Red): This is about love and harmony among business associates, merchants, and the public at large. Gifts are given to co-workers, employers, employees, and customers, not to be opened until the 25th.

December 24 (Emerald Green): This is about the joy and harmony that comes from art, drama, music, and dance. Family and friends gather and share and enjoy these gifts, and plans are made to bring more cultural refinement into the home.

December 25 (Brilliant Orange): This is about love and harmony in all three worlds, and inspiration for the coming year.


A further explanation

Next: Yalda

November 28th, 2012, 12:14 PM

"The true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone"
- Sa'di

When there are discussions of the development of religion and seasonal traditions in the West, the Zoroastrians of ancient Persia are often overlooked. They were the first Monotheists, and therefore largely influenced the beliefs and traditions of Judaism and Christianity, particularly with the Solstices and Equinoxes. Pantheistic Rome took many traditions from the Zoroastrians, as well, such as painting eggs for the Vernal Equinox.

Their biggest seasonal influence was on Winter traditions. The Roman Saturnalia adapted the gift giving tradition from the Zoroastrian Spring festival of Nowruz. Amoo Norooz, the old, white bearded, bringer of gifts to children during Nowruz, greatly influenced the development of Santa Claus.

The ancient Roman way of adopting another culture's religious traditions to gain favor with that culture, how their gods and religious practices became more Greek and Olympian at one key point in their history, saw, at another key point, the Romans adapt Zoroastrian concepts into the Sol Invictus Festival. The roots of that, as well as much of what we associate with Christmas, are in Yalda.

Yalda is celebrated on the night before the Winter Solstice. The morning, after, was the birth of Mithra, the Angel of Light and Truth.

In the Zoroastrian Scriptures, Mithra isn't the divinity of the sun. However, over time, he came to be. How and why this happened, no one is certain. One theory is an influence of the Babylonians and their Sun God, Shamash, who was a judicial figure like Mithra, and the Greeks, and their Sun God, Apollo, who was a divinity of Truth, like Mithra. Plus, his birthday being the day of the sun's renewal would naturally lead to an association.

Another Zoroastrian belief was the Earth came into being at Nowruz, the Vernal Equinox, the beginning of Spring. This belief carried over into Judaism, and, through that, Christianity. From there came the tradition that Mary, the Mother of God, conceived Christ on the Vernal Equinox, when Nature was renewed. Nine months later is, of course, the Winter Solstice. As Christ had become identified with the Radiant Sun, and they didn't know the date of Christ's birth, the Solstice, when the sun is reborn, was seen as the most fitting date to observe it.

In time, the Sun God Sol became the supreme divinity of the Roman Empire. This allowed several Solar deities from different cultures within the Empire to be worshiped, collectively. Celebrations for Sol were over various times in the year, but eventually, due to the popularity of Mithra and Christ (Mithra being especially popular in the Roman military), December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate the Sun's birth.

As Persia became Muslim Iran, the religious aspects of Yalda faded. But, like many ancient Persian festivals, it is still celebrated, there.

A tradition of Yalda was to stay awake most of the night. Parties were held and the last fresh fruits of the Summer eaten. In modern times, extended families gather for a large dinner, including many types of fruits and sweetmeats, the most popular dish being watermelon. Eating certain foods on this night are believed to have magical effects, such as watermelon to protect from the heat of the following Summer, garlic to protect against pain in the joints, and carrots, pears, pomegranates, and green olives to protect against scorpions.

After dinner, stories are told, and a form of divination is practiced using the works of the poet Hafez. One shouldn't do that more than three times, however, because the poet might get angry.

Engaged men send a platter of seven kinds of fruit and various gifts to their fiances, who sometimes send gifts, in return.

Next: Dongzhi

November 29th, 2012, 11:07 AM

The Dongzhi Festival is the Winter Solstice celebration in China, Japan, Korea, and other East Asia countries. It's built around the Yin and Yang concepts of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, the days will grow longer, bringing more positive energy.

