Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a shamrock.
Celtic Myth and Moonlight - Link to Online Shopping Main Page  http://www.celticmythmoon.com
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a shamrock.
Home Page Store Tour Online Shopping Directions Contact Us
Newsletter Links Specials Events Resources
Celebrating 10 Years in Business: 2003-2013
 
clothing, capes and accessories Journals, Waxes, Quills, Pens and Inks

Chalices, Goblets & Champagne Flutes

Prints, Plaques & Wall Hangings Merry Ole Feast-Ware Candles, Incense & Holders
Jewelry, Perfumes, Sgian Dubhs and Watches Herbs, Oils, Resins and Mead Books, Music & Tarot Decks Magical Tools Mystical Beings Boxes and Hourglass Timers

Knotwork ShamrockKnotwork ShamrockDuring August take $5 OFF your Purchase of $25 (or more) ~ With Coupon!
Scottish Thistle

Scottish ThistleScottish ThistleWest Reading Wine Walk ~ Wednesday, September 10th, 5:30 - 8:30 PM!


Holidays, Festivals and Celebrations

Samhain, Hallowe'en, Hallowmas
and
Day of the Dead

October 31st & November 1st

Jack-O'-Lantern
Thanksgiving and St. Andrew's Day

Fourth Thursday
& November 30th

Thanksgiving & St. Andrew's Day
Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan
and Christmas

December 21st
& 25th

Holly

New Year's Eve, Hogmanay
and
New Year's Day

December 31st
&
January 1st

New Year's Eve and Hogmanay
Imbolc and Candlemas

February 2nd

Brigid's Cross
Valentine's Day and Lupercalia

February14th

St. Patcick's Day

March 17th

Irish Shamrock
Ostara, Ēostre , Alban Eile, Vernal Equinox
and
Easter

March 21st
& 1st Sunday past the full moon after the vernal equinox

Easter Eggs
Beltaine, May Day and Walpurgis Night

May 1st

Beltane Fire
Midsummer, Litha, Alban Heruin and Summer Solstice

June 21st

Greenman

Lughnasadh, Lammas and Gŵyl Awst

August 1st

Grains & Breads
Mabon, Harvest Home, Meán Fómhair, Alban Elfed and Autumnal Equinox

September 21st

Autumn Leaves

Return to Top of Page

Scotch Thistle

Holidays, Festivals & Celebrations [1]

SAMHAIN

Samhain; from Irish samhain, cf. Scots Gaelic samhainn, Old Irish samain "summer's end", from sam "summer" and fuin "end") is a festival on the end of the harvest season in Gaelic and Brythonic cultures, with aspects of a festival of the dead. Many scholars believe that it was the beginning of the Celtic year. The term derives from the name of a month in the ancient Celtic calendar, in particular the first three nights of this month, with the festival marking the end of the summer season and the end of the harvest. The Gaelic festival became associated with the Catholic All Souls' Day, and appears to have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween. Samhain is also the name of a festival in various currents of Neopaganism inspired by Gaelic tradition. Samhain and an t-Samhain are also the Irish and Scottish Gaelic names of November, respectively.

Etymology

The Irish word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish samain, samuin, or samfuin, all referring to November 1st (latha na samna: 'samhain day'), and the festival and royal assembly held on that date in medieval Ireland (oenaig na samna: 'samhain assembly'). Its meaning is glossed as 'summer's end', and the frequent spelling with f suggests analysis by popular etymology as sam ('summer') and fuin ('sunset', 'end'). The Old Irish sam ('summer') is from Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) *semo-; cognates are Welsh haf, Breton hañv, English summer and Old Norse language sumar, all meaning 'summer', and the Sanskrit sáma ("season"). Whitley Stokes in KZ 40:245 (1907) suggests an etymology from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and the Gothic samana. J. Vendryes in Lexique Étymologique de l'Irlandais Ancien (1959) concludes that these words containing *semo- ('summer') are unrelated to samain, remarking that furthermore the Celtic 'end of summer' was in July, not November, as evidenced by Welsh gorffennaf ('July'). We would therefore be dealing with an Insular Celtic word for 'assembly', *samani or *samoni, and a word for 'summer', saminos (derived from *samo-: 'summer') alongside samrad, *samo-roto-. The Irish samain would be etymologically unrelated to 'summer', and derive from 'assembly'. But note that the name of the month is of Proto-Celtic age, cf. Gaulish SAMON[IOS] from the Coligny calendar, and the association with 'summer' by popular etymology may therefore in principle date to even pre-Insular Celtic times.

Confusingly, Gaulish Samonios (October/November lunation) corresponds to GIAMONIOS, the seventh month (the April/May lunation) and the beginning of the summer season. Giamonios, the beginning of the summer season, is clearly related to the word for winter, Proto-Indo-European *g'hei-men- (Latin hiems, Slavic zima, Greek kheimon, Hittite gimmanza), cf. Old Irish gem-adaig ('winter's night'). It appears, therefore, that in Proto-Celtic the first month of the summer season was named 'wintry', and the first month of the winter half-year 'summery', possibly by ellipsis, '[month at the end] of summer/winter', so that samfuin would be a restitution of the original meaning. This interpretation would either invalidate the 'assembly' explanation given above, or push back the time of the re-interpretation by popular etymology to very early times indeed. Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain are still today the names of the months of May, August and November in the Irish language. Similarly, an Lùnasdal and an t-Samhain are the modern Scottish Gaelic names for August and November.

History

The Gaulish calendar appears to have divided the year into two halves: the 'dark' half, beginning with the month Samonios (the October/November lunation), and the 'light' half, beginning with the month Giamonios (the April/May lunation). The entire year may have been considered as beginning with the 'dark' half, so that the beginning of Samonios may be considered the Celtic New Year's day. The celebration of New Year itself may have taken place during the 'three nights of Samonios' (Gaulish trinux[tion] samo[nii]), the beginning of the lunar cycle which fell nearest to the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The lunations marking the middle of each half-year may also have been marked by specific festivals. The Coligny calendar marks the mid-summer moon (see Lughnasadh), but omits the mid-winter one. The seasons are not oriented at the solar year, viz. solstice and equinox, so the mid-summer festival would fall considerably later than summer solstice, around August 1st (Lughnasadh). It appears that the calendar was designed to align the lunations with the agricultural cycle of vegetation, and that the exact astronomical position of the Sun at that time was considered less important.

In medieval Ireland, Samhain became the principal festival, celebrated with a great assembly at the royal court in Tara, lasting for three days. After being ritually started on the Hill of Tlachtga, a bonfire was set alight on the Hill of Tara, which served as a beacon, signaling to people gathered atop hills all across Ireland to light their ritual bonfires. The custom has survived to some extent, and recent years have seen a resurgence in participation in the festival. Samhain was identified in Celtic literature as the beginning of the Celtic year and its description as "Celtic New Year" was popularised in 18th century literature From this usage in the Romanticist Celtic Revival, Samhain is still popularly regarded as the "Celtic New Year" in the contemporary Celtic cultures, both in the Six Celtic Nations and the diaspora. For instance, the contemporary calendars produced by the Celtic League begin and end at Samhain. It is important to remember that all of the written documents in places like Ireland and Wales date to a time after the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century. Thus, while evidence such as folklore and ancient sagas may suggest certain associations with Samhain, these all are observed in a Christian context. There is absolutely no evidence as to whether and how this time might have been observed in any pre-Christian culture.

Celtic Folklore

The Samhain celebrations have survived in several guises as a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead. In Ireland and Scotland, the Féile na Marbh, the 'festival of the dead' took place on Samhain. The night of Samhain, in Irish, Oíche Shamhna and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna, is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, and falls on the 31st of October. It represents the final harvest. In modern Ireland and Scotland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Gaelic language is still Oíche/Oidhche Shamhna. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. Traditionally, Samhain was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive the winter. This custom is still observed by many who farm and raise livestock because it is when meat will keep since the freeze has come and also since summer grass is gone and free foraging is no longer possible.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down through the last several centuries, and up through the present day in some rural areas of the Celtic nations and the diaspora. Villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. In the pre-Christian Gaelic world, cattle were the primary unit of currency and the center of agricultural and pastoral life. Samhain was the traditional time for slaughter, for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. The word 'bonfire', or 'bonefire' is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.

Divination is a common folkloric practice that has also survived in rural areas. The most common uses were to determine the identity of one's future spouse, the location of one's future home, and how many children a person might have. Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often employed in these rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name. Nuts were roasted on the hearth and their movements interpreted - if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in a glass of water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from how many birds appeared or the direction the birds flew.

Ireland

The Ulster Cycle is peppered with references to Samhain. Many of the adventures and campaigns undertaken by the characters therein begin at the Samhain Night feast. One such tale is Echtra Nerai ('The Adventure of Nera') concerning one Nera from Connacht who undergoes a test of bravery put forth by King Ailill. The prize is the king's own gold-hilted sword. The terms hold that a man must leave the warmth and safety of the hall and pass through the night to a gallows where two prisoners had been hanged the day before, tie a twig around one man's ankle, and return. Others had been thwarted by the demons and spirits that harassed them as they attempted the task, quickly coming back to Ailill's hall in shame. Nera goes on to complete the task and eventually infiltrates the sídhe where he remains trapped until next Samhain. Taking etymology into consideration, it is interesting to note that the word for summer expressed in the Echtra Nerai is samraid.

The other cycles feature Samhain as well. The Cath Maige Tuireadh (Battle of Mag Tuired) takes place on Samhain. The deities Morrígan and Dagda meet and have sex before the battle against the Fomorians; in this way the Morrígan acts as a sovereignty figure and gives the victory to The Dagda's people, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The tale The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn includes an important scene at Samhain. The young Fionn Mac Cumhail visits Tara where Aillen the Burner, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, puts everyone to sleep at Samhain and burns the place. Through his ingenuity Fionn is able to stay awake and slays Aillen, and is given his rightful place as head of the fianna.

Related Festivals

Brittany

In parts of western Brittany, Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou, cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his 'cuckold' horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld. The Romans identified Samhain with their own feast of the dead, the Lemuria. This, however, was observed in the days leading up to May 13th. With Christianization, the festival in November (not the Roman festival in May) became All Hallows' Day on November 1st followed by All Souls' Day, on November 2nd. Over time, the night of October 31st came to be called All Hallow's Eve, and the remnants festival dedicated to the dead eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as Halloween.

Wales

The Welsh equivalent of this holiday is called Nos Galan Gaeaf. As with Samhain, this marks the beginning of the dark half of the year and it officially begins at sunset on the 31st.

Isle of Man

The Manx celebrate Hop-tu-Naa, which is a celebration of the original New Year's Eve. The term is Manx Gaelic in origin, deriving from Shogh ta’n Oie, meaning "this is the night". Traditionally, children dress as scary beings, carry turnips rather than pumpkins and sing an Anglicized version of Jinnie the Witch. They go from house to house asking for sweets or money.

Neopaganism

Samhain is observed by various Neopagans in various ways. As forms of Neopaganism can differ widely in both their origins and practices, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some Neopagans have elaborate rituals to honor the dead, and the deities who are associated with the dead in their particular culture or tradition. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.

Celtic Reconstructionism

Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans tend to celebrate Samhain on the date of first frost, or when the last of the harvest is in and the ground is dry enough to have a bonfire. Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy, and base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. At bonfire rituals, some observe the old tradition of building two bonfires, which celebrants and livestock then walk or dance between as a ritual of purification. According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. It is the time of the year when ancestors and other departed souls are especially honored. Though Celtic Reconstructionists make offerings to the spirits at all times of the year, Samhain in particular is a time when more elaborate offerings are made to specific ancestors. Often a meal will be prepared of favorite foods of the family's and community's beloved dead, a place set for them at the table, and traditional songs, poetry and dances performed to entertain them. A door or window may be opened to the west and the beloved dead specifically invited to attend. Many leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home. Divination for the coming year is often done, whether in all solemnity or as games for the children. The more mystically inclined may also see this as a time for deeply communing with the deities, especially those whom the lore mentions as being particularly connected with this festival.

Wicca

Samhain is one of the eight annual festivals, often referred to as 'Sabbats', observed as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four 'greater Sabbats'. It is generally observed on October 31st in the Northern Hemisphere, starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane, which Wiccans celebrate as a festival of light and fertility.

[2]

Return to Top of Page

HALLOWEEN

Halloween (also spelled Hallowe’en) is a holiday celebrated on October 31st. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holy day of All Saints’ Day. It is largely a secular celebration, but some Christians and Pagans have expressed strong feelings about its religious overtones. Irish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America during Ireland's Great Famine of 1846. The day is often associated with the colors orange and black, and is strongly associated with symbols such as the jack-o'-lantern. Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, ghost tours, bonfires, costume parties, visiting haunted attractions, carving jack-o'-lanterns, reading scary stories, and watching horror movies.

History

Halloween has origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain; from the Old Irish samain, possibly derived from Gaulish samonios). The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient Celtic Pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Celts believed that on October 31st, now known as Halloween, the boundary between the living and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to copy the evil spirits or placate them.

Origin of Name

The term Halloween, originally spelled Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows’ Eve (both even and eve are abbreviations of evening, but Halloween gets its n from even) as it is the eve of "All Hallows’ Day", which is now also known as All Saints’ Day. It was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints’ Day from May 13th (which had itself been the date of a Pagan holiday, the Feast of the Lemures) to November 1st. In the 9th century, the Church measured the day as starting at sunset, in accordance with the Florentine calendar. Although All Saints’ Day is now considered to occur one day after Halloween, the two holidays were, at that time, celebrated on the same day.

Symbols

On Hallows’ eve, the ancient Celts would place a skeleton on their window sill to represent the departed. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. Believing that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge, the Celts used the "head" of the vegetable to frighten off any superstitions. Welsh, Irish and British myth are full of legends of the Brazen Head, which may be a folk memory of the widespread ancient Celtic practice of headhunting - the results of which were often nailed to a door lintel or brought to the fireside to speak their wisdom. The name jack-o'-lantern can be traced back to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a greedy, gambling, hard-drinking old farmer. He tricked the devil into climbing a tree and trapped him by carving a cross into the tree trunk. In revenge, the devil placed a curse on Jack, condemning him to forever wander the earth at night with the only light he had: a candle inside of a hollowed turnip. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America, where pumpkins were not only readily available but much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Many families that celebrate Halloween carve a pumpkin into a frightening or comical face and place it on their doorstep after dark. In America, the tradition of carving pumpkins is known to have preceded the Great Famine period of Irish immigration. The carved pumpkin was originally associated with harvest time in general, in America and did not become specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century.

The imagery surrounding Halloween is largely an amalgamation of the Halloween season itself, works of Gothic and horror literature, in particular novels Frankenstein and Dracula, and nearly a century of work from American filmmakers and graphic artists, and a rather commercialized take on the dark and mysterious. Halloween imagery tends to involve death, evil, the occult, magic, or mythical monsters. Traditional characters include the Devil, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, ghouls, demons, witches, pumpkin-men, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, mummies, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, owls, crows, and vultures. Particularly in America, symbolism is inspired by classic horror films (which contain fictional figures like Frankenstein's monster and The Mummy). Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. The two main colors associated with Halloween are orange and black.

Trick-or-Treating and Guising

Costumes

Halloween costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Costumes are also based on themes other than traditional horror, such as those of characters from television shows, movies, and other pop culture icons.

UNICEF

"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF" has become a common sight during Halloween in North America. Started as a local event in a Philadelphia suburb in 1950 and expanded nationally in 1952, the program involves the distribution of small boxes by schools (or in modern times, corporate sponsors like Hallmark, at their licensed stores) to trick-or-treaters, in which they can solicit small-change donations from the houses they visit. It is estimated that children have collected more than $119 million (US) for UNICEF since its inception. In 2006, UNICEF discontinued their Halloween collection boxes in parts of the world, citing safety and administrative concerns.

Games and Other Activities

There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin (to make things even more challenging, try removing the stems from the apples). A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop the fork into an apple. Another common game involves hanging up treacle or syrup-coated scones by strings; these must be eaten without using hands while they remain attached to the string, an activity that inevitably leads to a very sticky face. Kids can play a "kill the witch game" by drawing and coloring a witch on a large piece of paper, cutting out circles from black construction paper and sticking tape on the back to make the witch's warts. Then blindfold the players, spin them around three times and have 'em pin ugly warts on the witch! The player who sticks the wart closest to the nose wins.

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicíní (pronounced "poocheeny"), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled, and the seated person then chooses one by touch; the contents of the saucer determine the person's life during the following year. In 19th-century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. A traditional Irish and Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name. This custom has survived among Irish and Scottish immigrants in the rural United States.

Unmarried women were frequently told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of Halloween parties. Episodes of TV series and specials with Halloween themes (with the specials usually aimed at children) are commonly aired on or before the holiday, while new horror films, are often released theatrically before the holiday to take advantage of the atmosphere.