Families get together. A trational food is tangyuan, balls of rice, symbolizing reunion. In Tiawan, some tangyuan is used as an offering, then placed at doors and windows to ward off evil sprits.


In northern China, dumplings are also eaten. The origins of this tradition are a story told about Zhang Zhongjing, the great physician of the Han Dynasty. On a cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains. He ordered his apprentices to prepare dumplings made from lamb and other ingredients to be distributed to the poor to keep them warm and prevent chilblains.

It's traditional for people of the same surname or clan to gather at the ancestoral temples to worship on this day, followed by a reunion dinner. The food also serves as a reminder that we're a year older, and should work to improve ourselves in the coming year.


Next: Yule

November 30th, 2012, 12:32 PM

In ancient times, Norse and Germanic tribes had various different Winter celebrations. Among them was Mōdraniht, or Mothers' Night, of the Anglo-Saxons. Very little is known about it, other than it was held on December 24, may have involved sacrifices, and possibly related to the Matres, female deities who were venerated in North-West Europe from the 1st to 5th Centuries, always depicted in groups of three.


Over time, various Germanic and Norse Winter customs, as well as elements from various other customs, including some Roman ones, developed into Yule.

The pre-Christian Yule didn't have a set date, happening some time after the Solstice in late December or early January, perhaps relating to the full moon following the Solstice. It's length also wasn't set. It could last three days, or for weeks, generally "until the ale runs out."

Farmers came to the temple, bringing enough food for the length of the festivities. Livestock was sacrificed, and the blood was smeared on the pedestals of the idols, the walls of the temple, and sprinkled on the men who were present. Fires were lit in the temple, and kettles hung over them. The meat from the sacrificed animals was boiled to be served at the banquet. The chieftain would carry a sacrificial beaker around the fire, blessing the beaker and the meat.

Toasts were drunk. The first was to Odin, "for victory and power to the king". The second was to Njörðr and Freyr, "for good harvests and for peace". The third was drunk to the king. Other toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kin.

When Scandinavia became Christian, Yule was given a set date to begin, December 25, and a set length, twelve days, to coincide with the Christian twelve day festival of Christmas. In Germanic languages, the twelve days of Christmas are called Yuletide.

A modern Christmas tradition is the Yule Log.


A large tree would be selected, cut down, and brought into the home, with the largest end of the log placed in the fire to provide maximum warmth and endurance. Today, the Yule Log is the large log that is burned around Christmas. It also serves as the name of a chocolate Christmas desert.


Another is the Yule Goat.


The origins of the Yule Goat, or at least some of the customs associated with it, relate to Thor, whose chariot flew through the sky, drawn by two goats that he would sacrifice for food, then resurrect, the next day. Originally, the Yule Goat frightened children and demanded presents, or was an invisible creature that would appear before Christmas to make sure the Yule preparations were done correctly, perhaps relating to Lussinata. During the 19th Century, he became the deliverer of Christmas gifts in Scandinavia. By the end of that century, he'd been replaced by the English Father Christmas, though the Scandiavians still had him riding the Yule Goat.


A Swedish custom popular until the mid-20th Century was a mock sacrifice and resurrection of the Yule Goat. Sir James Frazier's description...

"The actor, hidden by a coverlet made of skins and wearing a pair of formidable horns, is led into the room by two men, who make believe to slaughter him, while they sing verses referring to the mantles of various colours, red, blue, white, and yellow, which they laid on him, one after the other. At the conclusion of the song, the Yule Goat, after feigning death, jumps up and skips about to the amusement of the spectators."

A popular prank used to be to place a Yule Goat made of straw in a neighbor's house without them noticing. The pranked family had to get rid of it the same way. The modern Yule Goat is a Christmas tree ornament.


Large versions are to be found in cities around Christmas, and are often illegally set on fire before Christmas Day.

The Yule Boar, which was sacrificed during the pre-Christian Yule, likely related to Freyr, whose mount was a boar. This would find modern form in pig shaped cakes popular in Sweden for Christmas, and the Christmas ham.