Haunted Attractions

Haunted attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and scare patrons; most are seasonal Halloween businesses. Origins of these paid scare venues are difficult to pinpoint, but it is generally accepted that they were first commonly used by the Junior Chamber International (Jaycees) for fundraising. They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States bring in an estimate $300–500 million each year, and draw some 400,000 customers, although trends suggest a peak in 2005. This increase in interest has led to more highly technical special effects and costuming that is comparable with that in Hollywood films.

Foods

Because the holiday comes in the wake of the annual apple harvest, candy apples (also known as toffee, caramel or taffy apples) are a common Halloween treat made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts. At one time, candy apples were commonly given to children, but the practice rapidly waned in the wake of widespread rumors that some individuals were embedding items like pins and razor blades in the apples. While there is evidence of such incidents, they are quite rare and have never resulted in serious injury. Nonetheless, many parents assumed that such heinous practices were rampant. At the peak of the hysteria, some hospitals offered free x-rays of children's Halloween hauls in order to find evidence of tampering. Virtually all of the few known candy poisoning incidents involved parents who poisoned their own children's candy, and there have been occasional reports of children putting needles in their own (and other children's) candy in need of a bit of attention.

One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish "báirín breac"), which is a light fruitcake, into which a plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the ensuing year. This is similar to the tradition of king cake at the festival of Epiphany. Other foods associated with the holiday:

  • Candy corn
  • Báirín Breac (Ireland)
  • Colcannon (Ireland)
  • Bonfire toffee (in the UK)
  • Toffee Apple (Australia when celebrated, England, Wales and Scotland, instead of "Candy Apples")
  • Apple cider
  • Cider
  • Roasted sweet corn
  • Popcorn
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread
  • "Fun-sized" or individually wrapped pieces of small candy, typically in Halloween colors of orange, and brown/black.
  • Novelty candy shaped like skulls, pumpkins, bats, worms, etc.
  • Small bags of potato chips, pretzels and caramel corn
  • Chocolates, caramels, and gum
  • Pumpkin and Apple pie ice cream are sometimes enjoyed

Around the World

Halloween is not celebrated in all countries and regions of the world, and among those that do the traditions and importance of the celebration vary significantly. Celebration in the United States has had a significant impact on how the holiday is observed in other nations. The history of Halloween traditions in a given country also lends context to how it is presently celebrated.

Religious Perspectives

In North America, Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day, while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day of remembrance and prayers for unity. Celtic Christians may have Samhain services that focus on the cultural aspects of the holiday, in the belief that many ancient Celtic customs are "incompatible with the new Christian religion. Christianity embraced the Celtic notions of family, community, the bond among all people, and respect for the dead. Throughout the centuries, Pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry (hodgepodge) of celebrations from October 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery."

Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating "imaginary spooks" and handing out candy. Halloween celebrations are common among Roman Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Halloween as having a Christian connection. Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, "If English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that." Most Christians hold the view that the tradition is far from being "satanic" in origin or practice and that it holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality, and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life lesson and a part of many of their parishioners' heritage. Other Christians, primarily of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist variety, are concerned about Halloween, and reject the holiday because they believe it trivializes (and celebrates) "the occult" and what they perceive as evil. A response among some fundamentalists in recent years has been the use of Hell houses or themed pamphlets (such as those of Jack T. Chick) which attempt to make use of Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism. Some consider Halloween to be completely incompatible with the Christian faith due to its origin as a Pagan "Festival of the Dead." In more recent years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has organized a "Saint Fest" on the holiday. Many contemporary Protestant churches view Halloween as a fun event for children, holding events in their churches where children and their parents can dress up, play games, and get candy. Religions other than Christianity also have varied views on Halloween. Some Wiccans feel that the tradition is offensive to "real witches" for promoting stereotypical caricatures of "wicked witches".

[3]

Return to Top of Page

HALLOWMAS

All Saints' Day (also called All Hallows or Hallowmas), often shortened to All Saints, is a feast celebrated on November 1 in Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. In terms of Western Christian theology, the feast commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven. Specifically, in the Roman Catholic Church, the next day, All Souls' Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.

In the East

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, All Saints Sunday (Greek: Αγίων Πάντων, Agiōn Pantōn), follows the ancient tradition of commemorating all saints collectively on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI "the Wise" (886–911). His wife, Empress Theophano - commemorated on December 16—lived a devout life. After her death, her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to "All Saints," so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated. According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.

This Sunday marks the close of the Paschal season. To the normal Sunday services are added special scriptural readings and hymns to all the saints (known and unknown) from the Pentecostarion. The Sunday following All Saints Sunday—the second Sunday after Pentecost—is set aside as a commemoration of all locally venerated saints, such as "All Saints of America", "All Saints of Mount Athos", etc. The third Sunday after Pentecost may be observed for even more localized saints, such as "All Saints of St. Petersburg", or for saints of a particular type, such as "New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke." In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos.

In the West

The Western Christian holiday of All Saints Day falls on November 1st, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2nd, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church. The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. The chosen day, May 13th, was a Pagan observation of great antiquity, the culmination of three days of the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists of the Middle Ages based the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of "all the dead".

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to November 1. This usually fell within a few weeks of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which had a theme similar to that of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival. The Irish, whose holiday Samhain had been, did not celebrate All Hallows Day on this November 1 date, as extant historical documents attest that the celebration in Ireland took place in the spring: "...the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches [in Ireland] celebrated the feast of All Saints on April 20th."

A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued "at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops", which confirmed its celebration on November 1st. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471—1484). The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between October 31st and November 6th. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada and the Wesleyan Church. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints' Day is on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those that have died from the local church congregation. A candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person's name is called out. Then, a liturgical prayer is offered for each soul in Heaven.

Roman Catholic Obligation

In the Roman Catholic Church All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning going to Mass on the date is required. However, All Saints Day is not considered a Holy Day of Obligation when it falls on Monday or Saturday, as well as having no obligation at all in Hawaii.

Customs

In Portugal and Spain, ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Mexico, All Saints coincides with the celebration of "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents), the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration, honoring deceased children and infants. In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Catholic parts of Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In the Philippines, this day, called "Undas", "Todos los Santos" (literally "All Saints"), and sometimes "Araw ng mga Namayapa" (approximately "Day of the deceased") is observed as All Souls' Day. This day and the one before and one after it is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted. In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn "For All the Saints" by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

[4]

Return to Top of Page

DAY OF THE DEAD

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it attains the quality of a National Holiday. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1st) and All Souls' Day (November 2nd). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.

Origins

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the god known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina. In most regions of Mexico, November 1st honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1st mainly as Día de los Inocentes ("Day of the Innocents") but also as Día de los Angelitos ("Day of the Little Angels") and November 2nd as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos ("Day of the Dead").

Beliefs

People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas ("offerings"), which often include orange mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchitl (originally named cempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty flowers").

In modern Mexico, this name is sometimes replaced with the term Flor de Muerto ("Flower of the Dead"). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or "the little angels"), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), and sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site as well.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes; these usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, scores of candles and an ofrenda. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with ofrendas, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

Those with a distinctive talent for writing sometimes create short poems, called calaveras ("skulls"), mocking epitaphs of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes or funny anecdotes. This custom originated in the 18th or 19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, "and all of us were dead", proceeding to "read" the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of the famous calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits, often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

José Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure that he called La Calavera de la Catrina ("calavera of the female dandy") as a parody of a Mexican upper-class female. Posada's striking image of a costumed female with a skeleton face has become associated with the Day of the Dead, and Catrina figures often are a prominent part of modern Day of the Dead observances.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child's death, the godparents set a table in the parents' home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child's life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for "butterflies") to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos, opens its doors to visitors in exchange for veladoras (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently deceased. In return, the visitors receive tamales and atole. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from Mictlán.

In some parts of the country (especially the cities, where in recent years there are displaced other customs), children in costumes roam the streets, knocking on people's doors for a calaverita, a small gift of candies or money; they also ask passersby for it. This custom is similar to that of Halloween's trick-or-treating and is relatively recent.

Some people believe that possessing Day of the Dead items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them. They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon their altar or ofrenda.

Observances Outside Mexico

North America

In many United States communities with Mexican residents, Day of the Dead celebrations are held that are very similar to those held in Mexico. In some of these communities, such as in Texas and Arizona, the celebrations tend to be mostly traditional. For example, the All Souls Procession has been an annual Tucson event since 1990. The event combines elements of traditional Day of the Dead celebrations with those of pagan harvest festivals. People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can place slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.

In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.

Similar traditional and inter-cultural updating of Mexican celebrations is occurring in San Francisco, for example, through the Galería de la Raza, SomArts Cultural Center, Mission Cultural Center, de Young Museum and altars at Garfield Square by the Marigold Project. Oakland is home to Corazon Del Pueblo in the Fruitvale district. Corazon Del Pueblo has a shop offering handcrafted Mexican gifts and a museum devoted to Day of the Dead artifacts. In Missoula, Montana, skeletal celebrants on stilts, novelty bicycles, and skis parade through town. It also occurs annually at historic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Sponsored by Forest Hills Educational Trust and the folkloric performance group La Piñata, the Day of the Dead celebration celebrates the cycle of life and death. People bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos, and food for their departed loved ones, which they place at an elaborately and colorfully decorated altar. A program of traditional music and dance also accompanies the community event.

Latin America

Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites in addition to the traditional visits to grave sites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre, which is made only for this day during the year.

In Ecuador, the Day of the Dead is observed to some extent by all parts of society, though it is especially important to the indigenous Kichwa peoples who make up an estimated quarter of the population. Indigena families gather together in the community cemetery with offerings of food for a day-long remembrance of their ancestors and lost loved ones. Ceremonial foods include colada morada, a spiced fruit porridge that derives its deep purple color from the Andean blackberry and purple maize. This is typically consumed with guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant, though variations include many pigs—the latter being traditional to the city of Loja. The bread, which is wheat flour-based today but was made with cornmeal in the pre-Columbian era, can be made savory with cheese inside or sweet with a filling of guava paste. These traditions have permeated into mainstream society as well, where food establishments add both colada morada and gaugua de pan to their menus for the season. Many non-indigenous Ecuadorians partake in visiting the graves of the deceased and preparing the traditional foods as well.

The Brazilian public holiday of Finados (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2. Similar to other Day of the Dead celebrations, people go to cemeteries and churches with flowers, candles, and prayer. The celebration is intended to be positive to celebrate those who are deceased.

In Haiti, voodoo traditions mix with Roman Catholic observances as, for example, loud drums and music are played at all-night celebrations at cemeteries to waken Baron Samedi, the Loa of the dead, and his mischievous family of offspring, the Gede.

Dia de los ñatitas ("Day of the Skulls") is a festival celebrated in La Paz, Bolivia, on November 9. In pre-Columbian times, indigenous Andeans had a tradition of sharing a day with the bones of their ancestors on the third year after burial; however, only the skulls are used today. Traditionally, the skull of one or more family members are kept at home to watch over the family and protect them during the year. On November 9th, the family crowns the skull with fresh flowers, sometimes also dressing it up in various garments, and makes offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol, and various other items in thanks for the year's protection. The skulls are also sometimes taken to the central cemetery in La Paz for a special Mass and blessing.

Europe

In many countries with a Roman Catholic heritage, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have long been holidays in which people take the day off work, go to cemeteries with candles and flowers, and give presents to children, usually sweets and toys. In Portugal and Spain, ofrendas ("offerings") are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives and say prayers over the dead. In Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Finland, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table, and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.

A Mexican-style Day of the Dead has been celebrated in Prague, Czech Republic, as part of a promotion by the Mexican embassy. Local citizens join in a celebration of the Day of the Dead put on by a theatre group with masks, candles, and sugar skulls.

The Philippines and Oceania

In the Philippines, the holiday is called Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day), Undas (from Spanish andas, or possibly honra), or Araw ng mga Patay ("Day of the Dead"), and has more of a family reunion atmosphere. The traditions were imported during the Philippines' Spanish colonial era. Tombs are cleaned or repainted, candles are lit, and flowers are offered. Entire families camp in cemeteries and sometimes spend a night or two near their relatives' tombs. Card games, eating, drinking, singing and dancing are common activities in the cemetery. It is considered a very important holiday by many Filipinos (after Christmas and Holy Week), and additional days are normally given as special non-working holidays (but only November 1 is a regular holiday).

Mexican-style Day of the Dead celebrations can also be found in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with altars celebrating the deceased with flowers and gifts.

Asia: Other Similar Traditions

Many other cultures around the world have similar traditions of a day set aside to visit the graves of deceased family members. Often included in these traditions are celebrations, food and beverages, in addition to prayers and remembrances of the departed.

The Bon Festival (O-bon) or only Bon is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors.

In Korea, Chuseok is a major traditional holiday, also called Hangawi. People go where the spirits of one's ancestors are enshrined and perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning; they visit the tombs of immediate ancestors to trim plants, clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors.

The Ching Ming Festival is a traditional Chinese festival usually occurring around April 5th of the Gregorian calendar. Along with Double Ninth Festival on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar, it is a time to tend to the graves of departed ones. In addition, in the Chinese tradition, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits come out from the underworld to visit earth.

During the Nepali holiday of Gai Jatra ("Cow Pilgrimage"), every family who has lost a family member during the previous year makes a construction of bamboo branches, cloth, paper decorations and portraits of the deceased, called a gai. Traditionally, a cow leads the spirits of the dead into the next land. Depending on local custom, either an actual live cow or a construct representing a cow may be used. The festival is also a time to dress up in costume, including costumes involving political comments and satire.

In some cultures in Africa, visits to the graves of ancestors, the leaving of food and gifts, and the asking of protection serve as important parts of traditional rituals. One example of this is the ritual that occurs just before the beginning of hunting season.

In some tribes of the Amazon, they believe that the dead return as flowers rather than butterflies.

[4A]

Return to Top of Page

THANKSGIVING DAY

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Thanksgiving is celebrated each year on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Thanksgiving in Canada falls on the same day as Columbus Day in the United States. Because of the longstanding traditions of the holiday, the celebration often extends to the weekend that falls closest to the day it is celebrated.

History

Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European and Native traditions. Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. Though the origins of the holiday in both Canada and the United States are similar, Americans do not typically celebrate the contributions made in Newfoundland, while Canadians do not celebrate the contributions made in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

In Canada

The origin of the first Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to the explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. Frobisher's Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest, but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. On his third and final voyage to these regions in 1578 Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island in present Day Nunavut to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion, the first ever service in these regions. Years later, the tradition of a feast would continue as more settlers began to arrive to the Canadian colonies.

The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving can also be traced to the French settlers who came to New France with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century, who also took to celebrating their successful harvests. The French settlers in the area typically had feasts at the end of the harvest season and continued throughout the winter season, even sharing their food with the indigenous peoples of the area. Champlain had also proposed for the creation of the Order of Good Cheer in 1606.

As many more settlers arrived in Canada, more celebrations of good harvest became common. New immigrants into the country, such as the Irish, Scottish and Germans, would also add their own traditions to the harvest celebrations. Most of the U.S. aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey or what were called Guineafowls originating from Madagascar}, were incorporated when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.

In the United States

In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition traces its origins to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. There is also evidence for an earlier harvest celebration on the continent by Spanish explorers in Florida during 1565, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony. The initial thanksgiving observance at Virginia in 1619 was prompted by the colonists' leaders on the anniversary of the settlement. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.

Contending Origins

The claim of where the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States, and even the Americas has often been a subject of debate. Author and teacher Robyn Gioia and Michael Gannon, of the University of Florida, have argued that the earliest attested "Thanksgiving" celebration in what is now the United States was celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Similarly, many historians point out that the first thanksgiving celebration in the United States was held in Virginia, and not in Plymouth. Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607. A day of Thanksgiving was codified in the founding charter of Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia in 1619.

Fixing the Date of Thanksgiving

The reason for the earlier Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada has often been attributed to the earlier onset of winter in the north, thus ending the harvest season earlier. Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century. Prior to Canadian confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872 when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales' recovery from a serious illness. By the end of the 19th Century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6. However, when World War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday were usually held during the same week. To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October. Since 1971, when the American Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, the American observance of Columbus Day has coincided with the Canadian observance of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the United States, much like in Canada, was observed on various dates throughout history. The dates of Thanksgiving in the era of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln had been decided by each state on various dates. The first Thanksgiving celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date of Thanksgiving in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 20th century. And so, in an effort by President Abraham Lincoln (influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale who wrote letters to politicans for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday), to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states, proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November.

It was not until December 26, 1941, that the unified date changed to the fourth Thursday (and not always final) in November -this time by federal legislation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after two years earlier offering his own proclamation to move the date earlier, with the reason of giving the country an economic boost, agreed to sign a bill into law with Congress, making Thanksgiving a national holiday on the fourth (not final) Thursday in November.

Observance Around the World

Canada

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day (Canadian French: Jour de l'Action de grâce), occurring on the second Monday in October, is an annual Canadian holiday to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. Although the original act of Parliament references God and the holiday is celebrated in churches, the holiday is mostly celebrated in a secular manner. Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in all provinces in Canada, except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. While businesses may remain open in these provinces, the holiday is nonetheless, recognized and celebrated regardless of its status.