Odin would, along with the Roman Saturn, influence the Old Man Winter archetype. That, along with Asia Minor's St. Nicholas, and Persia's Amoo Norooz, would greatly influence the development of the English Father Christmas, leading to our modern Santa Claus.

When Gerald Gardner developed Wicca in the mid-20th Century, he set four Celtic based Sabbats for their Wheel of the Year. His early group didn't wish to completely give up certain holidays such as Christmas and Easter, however. So, while he was out of town, they added four other Sabbats, more or less German based. Upon his return, Gardner approved of the changes. The Wiccan Winter Solstice celebration is named for Yule and is observed on December 21, dedicated to the Horned God.

A Wiccan Yule ritual

Lisa Thiel - Winter Solstice Song

Germanic and Norse neo-pagan groups vary is their Yule observances. The Asatru Folk Assembly maintains the Christian tradition of a twelve day Yule, but starts it on December 21, the Solstice. In Urglaawe, Yule celebrations begin on the night of December 20, and end on New Year's Day, January 1, with traditions including Belsnickeling and a focus on Holda, the German Matron of Spinning, Childbirth, and Domestic Animals, with rituals dedicated to her on Mothers' Night. January 1 is dedicated to a feast in honor of Freyr.

Next: Christmas Day

December 1st, 2012, 12:34 PM

Loreena McKennitt - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Christmas is the twelve day festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. It begins on December 25, Christmas Day. While a Christian festival, it's celebrated by many non-Christians.

December 25 was once the date on the calendar for the Winter Solstice. Tradition was that Mary, as the Mother of God, conceived Jesus on the Vernal Equinox, the first Vernal Equinox being when it was believed the Earth was created. Nine months later is the Winter Solstice, the rebirth of the Sun. Christ was seen as the prophesied "Sun of righteousness" described in the Book of Malachi. "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall."


According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary, betrothed to Joseph, was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she would conceive and bear a child called Jesus. She asked how this could be, since she was a virgin. Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that nothing would be impossible with God.

Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the angel visited Joseph and explained the situation, and that the child would save his people from their sins.

Mary later visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. John leapt in his mother's womb, recognizing the presence of Jesus.

When Mary was due to give birth, she and Joseph traveled to his ancestral home of Bethlehem for the first enrollment of a census. Finding no room at the inn, Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in a manger.

An angel visited the shepherds and told them of the birth of the Messiah, and that they would find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.


The shepherds visited, and told Mary and Joseph their tale. They are later visited by three Magi from the East, who followed the Star of Bethlehem and brought the child gifts. On their way, they visited King Herod, and told him the reason for their journey. In a dream after their visit to the child, they learned that Herod viewed the baby as a threat. So, they returned to their own country without telling Herod where the child was. Herod ordered all baby boys in the kingdom to be killed. An angel warned Joseph, so he fled with his family to Egypt, not returning until Herod was dead. But, as Herod's son now ruled Judea, they went to Galilee and settled in Nazareth.

Linus explains it

Loreena McKennitt - Noel Nouvelet!

Loreena McKennitt - The Seven Rejoices of Mary

Celtic Woman - Ding Dong Merrily On High

Celtic Woman - Wexford Carol & Christmas Pipes

Celtic Woman - O Come All Ye Faithful

Celtic Woman - The First Noel

Celtic Woman - What Child Is This

Celtic Woman - Don Oiche Ud Mbeithil

Celtic Woman - Joy To The World

Celtic Woman - Away In A Manger

Celtic Woman - In The Bleak Midwinter

Celtic Woman - Hark The Herald Angels Sing

Celtic Woman - O Holy Night

Sinead O'Connor - Silent Night

Johnny Cash - I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

Bing Crosby - Do You Hear What I Hear

Bing Crosby & David Bowie - The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth

Marianne Faithfull & The Chieftains - I Saw Three Ships A Sailing

The Monkees - Riu Chiu

Midnight Mass

As Christianity spread, different cultures had their own Winter Solstice traditions and customs. While the Church never made these officially part of the Christmas observations, over the centuries they became identified with the holiday they were done around the time of. As cultures mixed, various traditions mixed, and created new customs and traditions.


A Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen, usually a pine or fir, though in modern times a lot of people use an artificial one they can store and re-use, the next year. The tree was traditionally decorated with apples, nuts, and dates. In the 18th Century, candles were added. Those were replaced by colorful electric lights when electricity in homes became common (which also significantly decreased the possibility of fires). Garland, tinsel, and candy canes are other traditional ornaments. An angel or a star representing the Star of Bethlehem is placed on top of the tree.

The custom began in the 16th Century in Germany. Most cultures in Europe and Asia lay claim to being the tradition's roots. The ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and Chinese used evergreen trees, garlands, and wreaths to symbolize eternal life. Tree worship was common in ancient Europe. In Christian times in Scandinavia, the custom was to decorate evergreens around the house and barn at New Year's to scare off the Devil. There was the Tree of Paradise in medieval mystery plays performed on Christmas Eve, decorated with apples and wafers, the apples being replaced, in time, by shiny red balls. Decorated trees for Christmas were first seen in guild halls. After the Reformation, they began appearing in the homes of German Protestants as a counterpart to the Catholic Christmas cribs (where the modern Nativity scene came from).

Beginning in the early 20th Century, it became customary for cities and towns to have a large Christmas tree outdoors.


Lighting the National Christmas Tree, Washington, DC, USA

Aretha Franklin - O Christmas Tree

Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree

In North America, a popular Christmas plant is the poinsettia.


This comes from a 16th Century legend which told of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus's birthday. An angel inspired her to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church alter. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The star shaped leaf patterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red symbolizes the blood of Jesus's sacrifice.

Kissing under the mistletoe was a tradition that began in 16th Century England. What is it about the 16th Century? A lot of holiday traditions, not just Christmas ones, started in that century.


Like with the Christmas tree, several cultures claim to be the origin of the mistletoe tradition. It was prominent in Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, and was believed to be sacred to the Celtic Druids. What no one has figured out is how it led to kissing in 16th Century England. The Celts, according to Pliny the Elder, considered it a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison, so perhaps it was a fertility thing. Or, maybe it had nothing to do with any ancient traditions, at all.

And, of course, there's holly, which was sacred to Saturn, and came to Christmas from Saturnalia.

Loreena McKennitt - The Holly and the Ivy

Bing Crosby - Deck The Halls

The Christmas crib, or Nativity scene, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi is credited for starting this tradition in 1223.


Families hold a Christmas feast, traditionally built around turkey, goose, or ham. The Christmas ham originates with the pre-Christian Yule Boar. Ham is especially popular in the US with many families because Thanksgiving was just a month before, so they don't want turkey, again.

Gifts are given, another tradition from Saturnalia, and are wrapped in brightly colored paper with festive bows, placed under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas Day. Various traditions had a figure visiting homes at night and leaving gifts for the children of the household. Eastern and Central Europe had St. Nicholas doing it on December 6, Italy had Lucia doing it on December 13, Greece had St. Basil doing it on January 1. The Scandinavians had the Yule Goat doing it.

England, France, and Spain had Father Christmas as the deliverer of gifts on Christmas Eve, though that wasn't his initial role.


Father Christmas was first referred to in the 15th Century (Yay! Not the 16th, for once!) as the personification of Christmas. The image of him as a jolly old bearded man began in the 17th Century in response to Puritan attacks in England on Christmas, opponents of the Puritans seeing Christmas as a grand old tradition that should be kept. The Puritans outlawed Christmas during Oliver Cromwell's dictatorship.


Well, that was the Burgermeister Meisterburger, but Cromwell was a lot like that. :)

Cromwell and the Puritans also outlawed theatre, having any actors that were captured flogged, and massacred entire Irish towns, as well as selling thousands of Irish men, women, and children into slavery. Cromwell and the Puritans had... issues.

Following the downfall of the Puritans, The Trial of Father Christmas was published. He was cleared of all charges.