Grenada

In the West Indian island of Grenada, there is a national holiday known as Thanksgiving Day which is celebrated on October 25. Even though it bears the same name, and is celebrated at roughly the same time as the American and Canadian versions of Thanksgiving, this holiday is unrelated to either of those celebrations. Instead the holiday marks the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the island in 1983, in response to the deposition and execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Liberia

In the West African country of Liberia, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November.

The Netherlands

Many of the Pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth Plantation had resided in the city of Leiden from 1609–1620, many of whom had recorded their birth, marriages and deaths at the Pieterskerk. To commemorate this, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day service is held each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk, a Gothic church in Leiden, to commemorate the hospitality the Pilgrims received in Leiden on their way to the New World.

Norfolk Island

In the Australian external territory of Norfolk Island, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, similar to the pre-World War II American observance on the last Thursday of the month. This means the Norfolk Island observance is the day before or six days after the United States' observance. The holiday was brought to the island by visiting American whaling ships.

United States

Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, currently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November by federal legislation in 1941, has been an annual tradition in the United States by presidential proclamation since 1863 and by state legislation since the Founding Fathers of the United States. Historically, Thanksgiving began as a tradition of celebrating the harvest of the year.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

ST. ANDREW'S DAY

St. Andrew's Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on November 30th. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and St. Andrew's Day (Scottish Gaelic: Latha Naomh Anndra) is Scotland's official national day. In 2006, the Scottish Parliament designated St. Andrew's Day as an official bank holiday. Although most commonly associated with Scotland, Saint Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In Germany, the feast day is celebrated as Andreasnacht ("St. Andrew's Night"), in Austria with the custom of Andreasgebet ("St. Andrew's Prayer"), and in Poland as Andrzejki ("Andrews").

Scottish Traditions and Celebrations

In 2006, the Scottish Parliament passed the St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007, which designated the Day as an official bank holiday. If 30 November falls on a weekend, the next Monday is a bank holiday instead. The notion that the day should be an official bank holiday was first proposed by Dennis Canavan, Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament for Falkirk West in 2003. However, the Bill he introduced to the Parliament was initially rejected as the Executive did not support it. A compromise deal was reached whereby the holiday would not be an additional entitlement. Then First Minister, Jack McConnell, stated that he believed that employers and employees should mark the day with a holiday, but that this should be as a substitute for an existing local holiday, rather than an additional one. Although it is a bank holiday, banks are not required to close and employers are not required to give their employees the day off as a holiday. St Andrew's Day is an official flag day in Scotland. The Scottish Government's flag-flying regulations state that the Flag of Scotland (The Saltire) shall fly on all its buildings with a flagpole. The Union Flag is also flown if the building has more than one flagpole. The arrangements for the United Kingdom Government in Scotland are the opposite. They fly the Union Flag, and will only fly the Saltire if there is more than one flagpole.

The flying of the Saltire on St Andrew's Day is a recent development. Prior to 2002, the Scottish Government followed the UK Government's flag days and would only fly the Union Flag on St Andrew's Day. This led to Members of the Scottish Parliament complaining that Scotland was the only country in the world that could not fly its national flag on its national day. The regulations were updated to state that the Union Flag would be removed and replaced by the Saltire on buildings with only one flagpole. The flying of the Union Flag from Edinburgh Castle on all days, including St Andrew's Day causes anger among some Scottish National Party politicians who have argued that the Saltire should fly on 30 November instead. However, the Union Flag is flown by the British Army at the Castle as it still is an official British Army flag flying station, and all Army installations fly the Union Flag at ratio 3:5. Historic Scotland, a Scottish Government agency, lease part of the Castle to the British Army. The British Army has been criticised for refusing to fly the Saltire above Edinburgh Castle, but dropping the Union Flag in its recruitment campaigns in Scotland instead preferring the Saltire, a decision branded hypocritical by SNP politicians. The University of St Andrews gives the day for all the students as a free holiday.

Related Traditions in Other Countries

In parts of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Romania, belief exists that the night before St. Andrew's Day is specially suitable for magic that reveals a young woman's future husband or that binds a future husband to her. Many related customs exist: for example, the pouring of hot lead into water (in Poland, one usually pours hot wax from a candle through a key hole into cold water), divining the future husband's profession from the shape of the resulting piece (related divinations using molten metals are still popular in Germany on Hogmanay). In some areas in Austria, young women would drink wine and then perform a spell, called Andreasgebet (Saint Andrew's prayer), while nude and kicking a straw bed. This was supposed to magically attract the future husband. Yet another custom is to throw a clog over one's shoulder: if it lands pointing to the door, the woman will get married in the same year.

In some parts of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, young women would write down the names of potential husbands on little pieces of paper and stick these into little pieces of dough, called Halusky. When cooked, the first one to float to the surface of the water would reveal the name of their future husband. In Poland, some women put pieces of paper (on which they have written potential husbands) under the pillow and first thing in the morning they take one out, which allegedly reveals their future husband. In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask St. Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband. St. Andrew is also the national saint of Romanians and Romanian Orthodox Church.

In Barbados, Saint Andrew's Day is celebrated as the national day of Independence in Barbados. As the patron saint of Barbados, Saint Andrew is celebrated in a number of Barbadian symbols including the cross formation of the Coat of Arms, and the nation's national honours system which styles persons as Knights or Dames of St. Andrew.

[1] [2]

Return to Top of Page

YULE

Yule or Yule-tide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic peoples as a Pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25th when the Christian (Julian) calendar was adopted. Some historians claim that the celebration is connected to the Wild Hunt or was influenced by Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival. Terms etymological equivalent to "Yule" are still used in the Nordic Countries for both the Christian Christmas, but also other religious holidays of the season. In modern times this has gradually lead to a more secular tradition under the same name as Christmas. Yule is also used in a lesser extent in English speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. In modern times, Yule is observed as a cultural festival and also with religious rites by some Christians and by some Neopagans.

Etymology

The modern English word Yule likely derives from the word yoole, from 1450, which developed from the Old English term geōl and geōla before 899. The term has been linked to and may originate from the Old Norse Jōl. The etymology of the name of the feast of Yule (Old Norse jól, Anglo-Saxon geohol and gehol) and the winter month (Anglo-Saxon giuli, geóla, Gothic fruma jiuleis, Old Norse ýlir) has not yet been completely explained, but the term may have originally meant something similar to "magic" or "feast of entreaty". This word is also the root of the English word "jolly."Jól has alternately been theorized as deriving from Old Norse hjól, wheel, referring to the moment when the wheel of the year is at its low point, ready to rise again (compare to the Slavic karachun). This theory may be more based on similarities between the words jul and hjul (with a mute h) in modern Scandinavian languages, than on older cognates or historical sources.

Germanic Paganism

Attestations

Gothic and Old English

Yule is attested early in the history of the Germanic peoples; from the 4th century Gothic language it appears in the month name fuma jiuleis. About AD 730, the English historian Bede wrote that the Anglo-Saxon calendar included the months geola or giuli corresponding with either modern December or December and January. He gave December 25 as the first day of the heathen year and wrote that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated all night long to honor the Germanic divine "mothers":

They began the year with December 25, the day some now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen term Mōdraniht, that is, the mothers' night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through.

Old Norse

In chapter 55 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, different names for the gods are given. One of the names provided is "Yule-beings." A work by the skald Eyvindr skáldaspillir that uses the term is then quoted, which reads:

Again we have produced Yule-being's feast [mead of poetry], our rulers' eulogy, like a bridge of masonry.

Ynglinga saga, the first book of Heimskringla, first mentions a Yule feast in 840. After 1000, it is the main feast of the year. Saga of Hákon the Good credits King Haakon I of Norway with the Christianization of Norway, as well as rescheduling the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at the time. The saga states that when Haakon arrived in Norway he was confirmed a Christian, but since the land was still altogether heathen and they retained their practices, Haakon hid his Christianity to receive the help of "great chieftains". In time, Haakon had a law passed that established that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as when the Christians held their celebrations, "and at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted."

Yule had previously been celebrated on midwinter night for three nights, according to the saga. Haakon planned that when he had solidly established himself and held power over the whole country, he would then "have the gospel preached." According to the saga, the result of this was that his popularity caused many to allow themselves to be baptized, and some people stopped making sacrifices. Haakon spent most of this time in Trondheim, Norway. When Haakon figured that he wielded enough power, he requested a bishop and other priests from England, and they came to Norway. Upon their arrival, "Haakon made it known that he would have the gospel preached in the whole country." The saga continues describing the reactions of various regional things as they differ the matter to one another. A description of heathen Yule practices is provided (notes are Hollander's own):

It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [sacrificial blood], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs [aspergills]. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.

The narrative continues that toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin "for victory and power to the king", the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr "for good harvests and for peace", and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself. In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk. This toast was called "minni [memorial toast]". The Svarfdæla saga records a story in which a berserker put off a duel until three days after Yule to honor the sanctity of the holiday. The Grettis Saga refers to Yule as a time of "greatest mirth and joyance among men." This saga is set soon after Iceland converted to Christianity and identifies Yule with Christmas: "No Christian man is wont to eat meat this day [Yule Eve], because that on the morrow is the first day of Yule," says she, "wherefore must men first fast today."

Theories

Customs

Yule was an indigenous midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples, which was progressively absorbed into the Christian observations surrounding Christmas. Simek says that the Yule feast "had a pronounced religious character", and Simek cites section 7 of Gulathingsög, where Yule is described as celebrated "for a fertile and peaceful season" and consists of a fertility sacrifice. Simek says that focus was not on the gods of the Vanir, but instead the god Odin, and he notes that one of Odin's many names is Jólnir (Old Norse "yule figure"). Simek says that Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two. According to Simek "it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages." The traditions of the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule customs, and Simek says these customs "indicate the significance of the feast in pre-Christian times."

Dating

Specific dating is problematic. In the 13th century, the Old Norse month name ýlir (attested once) refers to the period of time between November 14 and December 13. The time of Yule falls within around the time of a month that corresponds with the end of the modern calendar year. Andy Orchard says that "in practice, it is difficult to specify the yule-tide period more accurately than at some point between about mid-November and the beginning of January." Rudolf Simek says that the Old Norse timing "offers no point of reference for the sacrificial feast" and that "the identification with the mid-winter time of sacrifice is most likely.

Other

Andy Orchard and Rudolf Simek theorize a connection between Yule and the Wild Hunt. According to Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, the Yule feast may have originated from the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia.

Contemporary Traditions

Denmark

Danes celebrate on December 24, which is called Juleaftensdag (literally, Yule Eve Day), or simply Jul. An elaborate dinner is eaten with the family, consisting of roast pork, roast duck or roast goose with potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. For dessert is rice pudding with a cherry sauce, traditionally with an almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gather around the Juletræ to sing Christmas carols and dance hand in hand around the tree. Then the children often hand out the presents which are opened immediately. This is followed by candy, chips, various nuts, clementines, and sometimes a mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins called Gløgg is served hot in small cups. Following the main celebration of Jul or Juleaften on December 24, December 25 and December 26 are, respectively, celebrated as Første Juledag and Anden Juledag and are generally filled with relaxed familial socializing and the enjoying of leftovers from the Juleaften meal. Some Danish families also celebrate December 23 as Lillejuleaften (Little Christmas Eve). Traditions for this day might include decoration of the Juletræ, enjoying roast duck, and caroling.

Finland

On the eve of the Finnish Joulu, children are visited by Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus. The word Joulupukki means "Yule Goat" and probably derives from an old Finnish tradition where people called nuuttipukkis dressed in goat hides circulated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto, rather than sneaking in through the chimney at night. When he comes in, his first words are usually "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?", "Are there (any) good (well-behaved) children here?". Presents are given and opened immediately. He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick. His workshop is in Korvatunturi, Lapland, Finland, rather than at the North Pole like Santa Claus, or in Greenland. He is married to Joulumuori (tr. Mother Yule). Typical Finnish yule dishes include ham, various root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad, gingerbread and star-shaped plum-filled pastries. Other traditions with a non-Christian yule background include joulukuusi ("Yule spruce") and joulusauna ("yule sauna").

Estonia

"Jõul". Usually celebrated the same way how the Finnish people do it. Is a thousands of years old holiday to celebrate the winter solstice.

Iceland

The peak of Icelandic jól is when presents are exchanged on aðfangadagskvöld, the evening of December 24, then the gifts are given. It is a custom to eat hamborgarhryggur (smoked pork loin) or rock ptarmigan. Before Christmas some people cut patterns into laufabrauð (e. leaf bread) and bake piparkökur (e. ginger biscuits). On Þorláksmessa (mass of Saint Thorlakur), December 23, there is a tradition (originally from the Westfjords) to serve fermented skata (stingray) with melted tallow and boiled potatoes. Boiling the Christmas hangikjöt (smoked leg or shoulder of lamb) on Þorláksmessa evening is said to dispel the strong smell which otherwise tends to linger around the house for days. The hangikjöt and laufabrauð are usually served at Christmas Day, December 25. Unlike other countries there are 13 traditional jólasveinar Yule Lads that play the same role as the Santa Claus. The first one comes to town from the mountains December 11 and the last one arrives 13 days later on December 24. Children leave their shoe in the window and the Yule Lads leave something in the shoe when they arrive in town. If the children are naughty they might get a potato but if they are nice they might get something good, like candy, an apple or a toy. The Yule Lads all carry a specific name that describes his actions. For instance, the sixth one is Pot-Scraper and what he does best is to scrape leftovers from pots. December 26 is generally reserved for family gatherings. It involves a lot of eating with relatives, usually with cousins and aunts and uncles.

Norway

The main Yule event for Norwegians is on julaften "Yule Eve" or "Christmas Eve" on December 24, when the main feast is served and gifts are exchanged. It is a tradition to watch television early on Yule Eve, the most common films are "Tre Nøtter Til Askepott" (Three Nuts for Cinderella), a Czech-German fairy-tale, and "Reisen til Julestjernen", a Norwegian film. Traditional dishes like ribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøtt, cod and more are eaten. As a continuation of older customs, some set out a bowl of porridge to the nisse on the 24th. Earlier in December many gather for a julebord "Yule table", where people from workplaces or organizations get together to eat traditional dishes and often drink alcoholic beverages before Yule. In the period between the 24th and New Year's Eve, children dress up in costumes and visit neighbours, where they sing Yuletide carols and receive candy, nuts and clementines. This tradition is called "to go julebukk".

Shetland Islands

In the Shetland Islands of Scotland the Yules are considered to last a month beginning on December 18 and ending January 18. The main Yules celebration occurs on December 31. The rest of Scotland eventually adopted "Hogmanay" (the name of the New Years presents) as the name for the festival.

Sweden

As in many other countries in northern Europe Jultomten brings presents on julafton ("Yule Eve"), December 24, the day generally thought of as the main jul day. Many Swedes watch Kalle Anka och hans vänner (lit. Donald Duck and his friends), a compilation of Disney shorts broadcast at 3pm, as well as Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons Julafton by late Swedish poet, writer, filmmaker, playwright, and political satirist Tage Danielsson (with animation by Per Åhlin). Almost all Swedish families celebrate with a julbord, which traditionally includes julskinka (baked ham), sill (pickled herring), janssons frestelse, and a collection of meatballs, sausages, meats and patés. The julbord is traditionally served with beer, julmust, mumma (a mix of beer, liquor and svagdricka)and snaps. The dishes vary throughout the country. Businesses invite staff to a julbord dinner or lunch in preceding weeks, and people go privately to restaurants offering julbord during December. Swedes also enjoy glögg (mulled wine with raisins and almonds). Gifts are distributed either by Jultomten (usually from a sack) or from under the Christmas tree. In older days a julbock (yule goat, still used in Finland called Joulupukki) was an alternative to Jultomten; now it is used as an ornament, ranging in size from 10 cm to huge constructions like the Gävle goat. The following day some people attend a julotta and even more venture to the movies, as December 25 is a day of big premieres.

Neopaganism

As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a way as close as possible to how they believe Ancient Germanic Pagans observed the tradition, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources including Germanic.

Germanic Neopaganism

In Germanic Neopagan sects, Yule is celebrated with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. Further attempts at reconstruction of surviving accounts of historical celebrations are often made, a hallmark being variations of the traditional. Groups such as the Asatru Folk Assembly in the US recognize the celebration as lasting 12 days, beginning on the date of the winter solstice.

Wicca

In most forms of Wicca, this holiday is celebrated at the winter solstice as the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home, while others do so with their covens.

[5]

Return to Top of Page

WINTER SOLSTICE

The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer's hemisphere. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradually lengthening nights and shortening days. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the northern hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 21 in the southern hemisphere, during either the shortest day or longest night of the year. Though the winter solstice lasts an instant, the term is also colloquially used like "midwinter" to refer to the full 24-hour period of the day on which it occurs. Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time. The word solstice derives from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).