Father Christmas wore green fur, and was rooted in the Old Man Winter archetype. The Old Man Winter archetype dates to the Roman Saturn and Norse Odin. In the US, Father Christmas was merged with the Dutch St. Nicholas, and became the bringer of gifts on Christmas Eve, a tradition that quickly spread back to Europe. In Britain, Father Christmas still wore green through Victorian times, but now is in the American Santa Claus red.

A Visit From St. Nicholas

Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Gene Autrey - Up On The Housetop

Gene Autrey - Here Comes Santa Claus

Gene Autrey - Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby

The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick

The Jackson 5 - I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Cheech & Chong - Santa Claus And His Old Lady

Virginia O'Hanlon, 1895

In 1897, a little girl in New York named Virginia O'Hanlon asked her father if Santa Claus really existed. He suggested she write to the New York Sun, a popular newspaper, telling her, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." She wrote...

Dear Editor,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in the Sun, it is so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Francis P. Church responded with this editorial...


Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your Papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, or even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond.

Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else as real and abiding.

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, maybe 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the hearts of children.




New York

The Beach Boys - Winter Symphony

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo

Fantasia - The Nutcracker Suite

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Let It Snow

The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride

Frank Sinatra - Jingle Bells

Judy Garland - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Bing Crosby - White Christmas

Spike Jones - All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

Bing Crosby - Silver Bells

Perry Como and the Fontaine Sisters - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Perry Como - Home For The Holidays

Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock

Frank Sinatra - I'll Be Home For Christmas

Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song

Alvin and the Chipmunks - Christmas Song

The Ronettes - Frosty the Snowman

Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio - Linus and Lucy

The Grinch Song

Burl Ives - Holly Jolly Christmas

Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby

Jose Feliciano - Feliz Navidad

John Lennon - Happy Christmas (War is Over)

Johnny Cash - The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Beach Boys - Morning Christmas

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping

U2 - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

RUN-DMC - Christmas in Hollis

Enya - We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Enya - White Is In The Winter Night

Enya - The Spirit Of Christmas Past

Enya - Christmas Secrets

Enya - One Toy Soldier

Loreena McKennitt - The Bells of Christmas

The Chieftains - Bells of Dublin

Next: The Feast of Stephen

December 2nd, 2012, 11:52 AM

Loreena McKennitt - Good King Wenceslas

December 26 is the Second Day of Christmas, the Feast of Stephen. It's dedicated to St. Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament, and the Patron of deacons, alter servers, masons, and horses. Betrayed by a wren in some traditions, he was tortured and then stoned to death, but maintained, throughout the ordeal, his faith, showing his love for his persecutors and praying for them even as they were killing him.

As for that wren...


In Ireland, the tradition is the Hunting of the Wrens, in which a fake wren is hunted and put on top of a decorated pole. Groups called wrenboys dress in masks, straw, and other motley clothing, and, accompanied by musicians, parade through the town. It seems that, in addition to betraying St. Stephen, a wren also betrayed the Irish to Viking invaders by beating it's wings on their shields.

They used to use a real wren, which would be tied to the pole. Money was collected from the townsfolk visited, and used for a dance, that night, with the wren as it's center. Today, a fake wren is hidden rather than a real one that is hunted, girls also participate, and the collected money goes to a school or charity.

Wren Day in Dingle

The Clancy Brothers - The Wren Song

The Chieftains - Wren in the Furze

Steeleye Span - The King

Another Celtic tradition is mumming, which is also done on January 1, especially in Cornwall.


Performers sing, dance, and put on folk plays, sometimes in the streets, but usually door to door or in public houses. The plays tend to be comic, but centered on the death and resurrection of one of the characters. The hero is commonly St. George, though in some places Robin Hood, his opponent, a valiant soldier. Whichever one is killed in the play, a Doctor character restores him to life.



Other stories performed by mummers include The Old Tup, involving a ram, which has been performed by some groups since 1895...


Loreena McKennitt - The Mummers Dance

Great Big Sea - The Mummers Carol

In Britain and other Commonwealth countries, it's called Boxing Day, the name referring to the Middle Ages custom of placing metal boxes outside of churches to collect special offerings for the Feast. As servants had to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the custom became to give them the next day off to be with their families. The servants would be given a box of gifts and bonuses to take home to their families. Later, it became the custom of tradesman to collect Christmas boxes of money and presents as thanks for good service during the year.