Date

Since 45 BCE, when the 25th was established in the Julian calendar as the winter solstice of Europe, (Latin: Bruma), the difference between the calendar year (365.2500 days) and the tropical year (365.2422 days) moved the day associated with the actual astronomical solstice forward approximately three days every four centuries until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar bringing the northern winter solstice to around December 21. Yearly, in the Gregorian calendar the solstice still fluctuates slightly, but in the long term, only about one day every 3000 years.

Seasonal Position

How cultures interpret the solstice is varied, since it is sometimes said to astronomically mark either the beginning or middle of a hemisphere's winter. Winter is a subjective term, so there is no scientifically established beginning or middle of winter but the winter solstice itself is clearly calculated to within a second. For Celtic countries, such as Ireland, the calendarical winter season has traditionally begun November 1 on All Hallows or Samhain. Winter ends and spring begins on Imbolc or Candlemas, which is February 1 or 2. This calendar system of seasons may be based on the length of days exclusively. Most East Asian cultures define the seasons by solar terms, with Dong zhi at the winter solstice as the middle or "extreme" of winter. This system is based on the Sun's apparent height above the horizon at noon. Some midwinter festivals have occurred according to lunar calendars and so took place on the night of Hōku (Hawaiian, the full moon closest to the winter solstice). And many European solar calendar midwinter celebrations still centre upon the night of December 24 leading into the December 25 in the north, which was considered to be the winter solstice upon the establishment of the Julian calendar. In the Jewish Talmud, the day of the winter solstice, is recorded as the first day of the "stripping time" or winter season. Persian culture also recognizes it as the beginning of winter.

Sunrise and Sunset

Due to the Earth's elliptical orbit and axial tilt, neither the earliest sunset nor the latest sunrise fall exactly on the winter solstice. The earliest sunset occurs earlier than the solstice (by a few days), and the latest sunrise later. For one or two weeks surrounding both solstices, both sunrise and sunset get slightly later or earlier each day. Even on the equator, sunrise and sunset shift several minutes back and forth through the year, along with solar noon. This effect is plotted by an analemma.

History and Cultural Significance

The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and New Grange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e. its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun. The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.

Explanations for Parallel Traditions

Symbolic

Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstitially based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Years cleaning tradition. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades was permitted on Mount Olympus. Also reversal is another usual theme as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals.

Migration and Appropriation

Many outside traditions are often adopted by neighboring or invading cultures. Some historians will often assert that many traditions are directly derived from previous ones rooting all the way back to those begun in the cradle of civilization or beyond, much in a way that correlates to speculations on the origins of languages.

Therapeutic

Even in modern cultures these gatherings are still valued for emotional comfort, having something to look forward to at the darkest time of the year. This is especially the case for populations in the near polar regions of the hemisphere. The depressive psychological effects of winter on individuals and societies are for the most part tied to coldness, tiredness, malaise, and inactivity. Also, insufficient sunlight in the short winter days increases the secretion of melatonin in the body, throwing off the circadian rhythm with longer sleep. Exercise, light therapy, increased negative ion exposure (which can be attained from plants and well ventilated flames, burning wood or beeswax) can reinvigorate the body from its seasonal lull and relieve winter blues by decreasing melatonin secretions, increasing serotonin and temporarily creating a more even sleeping pattern. Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year, often calling for evergreens, bright illumination, large ongoing fires, feasting, communion with close ones, and evening physical exertion by dancing and singing are examples of cultural winter therapies that have evolved as traditions since the beginnings of civilization. Such traditions can stir the wit, stave off malaise, reset the internal clock and rekindle the human spirit.

Observances

The following is an alphabetical list of observances believed to be directly linked to the winter solstice.

Beiwe Festival (Sámi of Northern Fennoscandia)

The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals, and with the meat, thread and sticks, bed into rings with ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.

Choimus, Chaomos (Kalash of Pakistan)

In the ancient traditions of the Kalash people of Pakistan, during winter solstice, a demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao, the supreme being. "During this celebrations women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold up bread. Then the men and boys are purified with water and must not sit on chairs until evening when goat's blood is sprinkled on their faces. Following this purification, a great festival begins, with singing, dancing, bonfires, and feasting on goat tripe and other delicacies".

Christmas, Natalis Domini (4th century Rome, 11th century England, Christian)

Christmas or Christ's Mass is one of the most popular Christian celebrations as well as one of the most globally recognized midwinter celebrations. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the God Incarnate or Messiah, Jesus Christ. The birth is observed on December 25, which was the Roman winter solstice upon establishment of the Julian Calendar. Christian churches recognized folk elements of the festival in various cultures within the past several hundred years, allowing much of the folklore and traditions of local Pagan festivals to be appropriated. So today, the old festivals such as Jul, Коледа and Karácsony, are still celebrated in many parts of Europe, but the Christian Nativity is now often representational as the meaning behind the holiday. This is why Yule and Christmas are considered interchangeable in Anglo-Christendom. Universal activities include feasting, midnight masses and singing Christmas carols about the Nativity. Good deeds and gift giving in the tradition of St. Nicholas by not admitting to being the actual gift giver is also observed by some countries. Many observe the holiday for twelve days leading up to the Epiphany.

Deuorius Riuri (Gaul)

Deuorius Riuri was the annual great divine winter feast, observed by the Coligny Calendar. The lunisolar Coligney Midwinter returned to solar alignment every two and a half years.

Deygān, Maidyarem (Zoroastrian)

Theologically, Maidyarem is associated with Vahman, the Amesha Spenta (or Holy Immortal) who created the primal bull, and all cattle, and is associated with good plans and intentions. Maidyarem is celebrated in Dey, the tenth month of the Zoroastrian calendar, from the sixteenth (Mihr) to the twentieth (Bahram) day. There are also speculations that by the Persian calendar many celebrated on the last day of the Persian month Azar, the longest night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. The next day, the first day of the month Dey, known as khoram ruz or khore ruz (the day of sun) belongs to God (Ahura Mazda). Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the ancient Persian Deygan Festival dedicated to Ahura Mazda, and Mithra on the first day of the month Dey.

Hogmanay (Scotland)

The New Years Eve celebration of Scotland is called Hogmanay. The name derives from the old Scots name for Yule gifts of the Middle Ages. The early Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading and occupying Norse who celebrated a solstitial new year (England celebrated the new year on March 25). In 1600, with the Scottish application of the January 1 New year and the church's persistent suppression of the solstice celebrations, the holiday traditions moved to December 31. The festival is still referred to as the Yules by the Scots of the Shetland Islands who start the festival on December 18 and hold the last tradition (a Troll chasing ritual) on January 18. The most widespread Scottish custom is the practice of first-footing which starts immediately after midnight on New Years. This involves being the first person (usually tall and dark haired) to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a fruit pudding) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts, and often Flies cemetery) are then given to the guests.

Inti Raymi (Inca, Peru)

The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning "hitching post of the sun" or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km. from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists. The Monte Alto culture may have also had a similar tradition.

Junkanoo, John Canoe, Dzon'ku 'Nu (West Africa, Bahamas, Jamaica, 19th-century North Carolina, Virginia)

Junkanoo, in The Bahamas, Junkunno or Jonkanoo, in Jamaica, is a fantastic masquerade, parade and street festival, suspected to be derived from Dzon'ku 'Nu (tr: Witch-doctor) of the West African Papaws, an Ewe people. It is traditionally performed through the streets towards the end of December, and involves participants dressed in a variety of fanciful costumes, such as the Cow Head, the Hobby Horse, the Wild Indian, and the Devil. The parades are accompanied by bands usually consisting of fifes, drums, and coconut graters used as scrapers, and Jonkanoo songs are also sung. A similar practice was once common in coastal North Carolina, where it was called John Canoe, John Koonah, or John Kooner. John Canoe was likened to the wassailing tradition of medieval Britain. John Canoe was interpreted by many Euro-Americans to bear strong resemblance to the social inversion rituals that marked the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia.

Karachun (Ancient Western Slavic)

Karachun, Korochun or Kračún was a Slavic holiday similar to Halloween as a day when the Black God and other evil spirits were most potent. It was celebrated by Slavs on the longest night of the year. On this night, Hors, symbolising the old sun, becomes smaller as the days become shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and dies on December 22nd, the December solstice. He is said to be defeated by the dark and evil powers of the Black God. In honour of Hors, the Slavs danced a ritual chain-dance which was called the horo. Traditional chain-dancing in Bulgaria is still called horo. In Russia and Ukraine, it is known as khorovod. On December 23rd Hors is resurrected and becomes the new sun, Koleda. On this day, Western Slavs burned fires at cemeteries to keep their departed loved ones warm, organized dinings in the honor of the dead so as they would not suffer from hunger and lit wooden logs at local crossroads.

Koleda, Коляда, Sviatki, Dazh Boh (Ancient Eastern Slavic and Sarmatian)

In ancient Slavonic cultures, the festival of Kaleda began at Winter Solstice and lasted for ten days. In Russia, this festival was later applied to Christmas Eve but most of the practices were lost after the Soviet Revolution. Each family made a fire in their hearth and invited their personal household gods to join in the festivities. Children disguise themselves on evenings and nights and as Koledari, visited houses and sang wishes of good luck, like Shchedryk, to hosts. As a reward, they were given little gifts, a tradition called Kolyadovanie, much like the old wassailing or mummers Tradition.

Lenæa, Brumalia (Ancient and Hellenistic Greece, Roman Kingdom)

In the Aegean civilizations, the exclusively female midwinter ritual, Lenaea or Lenaia, was the Festival of the Wild Women. In the forest, a man or bull representing the god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by Maenads. Later in the ritual a baby, representing Dionysus reborn, was presented. Lenaion, the first month of the Delian calendar, derived its name from the festival's name. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by that of a goat, and the women's role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth. Wine miracles were performed by the priests, in which priests would seal water or juice in a room overnight and the next day they would have turned into wine. The miracle was said to have been performed by Dionysus and the Lenaians. By the 5th century BCE the ritual had become a Gamelion festival for theatrical competitions, often held in Athens in the Lenaion theater. The festival influenced Brumalia, an ancient Roman solstice festival honoring Bacchus, generally held for a month and ending December 25. The festival included drinking and merriment. The name is derived from the Latin word bruma, meaning "shortest day", though the festivities almost always occurred at night.

Lucia, Feast of St. Lucy (Ancient Swedish, Scandinavian Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox)

Lucia or Lussi Night happened on December 13, what was supposed to be the longest night of the year. The feast was later appropriated by the Catholic Church in the 16th century as St. Lucy's Day. It was believed in the folklore of Sweden that if people, particularly children, did not carry out their chores, the female demon, the Lussi or Lucia die dunkle would come to punish them.

Meán Geimhridh, Celtic Midwinter (Celtic, Ancient Welsh, Neodruidic)

Meán Geimhridh (Irish tr: midwinter) or Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Ir tr: winter solstice) is a name sometimes used for hypothetical midwinter rituals or celebrations of the Proto-Celtic tribes, Celts, and late Druids. In Ireland's calendars, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. The passage and chamber of Newgrange (Pre-Celtic or possibly Proto-Celtic 3,200 BCE), a tomb in Ireland, are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December. The point of roughness is the term for the winter solstice in Wales which in ancient Welsh mythology, was when Rhiannon gave birth to the sacred son, Pryderi.

Mummer's Day, Montol (Celtic, Cornish)

Mummer's Day referencing the animist garbs, or Darkie Day referencing the soot facing ritual, is an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration that occurs every year on December 26 and New Year's Day in Padstow, Cornwall. It was originally part of the Pagan heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated all over Cornwall where people would guise dance and disguise themselves by blackening up their faces or wearing masks. In Penzance the festival has been given the name Montol believing it to be the Celtic Cornish word for Winter Solstice.

Wren day (Celtic, Irish, Welsh, Manx)

For an unknown period, Lá an Dreoilín or Wren day has been celebrated in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales on December 26. Crowds of people, called wrenboys, take to the roads in various parts of Ireland, dressed in motley clothing, wearing masks or straw suits and accompanied by musicians supposedly in remembrance of the festival that was celebrated by the Druids. Previously the practice involved the killing of a wren, and singing songs while carrying the bird from house to house, stopping in for food and merriment.

Alban Arthan (Neodruidic)

In England, during the 18th century, there was a revival of interest in Druids. Today, amongst Neo-druids, Alban Arthan (Welsh tr. light of winter but derived from Welsh poem, Light of Arthur) is celebrated on the winter solstice with a ritualistic festival, and gift giving to the needy.

Midvinterblót (Swedish Folk Religion)

In Sweden and many surrounding parts of Europe, polytheistic tribes celebrated a Midvinterblot or mid-winter-sacrifice, featuring both animal and human sacrifice. The blót was performed by goði, or priests, at certain cult sites, most of which have churches built upon them now. Midvinterblot paid tribute to the local gods, appealing to them to let go winter's grip. The folk tradition was finally abandoned by 1200, due to missionary persistence.

Modranicht, Modresnach (Germanic)

Mōdraniht was a Germanic feast. It was believed that dreams on this night foretold events in the upcoming year. By 730, it was thought by Bede to have been observed by the Anglo-Saxons on the eve of the winter solstice. After the reemergence of Christmas in Britain it was recognized by many as one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Perchta Ritual (Germania, Alps)

Early Germans (c.500-1000) considered the Norse goddess, Hertha or Bertha to be the goddess of light, domesticity and the home. They baked yeast cakes shaped like shoes, which were called Hertha's slippers, and filled with gifts. "During the Winter Solstice houses were decked with fir and evergreens to welcome her coming. When the family and serfs were gathered to dine, a great altar of flat stones was erected and here a fire of fir boughs was laid. Hertha descended through the smoke, guiding those who were wise in saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those persons at the feast". There are also darker versions of Perchta which terrorize children along with Krampus. Many cities had practices of dramatizing the gods as characters roaming the streets. These traditions have continued in the rural regions of the Alps, and various similar traditions, such as Wren day, survived in the Celtic nations until recently.

Rozhanitsa Feast (12th century Eastern Slavic Russian)

In twelfth century Russia, the eastern Slavs worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhnitsa, offering bloodless sacrifices like honey, bread and cheese. Bright colored winter embroideries depicting the antlered goddess were made to honor the Feast of Rozhanitsa in late December. And white, deer-shaped cookies were given as lucky gifts. Some Russian women continued the observation of these traditions into the 20th century.

Shab-e Chelleh, یلدا , Yaldā (2nd millennium BCE Persian, Iranian)

Derived from a pre-Zoroastrian festival, Shab-e Chelleh is celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter in the Persian calendar, which always falls on the solstice. Yalda is the most important non-new-year Iranian festival in modern-day Iran and it has been long celebrated in Iran by all ethnic/religious groups. According to Persian mythology, Mithra was born at the end of this night after the long-expected defeat of darkness against light. "Shab-e Chelleh" is now an important social occasion, when family and friends get together for fun and merriment. Usually families gather at their elders' homes. Different kinds of dried fruits, nuts, seeds and fresh winter fruits are consumed. The presence of dried and fresh fruits is reminiscence of the ancient feasts to celebrate and pray to the deities to ensure the protection of the winter crops. Watermelons, persimmons and pomegranates are traditional symbols of this celebration, all representing the sun. It used to be customary to stay awake Yalda night until sunrise eating, drinking, listening to stories and poems, but this is no longer very common as most people have things to do on the next day. During the early Roman Empire many Syrian Christians fled from persecution into the Sassanid Empire of Persia, introducing the term Yaldā, meaning birth, causing Shab-e Yaldā to became synonymous with Shab-e Chelleh. Although both terms are used interchangeably, Chelleh is more commonly accepted for this occasion.

Saturnalia, Chronia (Ancient Greek, Roman Republic)

Originally celebrated by the ancient Greeks as Kronia, the festival of Cronus, Saturnalia was the feast at which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of Saturn, which originally took place on 17 December, but expanded to a whole week, up to 23 December. A large and important public festival in Rome, it involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch set in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves during this period. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e., colorful, informal "dinner clothes" and the pileus (freedman's hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet before, with, or served by the masters. Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals which led to more tomfoolery, marked chiefly by having masters and slaves ostensibly switch places, temporarily reversing the social order. In Greek and Cypriot folklore it was believed that children born during the festival were in danger of turning into Kallikantzaroi which come out of the Earth after the solstice to cause trouble for mortals. Some would leave colanders on their doorsteps to distract them until the sun returned.

Şeva Zistanê (Kurdish)

The Night of Winter (Kurdish: Şeva Zistanê) is an unofficial holiday celebrated by communities throughout the Kurdistan region in the Middle East. The night is considered one of the oldest holidays still observed by modern Kurds and was celebrated by ancient tribes in the region as a holy day. The holiday falls every year on the winter solstice. Since the night is the longest in the year, ancient tribes believed that it was the night before a victory of light over darkness and signified a rebirth of the sun. The sun plays an important role in several ancient religions still practiced by some Kurds in addition to its importance in Zoroastrianism.

In modern times, communities in the Kurdistan region still observe the night as a holiday. Many families prepare large feasts for their communities and the children play games and are given sweets in similar fashion to modern-day Halloween practices.

Sol Invictus Festival (3rd century Roman Empire)

Sol Invictus ("the undefeated Sun") or, more fully, Deus Sol Invictus ("the undefeated sun god") was a religious title applied to at least three distinct divinities during the later Roman Empire; El Gabal, Mithras, and Sol. A festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) was celebrated by the Romans on December 25. On this, the first day after the six day solar standstill of the winter solstice, the duration of daylight first begins to increase, as the sun once again begins its sunrise movement toward the North, interpreted as the "rebirth" of the sun. With the growing popularity of the Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth came to be given much of the recognition previously given to a sun god, thereby including Christ in the tradition. This was later condemned by the early Catholic Church for associating Christ with Pagan practices.

Soyal (Zuni and Hopi of North America)

Soyalangwul is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopitu Shinumu, "The Peaceful Ones," also known as the Hopi Indians. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and is a time for purification. Pahos (prayer sticks) are made prior to the Soyal ceremony, to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. The kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season.

Wayeb (Maya)

Wayeb' or Uayeb, referencing the unlucky god N, were actually five nameless days leading up to the end of the Haab, the solar Maya calendar. It was thought to be a dangerous time in which there were no divisions between the mortal and immortal worlds, and deities were free to cause disaster if they willed it. To ward off the spirits, the Maya had a variety of customs they practiced during this period. For example, people avoided leaving their houses or grooming their hair. Calendar Round rituals would be held at the end of each 52 year round (coincidence of the three Maya calendars), 4 wayeb to 1 Imix 0 Pop, with all fires extinguished, old pots broken, and a new fire ceremony symbolizing a fresh start. The next Calendar Round will be on the winter solstice of 2012, beginning a new baktun. Haab' observations are still held by Maya communities in the highlands of Guatemala.

We Tripantu (Mapuche in southern Chile)

We Tripantu (Mapudungun tr: new sunrise) is the conclusion of the Mapuche New Year that takes place between June 21 and June 24 in the Gregorian calendar. It is the Mapuche's equivalent to the Inti Raymi. The ancestral incertidubre stayed up throughout the year's longest night with anxiety that the next day would not come. After three days it became clear that the winter was diminishing. The Pachamama (Quechua tr: Mother Earth), Nuke Mapu (uke' Mapu) begins to bloom fertilized by Sol, from the Andean heights to the southern tip. Antu (Pillan), Inti (Aymara), or Rapa (rapanui) Sol, the sun starts to come back to earth, after the longest night of the year: it's winter Solstice. Todo start to bloom again.

Yule, Jul, Jól, Joul, Joulu, Jõulud, Géol, Geul (Viking Age, Northern Europe, and Germanic cultures)

Originally the name Giuli signified a 60 day tide beginning at the lunar midwinter of the late Scandinavian Norse and Germanic tribes. The arrival of Juletid thus came to refer to the midwinter celebrations. By the late Viking Age, the Yule celebrations came to specify a great solstitial Midwinter festival that amalgamated the traditions of various midwinter celebrations across Europe, like Mitwinternacht, Modrasnach, Midvinterblot, and the Teutonic solstice celebration, Feast of the Dead. A documented example of this is in 960, when King Håkon of Norway signed into law that Jul was to be celebrated on the night leading into December 25, to align it with the Christian celebrations. For some Norse sects, Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, three or as many as twelve days. The indigenous lore of the Icelandic Jól continued beyond the Middle Ages, but was condemned when the Reformation arrived. The celebration continues today throughout Northern Europe and elsewhere in name and traditions, for Christians as representative of the nativity of Jesus on the night of December 24, and for others as a cultural winter celebration on the 24th or for some, the date of the solstice.

Jul (Germanic Neopaganism)

In Germanic Neopagan sects, Yule is celebrated with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. Further attempts at reconstruction of surviving accounts of historical celebrations are often made, a hallmark being variations of the traditional. However it has been pointed out that this is not really reconstruction as these traditions never died out - they have merely removed the Christian elements from the celebration and replaced the event at the solstice.

The Icelandic Ásatrú and the Asatru Folk Assembly in the US recognize Jól or Yule as lasting for 12 days, beginning on the date of the winter solstice.

Yule (Wiccan)

In Wicca, a form of the holiday is observed as one of the eight solar holidays, or Sabbat. In most Wiccan sects, this holiday is celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. Although the name Yule has been appropriated from Germanic and Norsk Paganism, elements of the celebration itself are of modern origin.

Zagmuk, Sacaea (Ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Babylonian)

Adapting the Egyptian Osiris Celebrations, the Babylonians held the annual renewal or new year celebration, the Zagmuk Festival. It lasted 10 days overlapping either the winter solstice or vernal equinox in its center peak. It was a festival held in observation of the sun god Marduk's battle over darkness. The Babylonians held both land and river parades. Sacaea, as Berossus referred to it, had festivals characterized with a subversion of order leading up to the new year. Masters and slaves interchanged, a mock king was crowned and masquerades clogged the streets. This has been a suggested precursor to the Festival of Kronos, Saturnalia and possibly Purim.

Ziemassvētki (Latvian, Baltic, Romuva)

In ancient Latvia, Ziemassvētki, meaning winter festival, was celebrated on December 21 as one of the two most important holidays, the other being Jāņi. Ziemassvētki celebrated the birth of Dievs, the highest god of Latvian mythology. The two weeks before Ziemassvetki are called Veļu laiks, the "season of ghosts." During the festival, candles were lit for Dieviņš and a fire kept burning until the end, when its extinguishing signaled an end to the unhappiness of the previous year. During the ensuing feast, a space at the table was reserved for Ghosts, who was said to arrive on a sleigh. During the feast, certain foods were always eaten: bread, beans, peas, pork and pig snout and feet. Carolers (Budeļi) went door to door singing songs and eating from many different houses. The holiday was later adapted by Christians in the middle ages. It is now celebrated on the 24th, 25th and 26th of December and largely recognized as both a Christian and secular cultural observance. Lithuanians of the Romuva religion continue to celebrate a variant of the original polytheistic holiday.

[6]

Return to Top of Page

Alban Arthan

In the Druidic tradition, Alban Arthan is a seasonal festival at the Winter solstice. The name derives from the writings of Iolo Morganwg. Alban Arthan translates to Light of Winter. An older and more poetic meaning is Alban Arthuan, and this translates to Light of Arthur.

On the Solstice, druids would gather by the oldest Mistletoe clad Oak. The Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground. With his Golden Sickle, and in one chop, the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe, to be caught below. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.

The holiday is observed in a manner that commemorates the death of the Holly King identified with the wren bird (symbolizing the old year and the shortened sun) at the hands of his son and successor, the robin redbreast Oak King (the new year and the new sun that begins to grow). The Battle of the Holly King and Oak King is re-enacted at rituals, both open and closed. The battle is usually in the form of words but there have been some sword battles. The scene to the left depicts the Oak King's final strike against his brother, the Holly King and to ultimate victory, at least for the next six months. The battle shown took place at the Anderida Gorsedds open ritual for the Winter Solstice or Mean Geimrech in 2005 at The Long Man of Wilmington.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

CHRISTMAS

Christmas or Christmas Day is a holiday generally observed on December 25th (with alternative days of January 6th, 7th and 19th) to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. The exact birthday of Jesus is not known, and historians place his year of birth some time between 7 BC and 2 BC. Narratives of his birth are included in two of the Canonical gospels in the New Testament of the Bible. The date of Christmas may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived, the date of the Roman winter solstice, or one of various ancient winter festivals. Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.

Although nominally a Christian holiday, Christmas is celebrated by an increasing number of non-Christians worldwide, and many of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of Christmas cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe, nativity scenes, and holly. In addition, several figures, known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus, among other names, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Celebration

Christmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in countries around the world, including many whose populations are mostly non-Christian. In some non-Christian countries, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Hong Kong); in others, Christian minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Countries such as Japan and Korea, where Christmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Christians, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving, decorations and Christmas trees. Notable countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include People's Republic of China, (excepting Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and North Korea. Christmas celebrations around the world can vary markedly in form, reflecting differing cultural and national traditions.

Among countries with a strong Christian tradition, a variety of Christmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures. For Christians, participating in a religious service plays an important part in the recognition of the season. Christmas, along with Easter, is the period of highest annual church attendance. In Catholic countries, the people hold religious processions or parades in the days preceding Christmas. In other countries, secular processions or parades featuring Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held. Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season. Gift giving takes place on Christmas Day in most countries. Others practice gift giving on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, and January 6th, Epiphany.

Decorations

The practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. From pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter. Decorating with greenery was also part of Jewish tradition : "Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. " (Leviticus 23:40) Christians incorporated such customs in their developing practices. In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green". The heart-shaped leaves of ivy were said to symbolize the coming to earth of Jesus, while holly was seen as protection against pagans and witches, its thorns and red berries held to represent the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion and the blood he shed. A Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, New York City Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome. They were popularised by Saint Francis of Asissi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe. Different types of decorations developed across the Christian world, dependent on local tradition and available resources. The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children. In countries where a representation of the Nativity Scene is very popular, people are encouraged to compete and create the most original or realistic ones. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom.

The traditional colors of Christmas are green and red. White, silver and gold are also popular. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter.

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation of Pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. The English language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century. From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.

Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels. Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen, make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world. Both of these antiquated, more subdued, Christmas displays are seen in the image to the right of Saint Anselm College.

Christmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Christmas trees placed in prominent places. It is common in many parts of the world for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. In some countries, Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5th.

Music and Carols

The first specifically Christmas hymns that we know of appear in 4th century Rome. Latin hymns such as Veni redemptor gentium, written by Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten) by the Spanish poet Prudentius (d. 413) is still sung in some churches today. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Christmas "Sequence" or "Prose" was introduced in North European monasteries, developing under Bernard of Clairvaux into a sequence of rhymed stanzas. In the 12th century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol. By the 13th century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence of Francis of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, who lists twenty-five "caroles of Cristemas", probably sung by groups of wassailers, who went from house to house. The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal folk songs sung during celebrations such as "harvest tide" as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church. Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like "Personent hodie", "Good King Wenceslas", and "The Holly and the Ivy" can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages. They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Adeste Fidelis (O Come all ye faithful) appears in its current form in the mid-18th century, although the words may have originated in the 13th century. Child singers in Bucharest, 1841.

Singing of carols initially suffered a decline in popularity after the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe, although some Reformers, like Martin Luther, wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship. Carols largely survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in popular songs in the 19th century. The 18th century English reformer Charles Wesley understood the importance of music to worship. In addition to setting many psalms to melodies, which were influential in the Great Awakening in the United States, he wrote texts for at least three Christmas carols. The best known was originally entitled "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings", later renamed "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing". Felix Mendelssohn wrote a melody adapted to fit Wesley's words. In Austria in 1818 Mohr and Gruber made a major addition to the genre when they composed "Silent Night" for the St. Nicholas Church, Oberndorf. William B. Sandys' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) contained the first appearance in print of many now-classic English carols, and contributed to the mid-Victorian revival of the festival.

Completely secular Christmas seasonal songs emerged in the late 18th century. "Deck The Halls" dates from 1784, and the American, "Jingle Bells" was copyrighted in 1857. In the 19th and 20th century, African American spirituals and songs about Christmas, based in their tradition of spirituals, became more widely known. An increasing number of seasonal holidays songs were commercially produced in the 20th century, including jazz and blues variations. In addition, there was a revival of interest in early music, from groups singing folk music, such as The Revels, to performers of early medieval and classical music.

Food

A special Christmas family meal is traditionally an important part of the holiday's celebration, and the food that is served varies greatly from country to country. Some regions, such as Sicily, have special meals for Christmas Eve, when 12 kinds of fish are served. In England and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey or goose, meat, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider. Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding, mince pies and fruit cake. In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish often is used for the traditional main course, but richer meat such as lamb is increasingly served. In Germany, France and Austria, goose and pork are favored. Beef, ham and chicken in various recipes are popular throughout the world. The Maltese traditionally serve Imbuljuta tal-Qastan, a chocolate and chestnuts beverage, after Midnight Mass and throughout the Christmas season. Slovaks prepare the traditional Christmas bread potica, bûche de Noël in France, panettone in Italy, and elaborate tarts and cakes. The eating of sweets and chocolates has become popular worldwide, and sweeter Christmas delicacies include the German stollen, marzipan cake or candy, and Jamaican rum fruit cake. As one of the few fruits traditionally available to northern countries in winter, oranges have been long associated with special Christmas foods.

Cards

Christmas cards are illustrated messages of greeting exchanged between friends and family members during the weeks preceding Christmas Day. The traditional greeting reads "wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", much like that of the first commercial Christmas card, produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. The custom of sending them has become popular among a wide cross-section of people with the emergence of the modern trend towards exchanging E-cards. Christmas cards are purchased in considerable quantities, and feature artwork, commercially designed and relevant to the season. The content of the design might relate directly to the Christmas narrative with depictions of the Nativity of Jesus, or Christian symbols such as the Star of Bethlehem, or a white dove which can represent both the Holy Spirit and Peace on Earth. Other Christmas cards are more secular and can depict Christmas traditions, mythical figures such as Santa Claus, objects directly associated with Christmas such as candles, holly and baubles, or a variety of images associated with the season, such as Christmastime activities, snow scenes and the wildlife of the northern winter. There are even humorous cards and genres depicting nostalgic scenes of the past such as crinolined shoppers in idealized 19th century streetscapes. Some prefer cards with a poem, prayer or Biblical verse; while others distance themselves from religion with an all-inclusive "Season's greetings".

Stamps

A number of nations have issued commemorative stamps at Christmastime. Postal customers will often use these stamps to mail Christmas cards, and they are popular with philatelists. These stamps are regular postage stamps, unlike Christmas seals, and are valid for postage year-round. They usually go on sale some time between early October and early December, and are printed in considerable quantities. In 1898 a Canadian stamp was issued to mark the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate. The stamp features a map of the globe and bears an inscription "XMAS 1898" at the bottom. In 1937, Austria issued two "Christmas greeting stamps" featuring a rose and the signs of the zodiac. In 1939, Brazil issued four semi-postal stamps with designs featuring the three kings and a star of Bethlehem, an angel and child, the Southern Cross and a child, and a mother and child. Both the US Postal Service and the Royal Mail regularly issue Christmas-themed stamps each year.

Gift Giving

The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making the Christmas season the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. Gift giving was common in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. Christmas gift giving was banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected Pagan origins. It was later rationalized by the Church on the basis that it associated St. Nicholas with Christmas, and that gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi.

Legendary gift-bringing figures Main articles: Santa Claus and Father Christmas See also: Saint Nicholas and Saint Basil Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, considered by many to be the original Santa Claus. A number of figures of both Christian and mythical origin have been associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. Among these are Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Père Noël, and the Weihnachtsmann; Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas; the Christkind; Kris Kringle; Joulupukki; Babbo Natale; Saint Basil; and Father Frost.

Legendary Gift-Bringing Figures

A number of figures of both Christian and mythical origin have been associated with Christmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. Among these are Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Père Noël, and the Weihnachtsmann; Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas; the Christkind; Kris Kringle; Joulupukki; Babbo Natale; Saint Basil; and Father Frost.

The most famous and pervasive of these figures in modern celebration worldwide is Santa Claus, a mythical gift bringer, dressed in red, whose origins have diverse sources. The name Santa Claus can be traced back to the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means simply Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey, during the 4th century. Among other saintly attributes, he was noted for the care of Children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast on the 6th of December came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. Saint Nicholas traditionally appeared in bishop's attire, accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behaviour of children during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. By the 13th century, Saint Nicholas was well known in the Netherlands, and the practice of gift-giving in his name spread to other parts of central and southern Europe. At the Reformation in 16th–17th century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, corrupted in English to Kris Kringle, and the date of giving gifts changed from December the 6th to Christmas Eve.

The modern popular image of Santa Claus, however, was created in the United States, and in particular in New York. The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors including Washington Irving and the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Following the American Revolutionary War, some of the inhabitants of New York City sought out symbols of the city's non-English past. New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. At his first American appearance in 1810, Santa Claus was drawn in bishops' robes. However as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. Nast drew a new image of "Santa Claus" annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920s.

Father Christmas, a jolly, well nourished, bearded man who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predates the Santa Claus character. He is first recorded in early 17th century England, but was associated with holiday merrymaking and drunkenness rather than the bringing of gifts. In Victorian Britain, his image was remade to match that of Santa. The French Père Noël evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In Italy, Babbo Natale acts as Santa Claus, while La Befana is the bringer of gifts and arrives on the eve of the Epiphany. It is said that La Befana set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost along the way. Now, she brings gifts to all children. In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves make the toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus.

There has been some opposition to the narrative of the American evolution of Saint Nicholas into the modern Santa. It has been claimed that the Saint Nicholas Society was not founded until 1835, almost half a century after the end of the American War of Independence. Moreover, a study of the "children's books, periodicals and journals" of New Amsterdam by Charles Jones revealed no references to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas. However, not all scholars agree with Jones's findings, which he reiterated in a booklength study in 1978; Howard G. Hageman, of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, maintains that the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in New York was alive and well from the early settlement of the Hudson Valley on.