It's become a major shopping day, as stores have sales with massive price reductions. Many sports are played, including soccer, basketball, horse racing, boat racing, and, of course, boxing. It used to be the most popular day for fox hunts, but those were banned, a few years back.

The Bahamas and Florida have the first Junkanoo parade, the second being on January 1. It's roots were in slavery times, when slaves on the island wolud be given the day off to be with their families.



In the US and Canada, December 26 is the first day of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African-American culture.


Initially conceived in 1966 as an alternative to Christmas, it's founder attacking Christianity. He altered this position when it became clear he was alienating most of the African-American community, and it became part of Christmas celebrations. While it's popularity has declined since it's high point, it is estimated to be celebrated by half a million to two million people. Each day is dedicated to one of it's Seven Principles...

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Teddy Pendergrass - Happy Kwanzaa

Next: New Year's Eve

December 4th, 2012, 09:27 AM
Thank you for all this info perceval23!
And thank you for posting the link to Sofia Karlsson's Luciasång. It's been on repeat on my computer for the past three days!
Oh, and a song for Saint Nicholas' Day:
St. Nicholas by Anuna

December 4th, 2012, 04:32 PM
It's such a beautiful song from a beautiful tradition, isn't it?

And thanks for the St. Nicholas song.

December 6th, 2012, 02:40 AM

Frank Sinatra - It Was A Very Good Year

Abba - Happy New Year

December 31 is the Seventh Day of Christmas, New Year's Eve. The end of the year is celebrated with social gatherings, with dancing, eating, drinking lots of alcoholic beverages, watching fireworks, and making a lot of noise, much of which has it's roots in the ancient Roman Winter Solstice festival of Saturnalia. At midnight, toasts with champagne are traditionally drunk, but you can substitute another drink if you don't care for champagne. The celebrations go on past midnight into January 1. The old year is depicted in art as represented by Father Time, the new year represented by a baby or young child.


A popular tradition, rooted in ancient Babylon, is New Year's Resolutions, in which one resolves to do something specific to improve their life or to be a better person.

In Spain and Latin America, it's tradition to eat twelve grapes, one with each chime of the clock as it strikes 12:00, making a wish with each chime.

In Scotland, it's called Hogmanay. No one really knows why it's called that, though there are plenty of theories.


One custom is first-footing, where the first person to enter the house after midnight brings a symbolic gift to bring good luck to the household. Many of the customs are believed to have origins in pre-Christian Celtic ones. In Stonehaven, a tradition is fireballs, in which balls of chicken wire are filled with flammable materials, attached to a chain, wire, or nonflammable rope, and swung over one's head. The swingers parade, and whatever ones are still aflame at the end of the parade are thrown into the harbor. There's also fire dancers, pipers, drummers, and fireworks.


Hogmanay in Stonehaven
http://youtu.be/0-Fzgr5VOOI (http://youtu.be/0-Fzgr5VOOI)

One tradition in Edinburgh is to burn a Viking longship, even though there were never any Vikings in Edinburgh.


Hogmanay in Edinburgh

As the clock strikes midnight, people form a circle, link arms, and sing "Auld Lang Syne", a poem by Robert Burns from 1788 set to music.

Dougie MacLean - Auld Lang Syne

The song would also become the New Year's Eve standard in the United States and Canada, for reasons we'll get into in a bit.

In Japan, New Year's Eve is called Ōmisoka. Around 11 PM, families eat a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon, the tradition being to eat long noodles to cross over from one year to the next.

Another regular part of Ōmisoka is the broadcast of the Red vs White singing contest at 7:30 PM, in which popular singers are split into two teams. At midnight, many visit temples for Hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the new year.


Shinto shrines prepare a beverage called amazake to pass out to the people who gather close to midnight, while Buddhist temples ring a bell for each of the 108 earthly desires that cause human suffering.