Current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela and Colombia) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes, a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States. In South Tyrol (Italy), Austria, Czech Republic, Southern Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Switzerland, the Christkind (Ježíšek in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian and Ježiško in Slovak) brings the presents. The German St. Nikolaus is not identical with the Weihnachtsmann (who is the German version of Santa Claus/Father Christmas). St. Nikolaus wears a bishop's dress and still brings small gifts (usually candies, nuts and fruits) on December 6 and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. Although many parents around the world routinely teach their children about Santa Claus and other gift bringers, some have come to reject this practice, considering it deceptive.

History

Pre-Christian background

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means "the birthday of the unconquered sun". Modern scholars have argued that the festival was placed on the date of the solstice because this was on this day that the Sun reversed its southward retreat and proved itself to be "unconquered".[citation needed] Some early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus. "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born...Christ should be born", Cyprian wrote. John Chrysostom also commented on the connection: "They call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .?" Although Dies Natalis Solis Invicti has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly speculation, the only ancient source for it is a single mention in the Chronography of 354, and modern Sol scholar Steven Hijmans argues that there is no evidence that the celebration precedes that of Christmas: "While the winter solstice on or around the 25th of December was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas, and none that indicates that Aurelian had a hand in its institution."

Winter Festivals

A winter festival was the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included the fact that less agricultural work needs to be done during the winter, as well as an expectation of better weather as spring approached. Modern Christmas customs include: gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; and Yule logs and various foods from Germanic feasts. Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period.[citation needed] As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan traditions had a major influence on Christmas, especially Koleda, which was incorporated into the Christmas carol. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.

Christian Feast

The New Testament does not give a date for the birth of Jesus. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote that a group in Egypt celebrated the nativity on 25 Pashons. This corresponds to May 20. Tertullian (d. 220) does not mention Christmas as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. However, in Chronographai, a reference work published in 221, Sextus Julius Africanus suggested that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox, popularizing the idea that Christ was born on December 25. The equinox was March 25 on the Roman calendar, so this implied a birth in December. De Pascha Computus, a calendar of feasts produced in 243, gives March 28 as the date of the nativity. In 245, the theologian Origen of Alexandria stated that, "only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod)" celebrated their birthdays. In 303, Christian writer Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods. However, since Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth "as God" but "as man", this is not evidence against Christmas being a feast at this time. Moreover, the fact that the innovation rejecting Donatist Church of North Africa celebrated Christmas suggests that the feast had been established before the living memory of those who began that Church in 311.

Feast Established

The earliest known reference to the date of the nativity as December 25th is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome. In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival emphasized celebration of the baptism of Jesus. Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, and to Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400.

Middle Ages

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in the west focused on the visit of the magi. But the Medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin" (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours), now known as Advent. In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent. Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days. The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066. By the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers that provided the chorus. Various writers of the time condemned caroling as lewd, indicating that the unruly traditions of Saturnalia and Yule may have continued in this form. "Misrule"—drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling—was also an important aspect of the festival. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day, and there was special Christmas ale. Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy, holly, and other evergreens. Christmas gift-giving during the Middle Ages was usually between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. The annual indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, and card playing escalated in England, and by the 17th century the Christmas season featured lavish dinners, elaborate masques and pageants. In 1607, King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. It was during the Reformation in 16th–17th century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

Reformation Into the 19th Century

Following the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery" or the "rags of the Beast." The Catholic Church responded by promoting the festival in a more religiously oriented form. King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old style Christmas generosity. Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I during the English Civil War, England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647. Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans. The book, The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with "plow-boys" and "maidservants", and carol singing. The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland also discouraged observance of Christmas. James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, however attendance at church was scant.

In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. Celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region. At the same time, Christian residents of Virginia and New York observed the holiday freely. Pennsylvania German Settlers, pre-eminently the Moravian settlers of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Lititz in Pennsylvania and the Wachovia Settlements in North Carolina, were enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas. The Moravians in Bethlehem had the first Christmas trees in America as well as the first Nativity Scenes. Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom. George Washington attacked Hessian (German) mercenaries on Christmas during the Battle of Trenton in 1777, Christmas being much more popular in Germany than in America at this time.

By the 1820s, sectarian tension had eased in Britain and writers, including William Winstanly, began to worry that Christmas was dying out. These writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts were made to revive the holiday. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol, that helped revive the 'spirit' of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Its instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion. Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. A prominent phrase from the tale, 'Merry Christmas', was popularized following the appearance of the story. The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with 'Bah! Humbug!' dismissive of the festive spirit. In 1843, the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole. The revival of the Christmas Carol began with William B. Sandys Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833), with the first appearance in print of 'The First Noel', 'I Saw Three Ships', 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen', popularized in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover, by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen to King George III. In 1832 a young Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it. After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, by 1841 the custom became more widespread throughout Britain. An image of the British royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, created a sensation when it was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848. A modified version of this image was published in the United States in 1850. By the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America.

In America, interest in Christmas had been revived in the 1820s by several short stories by Washington Irving which appear in his The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon and "Old Christmas". Irving's stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England, that had largely been abandoned, and he used the tract Vindication of Christmas (1652) of Old English Christmas traditions, that he had transcribed into his journal as a format for his stories. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas). The poem helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance.[100] This also started the cultural conflict of the holiday's spiritualism and its commercialism that some see as corrupting the holiday. In her 1850 book "The First Christmas in New England", Harriet Beecher Stowe includes a character who complains that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in a shopping spree. While the celebration of Christmas was not yet customary in some regions in the U.S., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow detected "a transition state about Christmas here in New England" in 1856. "The old puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so". In Reading, Pennsylvania, a newspaper remarked in 1861, "Even our presbyterian friends who have hitherto steadfastly ignored Christmas — threw open their church doors and assembled in force to celebrate the anniversary of the Savior's birth". The First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois, 'although of genuine Puritan stock', was 'preparing for a grand Christmas jubilee', a news correspondent reported in 1864. By 1860, fourteen states including several from New England had adopted Christmas as a legal holiday. In 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States Federal holiday, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. Subsequently, in 1875, Louis Prang introduced the Christmas card to Americans. He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card".

Controversy and Criticism

Throughout the holiday's history, Christmas has been the subject of both controversy and criticism from a wide variety of different sources. The first documented Christmas controversy was Christian-led, and began during the English Interregnum, when England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament. Puritans (including those who fled to America) sought to remove the remaining pagan elements of Christmas. During this period, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas entirely, considering it "a popish festival with no biblical justification", and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior. Controversy and criticism continues in the present-day, where some Christian and non-Christians have claimed that an affront to Christmas (dubbed a "war on Christmas" by some) is ongoing. In the United States there has been a tendency to replace the greeting Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have initiated court cases to bar the display of images and other material referring to Christmas from public property, including schools. Such groups argue that government-funded displays of Christmas imagery and traditions violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the establishment by Congress of a national religion. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lynch vs. Donnelly that a Christmas display (which included a Nativity scene) owned and displayed by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island did not violate the First Amendment. In November 2009, the Federal appeals court in Philadelphia endorsed a school district's ban on the singing of Christmas carols. In the private sphere also, it has been alleged that any specific mention of the term "Christmas" or its religious aspects was being increasingly censored, avoided, or discouraged by a number of advertisers and retailers. In response, the American Family Association and other groups have organized boycotts of individual retailers. In the United Kingdom there have also been some controversies, one of the most famous being the temporary promotion of the Christmas period as Winterval by Birmingham City Council in 1998. There were also protests in November 2009 when the city of Dundee promoted its celebrations as the Winter Night Light festival, initially with no specific Christmas references.

[6A]

Return to Top of Page

HOGMANAY

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. It is, however, normally only the start of a celebration which lasts through the night until the morning of New Year's Day (January 1st) or, in some cases, January 2nd which is a Scottish Bank Holiday.

Etymology

The etymology of the word is obscure. It may have been introduced to Middle Scots through the Auld Alliance. In 1604 the custom was mentioned in the Elgin Records as hagmonay. The most satisfactory explanation is a derivation from the Northern French dialect word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginane, hoginono and hoguinettes, those being derived from 16th century Old French aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children's cry for such a gift, or New Year's Eve itself. (This explanation is supported by a children's tradition, observed up to the 1960s in some parts of Scotland at least, of visiting houses in their locality on New Year's Eve and requesting and receiving small treats such as sweets or fruit.) The second element would appear to be l'an neuf i.e. the New Year. Compare those to Norman hoguinané and the obsolete customs in Jersey of crying ma hodgîngnole, and in Guernsey of asking for an oguinane, for a New Year gift. In Québec, "la guignolée" was a door-to-door collection for the poor. Other suggestions include French hoguinané ('a New Year's gift'), au gui mener ('lead to the mistletoe'), au gui l'an neuf ('to the mistletoe the new year'), or (l')homme est né ('(the) man is born'). John Brand's Popular Antiquities (1859) describes a custom in Kent of 'going a hodening' at Christmas, going round the houses in procession and singing carols, accompanied by a sort of hobby-horse.

Origins

The roots of Hogmanay perhaps reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic New Year's celebration of Samhain. In Rome, winter solstice evolved into the ancient celebration of Saturnalia, a great winter festival, where people celebrated completely free of restraint and inhibition. The Vikings celebrated Yule, which later contributed to the Twelve Days of Christmas, or the "Daft Days" as they were sometimes called in Scotland. The winter festival went underground with the Protestant Reformation and ensuing years, but re-emerged near the end of the 17th century.

Customs

There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot.

Scottish Customs

Each area of Scotland often developed its own particular Hogmanay ritual. An example of a local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging that takes place in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire in north-east Scotland. This involves local people making up 'balls' of chicken wire filled with old newspaper, sticks, rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 60 cm, each attached to about 1 m of wire, chain or nonflammable rope. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the balls are set alight and the swingers set off up the High Street from the Mercat Cross to the Cannon and back, swinging the burning balls around their heads as they go. At the end of the ceremony, any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour. Many people enjoy this display, and large crowds flock to see it, with 12,000 attending the 2007/2008 event. In recent years, additional attractions have been added to entertain the crowds as they wait for midnight, such as fire poi, a pipe band, street drumming and a firework display after the last fireball is cast into the sea. The festivities are now streamed live over the Internet. Another example of a pagan fire festival is the burning the clavie which takes place in the town of Burghead in Moray.

In the east coast fishing communities and Dundee, first-footers used to carry a decorated herring while in Falkland in Fife, local men would go in torchlight procession to the top of the Lomond Hills as midnight approached. Bakers in St Andrews would bake special cakes for their Hogmanay celebration (known as 'Cake Day') and distribute them to local children. In Glasgow and the central areas of Scotland, the tradition is to hold Hogmanay parties involving singing, dancing, the eating of steak pie or stew, storytelling, and drink; these usually extend into the daylight hours of January 1. Institutions also had their own traditions. For example, amongst the Scottish regiments, the officers had to wait on the men at special dinners while at the bells, the Old Year is piped out of barrack gates. The sentry then challenges the new escort outside the gates: 'Who goes there?' The answer is 'The New Year, all's well.'

An old custom in the Highlands, which has survived to a small extent and seen some degree of revival, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (Scots for 'protecting, blessing') of the household and livestock. Early on New Year's morning, householders drink and then sprinkle 'magic water' from 'a dead and living ford' around the house (a 'dead and living ford' refers to a river ford that is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, the house is sealed up tight and branches of juniper are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre. The juniper smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers 'a restorative' from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to its New Year breakfast.

"Auld Lang Syne"

The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become common in many countries. "Auld Lang Syne" is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is now common for this to be sung in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, although it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, coordinating with the lines of the song which contain the lyrics to do so. Typically it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

Robert Burns' Original Scots Verse:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


CHORUS

 

In the Media

During the years 1957 to 1968 a New Year's Eve television programme, called "The White Heather Club", was used to herald in the Hogmanay celebrations. The show was presented by Andy Stewart who always began by singing "Come in, come in, it's nice to see you...." The show always ended with Andy Stewart and the cast singing, "Haste ye Back"

Haste ye back, we loue you dearly,
Call again you're welcome here.
May your days be free from sorrow,
And your friends be ever near.
 
May the paths o'er which you wander,
Be to you a joy each day.
Haste ye back we loue you dearly,
Haste ye back on friendship's way.

The performers were Jimmy Shand and band, Ian Powrie and his band, Scottish country dancers: Dixie Ingram and the Dixie Ingram Dancers, Joe Gordon Folk Four, James Urquhart, Ann & Laura Brand, Moira Anderson & Kenneth McKellar. All the dancers, and Andy Stewart, wore kilts, and the women dancers wore long white dresses with tartan sashes. Following the demise of the White Heather Club, Andy Stewart continued to feature regularly in TV Hogmanay shows until his retirement. His last appearance was in 1992. In the 1980s comedian Andy Cameron presented the Hogmanay show on BBC Scotland while Peter Morrison presented a show called "A Highland Hogmanay" on STV/Grampian. This was axed in 1993. For many years, a staple of New Year's Eve television programming in Scotland was the comedy sketch show Scotch and Wry featuring the comedian Rikki Fulton, which invariably included a hilarious monologue from him as the preternaturally-gloomy Reverend I.M. Jolly. Since 1993, the programmes that have been mainstays on BBC Scotland on Hogmanay have been Hogmanay Live and Jonathan Watson's football-themed sketch comedy show, Only an Excuse? About 10 minutes before the end of Lewis Black's special "Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black" on the History Channel, Craig Ferguson described Hogmanay as follows: "In Scotland, New Year's is called Hogmanay. And it is a time when people who can inspire awe in the IRISH for the amount of ALCOHOL that they drink decide to RAMP IT UP a notch."

Presbyterian Influence

The Presbyterian Church generally disapproved of Hogmanay. The following quote is one of the first mentions of the holiday in official church records: 'It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane.' Still in Scotland Hogmanay and Ne'erday are as or more important than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the rest of the UK. Although Christmas Day held its normal religious nature in Scotland amongst its Catholic and Presbyterian communities, the Presbyterian national church, the Church of Scotland, had discouraged the celebration of Christmas for over 400 years. However, 1 January and 2 January remain public holidays in Scotland and Hogmanay still is associated with as much celebration as Christmas in Scotland. Most Scots still celebrate Ne'erday with a special dinner, usually steak pie.

Ne'erday

When Ne'erday falls on a Sunday, January 3rd becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Saturday, both January 3rd and January 4th will be public holidays in Scotland; when Ne'erday falls on a Friday, January 4th becomes an additional public holiday in Scotland. As in much of the world, the largest Scottish cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen hold all-night celebrations, as does Stirling. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations are among the largest in the world, although in 2003-4 most of the organised events were cancelled at short notice due to very high winds. The Stonehaven Fireballs went ahead as planned, however, with some 6000 people braving the stormy weather to watch 42 fireball swingers process along the High Street. Similarly, the 2006-07 celebrations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling were all cancelled on the day, again due to high winds and heavy rain. The Aberdeen celebration, however, went ahead, and was opened by the pop music group, Wet Wet Wet.

Handsel Day

Historically, presents were given in Scotland on the first Monday of the New Year. This would be celebrated often by the employer giving his staff presents and parents giving children presents. Handsel Day is marked by teachers giving gifts to their students. A roast dinner would be eaten to celebrate the festival. Handsel was a word for gift box and hence Handsel Day. In modern Scotland this practice has died out.

[1] [2]

Return to Top of Page

IMBOLC

Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the Irish calendar, celebrated among Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures, either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of Spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 2, which falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Originally dedicated to the goddess Brigid, in the Christian period it was adopted as St Brigid's Day. In Scotland the festival is also known as Là Fhèill Brìghde, in Ireland as Lá Fhéile Bríde, and in Wales as Gŵyl Fair. Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.


"The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground."

Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival. Brigid (also known as Brighid, Bríde, Brigit, Brìd) is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

Pre-Celtic Origins

That Imbolc was an important time to the ancient inhabitants of Ireland can be seen at a number of Megalithic and Neolithic sites, such as at the Loughcrew burial mounds and the Mound of the Hostages at the Hill of Tara. At these sites in County Meath the inner chamber of the passage tombs is perfectly aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain, similar to the Winter Solstice phenomena seen at Newgrange, where the rising sun shines down the passageway and illuminates the inner chamber of the tomb.

Celtic Celebrations

Evidence of how Imbolc was celebrated in Celtic Ireland is found in ancient Irish manuscripts that mention the festival, and folklore collected during the 19th and early 20th century in rural Ireland and Scotland. Among agrarian peoples, Imbolc has been traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, soon to give birth to the spring lambs. Chadwick notes that this could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February. However, the timing of agrarian festivals can vary widely, given regional variations in climate. This has led to some debate about both the timing and origins of the festival. In Irish, Imbolc (pronounced "im'olk"), derives from the Old Irish i mbolg - which means 'in the belly'. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes. Another name is Oimelc - which means 'ewe's milk'. The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or simply watching for omens (whether performed in all seriousness or as children's games), a great deal of candles, and perhaps an outdoor bonfire if the weather permits.

St. Brigid's Day

In the modern Irish Calendar, Imbolc is variously known as the Feast of Saint Brigid (Secondary Patron of Ireland), Lá Fhéile Bríde, and Lá Feabhra — the first day of Spring. Christians may call the day "Candlemas" or "the feast of the Purification of the Virgin". One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan homes on St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid's Bed. The girls and young, unmarried women of the household or village create a corn dolly to represent Brigid, called the Brideog ("little Brigid" or "young Brigid"), adorning it with ribbons and baubles like shells or stones. They make a bed for the Brideog to lie in. On St. Brigid's Eve (January 31), the girls and young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the Brideog, and are later visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home, and then treat them and the corn dolly with respect.

Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc eve. Before going to bed, each member of the household may leave a piece of clothing or strip of cloth outside for Brigid to bless. The head of the household will smother (or "smoor") the fire and rake the ashes smooth. In the morning, they look for some kind of mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or morning. The clothes or strips of cloth are brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection. On the following day, the girls carry the Brideog through the village or neighborhood, from house to house, where this representation of the Saint/Goddess is welcomed with great honor. Adult women — those who are married or who run a household — stay home to welcome the Brigid procession, perhaps with an offering of coins or a snack. Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year.

Gaelic Folklore

Imbolc is the day the Cailleach — the hag of Gaelic tradition — gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. On the Isle of Man, where She is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to have been seen on Imbolc in the form of a gigantic bird, carrying sticks in her beak.

Neopagan Revival

Neopagans of diverse traditions observe this holiday in a variety of ways. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals taken from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic cultures being only one of the sources used. Among those attempting to revive the older traditions comparisons are also made with studies of similar customs in Scandinavia, and customs maintained up till the present day in the Celtic nations and the Irish and Scottish diasporas. Imbolc is usually celebrated by modern Pagans on February 1st or 2nd in the northern hemisphere, and August 1st or 2nd in the southern hemisphere. Some Neopagans time this celebration to the solar midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which now falls later in the first week or two of February. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is most likely that the holiday would be celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, or when the primroses, dandelions, or other spring flowers rise up through the snow, or when the sun aligned with the passage tombs among the pre-Celtic megaliths.

Celtic Reconstructionist

Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy. They base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. They usually celebrate the festival when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time. Many use traditional songs and rites from sources such as The Silver Bough and The Carmina Gadelica. It is especially a time of honoring the Goddess Brighid, and many of her dedicants choose this time of year for rituals to her.

Wicca

Wiccans celebrate a variation of Imbolc as one of four "fire festivals", which make up half of the eight holidays (or "sabbats"), of the wheel of the year. Imbolc is defined as a cross-quarter day, midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). The precise astrological midpoint in the Northern hemisphere is when the sun reaches fifteen degrees of Aquarius. In the Southern hemisphere, if celebrated as the beginning of local Spring, the date is the midpoint of Leo. Sometimes the festival is referred to as "Brigid". Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc (also referred to as "Candlemas") is the traditional time for initiations.

[5]

Return to Top of Page

CANDLEMAS

In addition to being known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus, and falls on or around 2 February. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Presentation is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts, and is sometimes called Hypapante (lit., 'Meeting' in Greek). Other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. In many Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Church of England, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a Principal Feast celebrated either on 2 February or on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February. The event is described in the Gospel of Luke 2:22–40. According to the gospel, Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, in obedience to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15, etc.). Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, the Holy Family encountered Simeon the Righteous.

[6]

Return to Top of Page

LUPERCALIA

Lupercalia was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13 through 15 to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name. The name Lupercalia was believed in antiquity to evince some connection with the Ancient Greek festival of the Arcadian Lykaia (from Ancient Greek: λύκος — lukos, "wolf", Latin lupus) and the worship of Lycaean Pan, assumed to be a Greek equivalent to Faunus, as instituted by Evander. In Roman mythology, Lupercus is a god sometimes identified with the Roman god Faunus, who is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan. Lupercus is the god of shepherds. His festival, celebrated on the anniversary of the founding of his temple on February 15, was called the Lupercalia. His priests wore goatskins. The historian Justin mentions an image of "the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus," nude save for the girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. There, on the Ides of February (in February the ides is the 13th), a goat and a dog were sacrificed, and salt mealcakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins were burnt.

The celebration during the late Republic and Empire

Plutarch described Lupercalia:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the infant orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, explaining the name of the festival, Lupercalia, or "Wolf Festival." The festival was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on the Palatine Hill (the central hill where Rome was traditionally founded), to expiate and purify new life in the Spring. A known Lupercalia festival of 44 BC attests to the continuity of the festival but the Lupercal cave may have fallen into disrepair, and was later rebuilt by Augustus. It has been tentatively identified with a cavern discovered in 2007, 50 feet below the remains of Augustus' palace. The rites were directed by the Luperci, the "brothers of the wolf (lupus)", a corporation of sacerdotes (priests) of Faunus, dressed only in a goatskin, whose institution is attributed either to the Arcadian Evander, or to Romulus and Remus. The Luperci were divided into two collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilia (or Quinctia) and gens Fabia; at the head of each of these colleges was a magister. In 44 BC, a third college, the Julii, was instituted in honor of Julius Caesar, the first magister of which was Mark Antony. In imperial times the members were usually of equestrian standing. The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis) of two male goats and a dog. Next two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh. The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

The Lupercalia in the 5th century

By the 5th century, when the public performance of pagan rites had been outlawed, a nominally Christian Roman populace still clung to the Lupercalia in the time of Gelasius (494–96). It had been literally degraded since the 1st century, when in 44 BC the consul Mark Antony did not scruple to run with the Luperci; now the upper classes left the festivities to the rabble. Whatever the fortunes of the rites in the meantime, in the last decade of the 5th century they prompted Pope Gelasius I's taunt to the senators who were intent on preserving them: "If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery." The remark was addressed to the senator Andromachus by Gelasius in an extended literary epistle that was virtually a diatribe against the Lupercalia. Gelasius finally abolished the Lupercalia after a long dispute

[1]

Return to Top of Page

VALENTINE'S DAY

 

Return to Top of Page

ST. PATRICK'S DAY

Saint Patrick's Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig; Ulster-Scots: Saunt Petherick's Day) is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick (c. AD 387–461), the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. Saint Patrick's Day was made an official feast day in the early 17th century, and has gradually become a secular celebration of Irish culture in general. The day is generally characterised by the attendance of church services, wearing of green attire (especially shamrocks), and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol, which is often proscribed during the rest of the season. Saint Patrick's Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador and in Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora, especially in places such as Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. Today, St. Patrick's Day is probably the most widely celebrated saints day in the world.

Saint Patrick

Little is known of Patrick's early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the 4th century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest. In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianise the Irish from their native polytheism. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on March17, 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish Church.

Wearing of the Green

Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick's day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick's Day as early as the 17th century. He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. In the 1798 rebellion, in hopes of making a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase "the wearing of the green", meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, derives from a song of the same name.

In Ireland

Saint Patrick's feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In later times he became more and more widely known as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick's feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 1600s. Saint Patrick's Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints' feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint's day to a time outside those periods. Saint Patrick's Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when 17 March falls during Holy Week. This happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick's Day was observed on 3 April in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and again in 2008, where it was officially observed on 14 March (15 March being used for St. Joseph, which had to be moved from 19 March), although the secular celebration still took place on 17 March. Saint Patrick's Day will not fall within Holy Week again until 2160. (In other countries, St. Patrick's feast day is also 17 March, but liturgical celebration is omitted when impeded by Sunday or by Holy Week.) A St Patrick's Day religious procession in Downpatrick, 2010 Girls playing Irish folk music during a St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, 2010 Traditional St Patrick's Day badges from the early 20th century, photographed at the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo Everyone's Irish on 17 March Sign on a beam in Dublin's Guinness Storehouse, a commercial museum promoting the drinking of Guinness stout on St Patrick's Day In 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O'Mara. O'Mara later introduced the law that required that pubs and bars be closed on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and was reviewed by the then Minister of Defence Desmond Fitzgerald. Although secular celebrations now exist, the holiday remains a religious observance in Ireland, for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland.

In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use Saint Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick's Festival, with the aim to:

  • Offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity.
  • Provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent, (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.
  • Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal, as we approach the new millennium.

The first Saint Patrick's Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long; more than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade. Overall 2009's five day festival saw close to 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks. Skyfest forms the centrepiece of the festival. The topic of the 2004 St. Patrick's Symposium was "Talking Irish", during which the nature of Irish identity, economic success, and the future were discussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of "Irishness" rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance. The week around Saint Patrick's Day usually involves Irish language speakers using more Irish during seachtain na Gaeilge ("Irish Week").

As well as Dublin, many other cities, towns, and villages in Ireland hold their own parades and festivals, including Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford. The biggest celebrations outside Dublin are in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is rumoured to be buried. In 2004, according to Down District Council, the week-long St. Patrick's Festival had more than 2,000 participants and 82 floats, bands, and performers and was watched by more than 30,000 people. The shortest St Patrick's Day parade in the world takes place in Dripsey, Cork. The parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village's two pubs. Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick's Day. In The Word magazine's March 2007 issue, Fr. Vincent Twomey wrote, "It is time to reclaim St Patrick's Day as a church festival." He questioned the need for "mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry" and concluded that "it is time to bring the piety and the fun together."

Outside Ireland

Argentina

In Argentina, and especially in Buenos Aires, all-night long parties are celebrated in designated streets, since the weather is comfortably warm in March. People dance and drink only beer throughout the night, until seven or eight in the morning, and although the tradition of mocking those who do not wear green does not exist, many people wear something green. In Buenos Aires, the party is held in the downtown street of Reconquista, where there are several Irish pubs; in 2006, there were 50,000 people in this street and the pubs nearby. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Irish community, the fifth largest in the world outside Ireland, take part in the organisation of the parties.

Canada

One of the longest-running Saint Patrick's Day parades in North America occurs each year in Montreal, the flag of which has a shamrock in one of its corners. The parades have been held in continuity since 1824. In Quebec City, there was a parade from 1837 to 1926. The Quebec St-Patrick Parade returned in 2010, after an absence of more than 84 years. For the occasion, a portion of the NYPD Pipes and Drums were present as special guests. The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team was known as the Toronto St. Patricks from 1919 to 1927, and wore green jerseys. In 1999, when the Maple Leafs played on Hockey Night in Canada (national broadcast of the NHL) on Saint Patrick's Day, they wore the green St. Patrick's day-themed retro uniforms. There is a large parade in the city's downtown core that attracts over 100,000 spectators.[citation needed] Some groups, notably Guinness, have lobbied to make Saint Patrick's Day a national holiday in Canada. Currently, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the only jurisdiction in Canada where Saint Patrick's Day is a provincial holiday. In March 2009, the Calgary Tower had changed its top exterior lights to new green-coloured CFL bulbs just in time for Saint Patrick's Day. The lights were in fact part of the environmental non-profit organisation, Project Porchlight, and were Green to represent environmental concerns. Approximately 210 lights were changed in time for Saint Patrick's Day and almost resemble a Leprechaun's hat during the evening light. After a week, regular white CFLs took their place, saving the Calgary Tower around $12,000 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 104 metric tonnes in the process.

England

In Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother used to present bowls of shamrock flown over from Ireland to members of the Irish Guards, a regiment in the British Army consisting primarily of soldiers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Guards still wear shamrock on this day, flown in from Ireland. Christian denominations in Great Britain observing his feast day include The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Horse racing at the Cheltenham Festival attracts large numbers of Irish people, both residents of Britain and many who travel from Ireland, and usually coincides with Saint Patrick's Day. Birmingham holds the largest Saint Patrick's Day parade in Britain with a massive city centre parade over a two mile (3 km) route through the city centre. The organisers describe it as the third biggest parade in the world after Dublin and New York. London, since 2002, has had an annual Saint Patrick's Day parade which takes place on weekends around the 17th, usually in Trafalgar Square. In 2008 the water in the Trafalgar Square fountains was dyed green. Liverpool has the highest proportion of residents of Irish ancestry of any English city. This has led to a long-standing celebration on St Patrick's Day in terms of music, cultural events and the parade. Manchester hosts a two-week Irish festival in the weeks prior to St Patrick's Day. The festival includes an Irish Market based at the city's town hall which flies the Irish tricolour opposite the Union Flag, a large parade as well as a large number of cultural and learning events throughout the two-week period. The Scottish town of Coatbridge, where the majority of the town's population are of Irish descent, also has a St. Patrick's Day Festival which includes celebrations and parades in the town centre.

Scotland

Glasgow has a considerably large Irish population; due, for the most part, to the Irish immigration during the 19th century. This immigration was the main cause in raising the population of Glasgow by over 100,000 people. Due to this large Irish population, there is a considerable Irish presence in Glasgow with many Irish theme pubs and Irish interest groups who run annual celebrations on St Patrick's day in Glasgow. Glasgow began an annual Saint Patrick's Day parade and festival in 2007.

Japan

Saint Patrick's Parades are now held in nine locations across Japan. The first parade, in Tokyo, was organised by The Irish Network Japan (INJ) in 1992. Nowadays parades and other events related to Saint Patrick's Day spread across almost the entire month of March.

Montserrat

The tiny island of Montserrat, known as "Emerald Island of the Caribbean" because of its founding by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis, is the only place in the world apart from Ireland and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador where St Patrick's Day is a public holiday. The holiday commemorates a failed slave uprising that occurred on 17 March 1768.

New Zealand and Australia

Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated in New Zealand and Australia - green items of clothing are traditionally worn and the streets are often filled with revellers drinking and making merry from early afternoon until late at night. The Irish made a large impact on the social, political and education systems, of both countries. Owing to the large numbers of Irish people that emigrated to, or where brought over as convicts during the 19th century. Saint Patrick's Day is seen as a day to celebrate individual links to Ireland and Irish heritage.

South Korea

The Irish Association of Korea has celebrated Saint Patrick's Day since 2001 in Seoul (the capital city of South Korea). The place of parade and festival has been moved from Itaewon and Daehangno to Cheonggyecheon.

United States

Early Celebrations

The Charitable Irish Society of Boston organised the first observance of St. Patrick's Day in the Thirteen Colonies. Surprisingly, the celebration was not Catholic in nature, Irish immigration to the colonies having been dominated by Protestants. The society's purpose in gathering was simply to honour its homeland, and although they continued to meet annually to coordinate charitable works for the Irish community in Boston, they did not meet on 17 March again until 1794. During the observance of the day, individuals attended a service of worship and a special dinner. New York's first Saint Patrick's Day observance was similar in nature to that of Boston's. It was held on 17 March 1762 in the home of John Marshall, an Irish Protestant, and over the next few years informal gatherings by Irish immigrants were the norm. The first recorded parade in New York was by Irish soldiers in the British Army in 1766. In 1780, while camped in Morristown, NJ, General George Washington, who commanded soldiers of Irish descent in the Continental Army, allowed his troops a holiday on 17 March "as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence." This event became known as The St. Patrick's Day Encampment of 1780. Postcard postmarked 1912 in the United States Irish patriotism in New York City continued to soar and the parade in New York City continued to grow. Irish aid societies were created like Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society and they marched in the parades too. Finally when many of these aid societies joined forces in 1848 the parade became not only the largest parade in the United States but one of the largest in the world.

Customs Today

In every year since 1991, March has been proclaimed Irish-American Heritage Month by the US Congress or President due to the date of St. Patrick's Day. Christian denominations in the United States observing his feast day include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. Today, Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated in America by Irish and non-Irish alike. For most Irish-Americans, this holiday is both religious and festive. St. Patrick's Day church services are followed by parades and parties, Irish music, songs, and dances. It is one of the leading days for consumption of alcohol in the United States, as individuals are allowed to break their Lenten sacrifices for the day in order to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. Many people choose to wear green coloured clothing and items. Traditionally, those who are caught not wearing green are pinched affectionately. Many parades are held to celebrate the holiday.