One of the largest celebrations in the country is at the Zojoji Temple, in which baloons are released, and the lighting of Tokyo Tower is watched.


As December 31 is the Feast of Sylvester, honoring the Pope associated with the Roman Emperor Constantine, in some countries the New Year's Eve celebrations are named for him, such as France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic

In Austria, TV and radio stations broadcast the ringing of the bells of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna at exactly midnight, followed by playing Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube".

The celebration in Vienna

The Blue Danube

In Berlin, the focus is the Brandenberg Gate, the center of fireworks at midnight.


Fireworks displays are a tradition in many parts of the world.


Paris, where the celebrations are centered at the Eiffel Tower.

London, where Big Ben is the focus.

The most famous New Year's Eve celebration is the Ball Drop in New York's Times Square, attended by over a million people, each year.


New Year's celebrations in Times Square began in 1904, with a fireworks display. The ball drop tradtion began on December 31, 1907, in which an electrically lit time ball (a now obsolete time signalling device) was lowered from the flagpole on the roof of One Times Square.


New York, 1933

Beginning in 1928, CBS Radio nationally broadcast the event with a performance by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, featuring his famous version of "Auld Lang Syne". It became a televised broadcast in 1956, with CBC also broadcasting it across Lombardo's native Canada, thus making the Times Square event the primary New Year's Eve celebration in North America.

From a 1957 broadcast

Lombardo continued his New Year's Eve broadcasts until his death in 1977. The Royal Canadians continued doing it for the next two years, then disbanded.

Beginning in 1972, ABC broadcast the event with a show aimed at a younger crowd, New Year's Rockin' Eve, hosted by Dick Clark. While Ryan Seacrest took over most of the hosting duties in recent years, Clark did the countdown from Times Square until his death, earlier this year.

The Go-Go's from the 1983 broadcast

In 1981, MTV began it's own coverage from Times Square, though with bands playing in a setting that was more rock club than the Prom style ABC broadcast, and, well, it was raunchier.

Joan Jett, Darlene Love, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and members of Duran Duran from the 1985 broadcast, back when Joan looked like this little rock'n'roll fairy, bouncing around. Something about the eyes...

Now, the tradition is to play "Imagine" by John Lennon just before the ball drops, then Guy Lombardo's "Auld Lang Syne" followed by Frank Sinatra's "New York New York", immediately after.


John Lennon - Imagine

Guy Lombardo - Auld Lang Syne

Frank Sinatra - New York New York


Next: New Year's Day

December 7th, 2012, 01:56 AM
U2 - New Year's Day

The Eighth Day of Christmas is January 1, New Year's Day. It is the beginning of the year. The ancient Romans dedicated the day to Janus, for whom January is named.


Janus is the God of gates, doors, and beginnings. He has two faces, one looking back, the other foreward.

The second day of mumming is January 1 (the first being December 26), as well as the second Junkanoo parades in the Bahamas (the first, again, being December 26).

A Mummers Play in Victoria, BC

New Year's Day Junkanoo Parade

In the US, Philadelphia holds it's annual Mummers Parade

The most famous New Year's Day parade in the US is the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles.


Begun in 1890, the parade was conceived to showcase the mild Winter weather in southern California, with flower covered floats.

Other events were held in addition to the parade, including chariot races. The one that stuck was a college football game, which became an annual tradition starting in 1916, the Rose Bowl. Other annual college football games began to be played on New Year's Day, called Bowl Games, becoming one of the main things identified with New Year's Day in the States. More Bowl Games were added for the weeks leading to New Year's.

In Boston in 1904, a tradition began that spread through the US, then Canada, then the Netherlands, on January 1, the Polar Bear Plunge.


Thousands of people gather at an icy body of water, and take a dip. These events raise money for charities.


Next: Twelfth Night

December 8th, 2012, 10:31 PM

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

January 5 is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, ending the Christmas festivities. Twelfth Night is about preparing for the next season in the Christian calendar, Carnival, the preparation for Spring, which begins January 6 with Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, as it's more commonly known.

How long Carnival lasts depends on the Lunar calendar. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the full moon after the Vernal Equinox. The 46 days preceding it are Lent, the welcoming of Spring. Carnival is from January 6 to the night before Lent begins, so it ends some time between February 3 and March 9. In 2013, it will end on February 12.

Three Kings Day celebrates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus.


The Magi were three wise men from the East, who followed the Star of Bethlehem to see the Christ Child, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The account from the Gospel of Matthew...

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.

Tradition has them named as Melchior, a Persian scholar, Caspar, an Indian scholar, and Balthazar, an Arabian scholar.


Patti Smith - We Three Kings

In modern times, it's seen as unlucky in English speaking countries not to have Christmas decorations removed by the end of Twelfth Night, though originally the tradition was that you had to have them removed before February 2 to avoid bad luck.

If fruits or nuts are part of the Christmas Wreath or Christmas Tree ornaments, they are consumed as part of the feast.

A traditional punch is wassail, drank throughout Christmas, but especially on Twelfth Night. It's a hot, mulled, apple cider.


On Twelfth Night, the apple trees are wassailed, a tradition that has it's roots in pre-Christian times, though whether it's Celtic or Saxon in origin is unknown. This is to awaken them, and drive off evil spirits, thus insuring a good apple harvest.


A Wassail King and Queen is selected to lead the singing or procession. Toast soaked in wassail is placed in the boughs of the tree, followed by this being recited: “Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!” This is followed by singing, shouting, and banging of drums, pots, and pans to be sure the trees have been woken up.

A Wassail

Loreena McKennitt - Gloucestershire Wassail

In Bulgaria, Epiphany is called Bogoyavlenie.


A wooden cross is thrown by a priest into a sea, lake, or river, and young men race into the icy water to retrieve it. It's said that good health is bestowed on the home of the swimmer who first reaches the cross.


In the town of Kalofer, before the race is a horo dance in the icy river with bagpipes and drums.


In Greece, North America and Austrailia, there is the Great Blessing of the Waters.


This marks the end of the ban on sailing, as the goblins that torment sailors during the Christmas season are banished. As in Bulgaria, a cross is thrown in the waters, and swimmers try to retrieve it for good luck.


In Romania and Moldova, in addition to the water rites, there is horse racing. If a young woman slips and falls on ice, or better yet falls into water, it's said she will surely marry, that year. So, if you're a young woman and happen to be in either of these countries that day, and you don't want to be married within a year, watch your step.


In the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and neighboring parts of Germany, children dress as the Magi go from house to house to sing and bless the home, receiving coins and sweets.


Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have the Star Singers tradition, in which groups of three or four children, either girls, boys, or a mixture, dress as the Magi, and sing songs, raising money for charities.


They bless the house by marking the year over the doorway in chalk.



Another tradition in Europe and North America is parades.



New York

New Orleans, opening the Carnival festivities by celebrating the birthday of one of my Patrons, the Maid of Orleans, St. Joan of Arc.

From medieval times and until the 16th Century, Twelfth Night festivities were ruled by the Lord of Misrule, a tradition dating to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, in which the traditional social order was overturned for a night. At the beginning of the festivities, a cake with a bean inside it was eaten. Whoever found the bean ruled the festivities.

While the Lord of Misrule is long gone, and most traditions associated with him are now part of New Year's Eve, the cake tradition survived as the King Cake. The first King Cakes are eaten on Twelfth Night or Three Kings Day.

Spanish style King Cake

Louisiana style King Cake

They vary in different regions. Where I am, we have both the Mexican and Lousiana styles. Personally, I prefer the Lousiana style, because I think it tastes better. The colors that decorate the cake are purple, meaning justice, green, meaning faith, and gold, meaning power.

Either a bean or a tiny figurine of a baby is hidden in the cake. The baby represents the Christ Child being hidden from Herod.

Making a Mexican style King Cake

How does the baby get into the King Cake?

Whoever finds the baby is responsible for either hosting a party, bringing lunch, or bringing the next King Cake for the next big day, when the Carnival festivities really kick into high gear, February 2.