Seattle and other cities paint the traffic stripe of their parade routes green. Chicago dyes its river green and has done so since 1962 when sewer workers used green dye to check for sewer discharges and had the idea to turn the river green for Saint Patrick's Day. Originally 100 pounds of vegetable dye was used to turn the river green for a whole week but now only forty pounds of dye is used and the colour only lasts for several hours. Indianapolis also dyes its main canal green. Savannah dyes its downtown city fountains green. Missouri University of Science and Technology - St Pat's Board Alumni paint 12 city blocks kelly green with mops before the annual parade. In Jamestown, New York, the Chadakoin River (a small tributary that connects Conewango Creek with its source at Chautauqua Lake) is dyed green each year. Columbia, South Carolina dyes its fountain green in the area known as Five Points (a popular collegiate location near the University of South Carolina). A two day celebration is held over St Patrick's Day weekend. In Boston, Evacuation Day is celebrated as a public holiday for Suffolk County. While officially commemorating the British departure from Boston, it was made an official holiday after Saint Patrick's Day parades had been occurring in Boston for several decades, and is often believed to have been popularised because of its falling on the same day as Saint Patrick's Day. In the Northeastern United States, peas are traditionally planted on Saint Patrick's Day.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

OSTARA

Ostara is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere around March 21 and in the Southern hemisphere around September 23, depending upon the specific timing of the equinox. Among the Wiccan sabbats, it is preceded by Candlemas and followed by Beltane. The name Ostara is from ôstarâ, the Old High German for "Easter". It has been connected to the putative Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie. In terms of Wiccan ditheism, this festival is characterized by the rejoining of the Mother Goddess and her lover-consort-son, who spent the winter months in death. Other variations include the young God regaining strength in his youth after being born at Yule, and the Goddess returning to her Maiden aspect. [7]

Return to Top of Page

VERNAL EQUINOX

The equinoxes occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the Sun being vertically above a point on the Equator. The term equinox can also be used in a broader sense, meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long. At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: the vernal point and the autumnal point. An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location on the Earth's Equator where the centre of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring in the spring around March 20/21 each year.

Names

  • Vernal equinox: this classical name is a direct derivative of Latin (ver = spring).
  • March equinox: a usage becoming the preferred standard by technical writers choosing to avoid Northern Hemisphere bias (implied by assuming that March is in the springtime and September is autumnal—true for those in the Northern Hemisphere but exactly opposite in the Southern Hemisphere).
  • Northward equinox and southward equinox: names referring to the apparent motion of the Sun at the times of the equinox.
  • Vernal point and autumnal point are the points on the celestial sphere where the Sun is located on the vernal equinox and autumnal equinox respectively (again, the seasonal attribution is that of the Northern Hemisphere).
  • First point (or cusp) of Aries and first point of Libra are names used by navigators and astrologers. Navigational ephemeris tables record the geographic position of the First Point of Aries as the reference for position of navigational stars. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the astrological signs where these equinoxes are located no longer correspond with the actual constellations once ascribed to them.

Length of Equinoctial Day and Night

On a day of the equinox, the centre of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, night and day being of roughly the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night); in reality, the day is longer than the night at an equinox. Commonly, the day is defined as the period when sunlight reaches the ground in the absence of local obstacles. From the Earth, the Sun appears as a disc rather than a single point of light, so when the centre of the Sun is below the horizon, its upper edge is visible. Furthermore, the atmosphere refracts light, so even when the upper limb of the Sun is below the horizon, its rays reach over the horizon to the ground. These cumulative effects make the day about 14 minutes longer than the night at the Equator and longer still towards the Poles. The real equality of day and night only happens in places far enough from the equator to have a seasonal difference in day length of at least 7 minutes, actually occurring a few days towards the winter side of each equinox. The date at which the time between sunset and sunrise crosses 12 hours , is known as the equilux. Because sunset and sunrise times vary with an observer's geographic location (longitude and latitude), the equilux likewise depends on location and does not exist for locations sufficiently close to the equator. The equinox, however, is a precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth.

Heliocentric View of the Seasons

The Earth's seasons are caused by the rotation axis of the Earth not being perpendicular to its orbital plane. The Earth's axis is tilted at an angle of approximately 23.44° from the orbital plane; this tilt is called the axial tilt. As a consequence, for half of the year (i.e. from around March 20 to around September 22), the northern hemisphere tips toward the Sun, with the maximum around June 21, while for the other half of the year, the southern hemisphere has this honour, with the maximum around December 21. The two instants when the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator are the equinoxes. Also at that moment, both the North and South Poles of the Earth are just on the terminator and day and night are divided equally between the hemispheres. A few remarks can be made about the equinoxes:

  • Because the Sun is a spherical (rather than a single-point) source of light, the actual crossing of the Sun over the Equator takes approximately 33 hours.
  • At the equinoxes, the rate of change for the length of daylight and night-time is the greatest. At the Poles, the equinox marks the start of the transition from 24 hours of nighttime to 24 hours of daylight. High in the Arctic Circle, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway has an additional 15 minutes more daylight every day around the time of the Spring equinox, whereas in Singapore (which is virtually on the Equator), the amount of daylight each day varies by just seconds.
  • It is 94 days from the June solstice to the September equinox, but only 89 days from the December Solstice to the March equinox. The seasons are not of equal length, because of the variable speed of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.
  • The instances of the equinoxes are not fixed, but fall about six hours later every year, amounting to one full day in four years. They are reset by the occurrence of a leap year. The Gregorian calendar is designed to follow the seasons as accurately as is practical, which is good, but not absolutely perfect.
  • Smaller irregularities in the times are caused by perturbations of the Moon and the other planets.
  • Currently, the most common equinox and solstice dates are March 20, June 21, September 22 and December 21; the four-year average will slowly shift to earlier times in coming years. This shift is a full day in about 70 years (compensated mainly by the century "leap year" rules of the Gregorian calendar). This also means that in many years of the twentieth century, the dates of March 21, June 22, September 23 and December 22 were much more common, so older books teach (and older people may still remember) these dates.
  • Note that the times are given in UTC (roughly speaking, the time at Greenwich, ignoring British Summer Time). People living farther to the east (Asia and Australia), whose local times are in advance, will see the seasons apparently start later; for example, in Tonga (UTC+13), an equinox occurred on September 24, 1999, a date which will not crop up again until 2103. On the other hand, people living far to the west (America) whose clocks run behind UTC may experience an equinox as early as March 19.

Geocentric View of the Seasons

In the half year centred on the June solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the north, which means longer days with shorter nights for the Northern Hemisphere and shorter days with longer nights for the Southern Hemisphere. In the half year centred on the December solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the south and the durations of day and night are reversed. Also on the day of an equinox, the Sun rises everywhere on Earth (except the Poles) at 06:00 in the morning and sets at 18:00 in the evening (local time). These times are not exact for several reasons, one being that the Sun is much larger in diameter than the Earth that more than half of the Earth could be in sunlight at any one time (due to unparallel rays creating tangent points beyond an equal-day-night line); other reasons are as follows:

  • Most places on Earth use a time zone which is unequal to the local time, differing by up to an hour or even two hours, if daylight saving time (summer time) is included. In that case, the Sun could rise at 08:00 and set at 20:00, but there would still be 12 hours of daylight.
  • Even those people fortunate enough to have their time zone equal to the local time will not see sunrise and sunset at 06:00 and 18:00 respectively. This is due to the variable speed of the Earth in its orbit, and is described as the equation of time. It has different values for the March and September equinoxes (+8 and −8 minutes respectively).
  • Sunrise and sunset are commonly defined for the upper limb of the solar disk, rather than its centre. The upper limb is already up for at least one minute before the centre appears, and likewise, the upper limb sets one minute later than the centre of the solar disk. Due to atmospheric refraction, the Sun, when near the horizon, appears a little more than its own diameter above the position than where it is in reality. This makes sunrise more than another two minutes earlier and sunset the equal amount later. These two effects add up to almost seven minutes, making the equinox day 12hrs 7min long and the night only 11hrs 53min. In addition to that, the night includes twilight. When dawn and dusk are added to the daytime instead, the day would be almost 13 hours.
  • The above numbers are only true for the tropics. For moderate latitudes, this discrepancy increases (for example, 12 minutes in London) and closer to the Poles it gets very large. Up to about 100 km from both Poles, the Sun is up for a full 24 hours on an equinox day.
  • Height of the horizon on both the sunrise and sunset sides changes the day's length. Going up into the mountains will lengthen the day, while standing in a valley with hilltops on the east and the west can shorten the day significantly. This is why settlements in east-west running valleys are more favourable (daylight-wise) than north-south running valleys.

Cultural Aspects of the Equinox

  • The Persian new year, Nowruz, is held annually on the vernal equinox, as the beginning of spring.
  • Sham El Nessim was an ancient Egyptian holiday which can be traced back as far as 2700 B.C. It is still one of the public holidays in Egypt. Sometime during Egypt's Christian period (c. 200-639) the date moved to Easter Monday, but before then it coincided with the vernal equinox.
  • The Jewish Passover usually falls on the first full moon after the Northern Hemisphere vernal equinox, although occasionally (7 times every 19 years) it will occur on the second full moon.
  • The Christian churches calculate Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March equinox. The official church definition for the equinox is March 21; however, as the Eastern Orthodox Churches use the older Julian calendar, while the Western Churches use the Gregorian calendar, both of which designate March 21 as the equinox, the actual date of Easter differs. The earliest possible Easter date in any year is therefore March 22 on each calendar. The latest possible Easter date in any year is April 25.
  • The March equinox marks the first day of various calendars including the Iranian calendar and the Bahá'í calendar. The Persian (Iranian) festival of Nowruz is celebrated then. According to the ancient Persian mythology Jamshid, the mythological king of Persia, ascended to the throne on this day and each year this is commemorated with festivities for two weeks. These festivities recall the story of creation and the ancient cosmology of Iranian and Persian people. It is also a holiday for Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Zanzibar, Albania, and various countries of Central Asia, as well as among the Kurds. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents of the Bahá'í Faith and the Nizari Ismaili Muslims.
  • Tamil and Bengali New Years follow the Hindu zodiac and are celebrated according to the sidereal vernal equinox (April 14). The former is celebrated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and the latter in Bangladesh and the East Indian state of West Bengal.
  • In many Arab countries, Mother's Day is celebrated on the March equinox.

Modern Innovations

  • World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling, celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern.
  • World Citizen Day occurs on the March equinox.
  • In Annapolis, Maryland, boatyard employees and sailboat owners celebrate the spring equinox with the Burning Of The Socks festival. Traditionally, the boating community wears socks only during the winter. These are burned at the approach of warmer weather, which brings more customers and work to the area. Officially, nobody then wears socks until the next equinox.
  • Kerala, a state of India celebrates the celestial vernal equinox as their New year around April 14. It is known as 'Vishu' meaning equal in Sanskrit.
  • Earth Day was initially celebrated on March 21, 1970, the equinox day. It is currently celebrated in various countries on April 22.
  • Wiccans and many other Neopagans hold religious celebrations of "Ostara" on the spring equinox.

Myths, Fables and Facts

  • One effect of equinoctial periods is the temporary disruption of communications satellites. For all geostationary satellites, there are a few days near the equinox when the sun goes directly behind the satellite relative to Earth (i.e. within the beamwidth of the groundstation antenna) for a short period each day. The Sun's immense power and broad radiation spectrum overload the Earth station's reception circuits with noise and, depending on antenna size and other factors, temporarily disrupt or degrade the circuit. The duration of those effects varies but can range from a few minutes to an hour. (For a given frequency band, a larger antenna has a narrower beamwidth, hence experiences shorter duration "Sun outage" windows).
  • A modern folk-notion claims that on the March equinox day one can balance an egg on its point. However, one can balance an egg on its point any day of the year...if one has enough patience.
  • Although the word equinox is often understood to mean "equal [day and] night," as is noted elsewhere, this is not strictly true. For most locations on earth, there are two distinct identifiable days per year when the length of day and night are closest to being equal; those days are commonly referred to as the "equiluxes" to distinguish them from the equinoxes. Equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are days. By convention, equiluxes are the days where sunrise and sunset are closest to being exactly 12 hours apart. This way, you can refer to a single date as being the equilux, when in reality, it spans from sunset on one day to sunset the next, or sunrise on one to sunrise the next.
  • What is true about the equinoxes is that two observers at the same distance north and south of the equator will experience nights of equal length.
  • The equilux counts times when some direct sunlight could be visible, rather than all hours of usable daylight (which is any time when there is enough natural light to do outdoor activities without needing artificial light). This is due to twilight; a particular type of twilight which is officially defined as civil twilight. This amount of twilight can result in more than 12 hours of usable daylight up to a few weeks before the spring equinox, and up to a few weeks after the fall equinox.
  • In a contrary vein, the daylight which is useful for illuminating houses and buildings during the daytime and is needed to produce the full psychological benefit of daylight, is shorter than the nominal time between sunrise and sunset. So in that sense, "useful" daylight is present for 12 hours only after the vernal equinox and before the autumnal equinox, because the intensity of light near sunrise and sunset, even with the sun slightly above the horizon, is considerably less than when the sun is high in the sky.
  • It is perhaps valuable for people in the Americas and Asia to know that the equinoxes listed as occurring on March 21, which occurred frequently in the 20th century and which will occur occasionally in the 21st century, are presented as such using UTC, which is at least four hours in advance of any clock in the Americas and as much as twelve hours behind Asian clocks. Thus, there will be no spring equinox later than March 20 in the Americas in the coming century.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

BELTAINE

Beltane or Beltaine is the anglicised spelling of Bealtaine or Bealltainn, the Gaelic names for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May. In Irish Gaelic the month of May is known as Mí Bealtaine or Bealtaine and the festival as Lá Bealtaine ('day of Bealtaine' or, 'May Day'). In Scottish Gaelic the month is known as either (An) Cèitean or a' Mhàigh, and the festival is known as Latha Bealltainn or simply Bealltainn. The feast was also known as Céad Shamhain or Cétshamhainin from which the word Céitean derives. As an ancient Gaelic festival, Bealtaine was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There were similar festivals held at the same time in the other Celtic countries of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. Bealtaine and Samhain were the leading terminal dates of the civil year in Ireland though the latter festival was the more important. The festival survives in folkloric practices in the Celtic Nations and the Irish diaspora, and has experienced a degree of revival in recent decades.

Overview

For the Celts, Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. Due to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, Bealltainn in Scotland was commonly celebrated on May 15 while in Ireland Sean Bhealtain / "Old May" began about the night of May 11. The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine ('the eve of Bealtaine') on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival. In modern Scottish Gaelic, Latha Buidhe Bealtuinn ('the yellow day of Bealltain') is used to describe the first day of May. This term Lá Buidhe Bealtaine is also used in Irish and is translated as 'Bright May Day'. In Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as Luan Lae Bealtaine; the first day of the week (Monday/Luan) is added to emphasise the first day of summer.

In ancient Ireland the main Bealtaine fire was held on the central hill of Uisneach 'the navel of Ireland', one of the ritual centres of the country, which is located in what is now County Westmeath. In Ireland the lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine seems only to have survived to the present day in County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night and in County Wicklow in Arklow, though some cultural groups have expressed an interest in reviving the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara. The lighting of a community Bealtaine fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora and by some Neopagan groups, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.

Another common aspect of the festival which survived up until the early 20th century in Ireland was the hanging of May Boughs on the doors and windows of houses and the erection of May Bushes in farmyards, which usually consisted either of a branch of rowan/caorthann (mountain ash) or more commonly whitethorn/sceach geal (hawthorn) which is in bloom at the time and is commonly called the 'May Bush' or just 'May' in Hiberno-English. Furze/aiteann was also used for the May Boughs, May Bushes and as fuel for the bonfire. The practice of decorating the May Bush or Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored egg shells has survived to some extent among the diaspora as well, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions observed on the East Coast of the United States.

Bealtaine is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 or May 7, but this can vary from year to year. Placenames in Ireland which contain remnants of the word 'Bealtaine' include a number of places called 'Beltany' - indicating places where Bealtaine festivities were once held. There are two Beltanys in County Donegal-- one near Raphoe and the other in the parish of Tulloghobegly. Two others are located in County Tyrone, one near Clogher and the other in the parish of Cappagh. In the parish of Kilmore, County Armagh, there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnach Bhealtaine ('field of the Bealtaine festivities'). Lisbalting/Lios Bealtaine ('fort or enclosure of Bealtaine') is located in Kilcash Parish, County Tipperary. Glasheennabaultina ('the Bealtaine stream') is the name of a stream joining the River Galey near Athea, County Limerick.

Origins

In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Aos Sí. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on October 31 Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand. Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). This term is also found in Irish and is used as a turn of phrase to describe a situation which is difficult to escape from. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.

Beltane as described in this article is a specifically Gaelic holiday. Other Celtic cultures, such as the Welsh, Bretons, and Cornish, do not celebrate Beltane, per se. However, they celebrated or celebrate festivals similar to it at the same time of year. In Wales, the day is known as Calan Mai, and the Gaulish name for the day is Belotenia. Dwelly wrote:

In many parts of the Highlands, the young folks of the district would meet on the moors on 1 May. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by cutting a trench in the ground of sufficient circumferences to hold the whole company. They then kindled a fire, dressed a repast of eggs and milk of the constituency of custard. They kneaded a cake of oatmeal, which was toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard was eaten, they divided the cake into as many portions as there were people in the company, as much alike as possible in size and shape. They daubed one of the pieces with charcoal, til it was black all over, and they were then all put into a bonnet together, and each one blindfolded took out a portion. The bonnet holder was entitled to the last bit, and whoever drew the black bit was the person who was compelled to leap three times over the flames. Some people say this was originally to appease a god, whose favour they tried to implore by making the year productive. (Dwelly, 1911, "Bealltuinn")

Etymology

The word Beltane derives directly from the Old Irish Beltain, which later evolved into the Modern Irish Bealtaine. In Scottish Gaelic it is spelled Bealltainn. Both are from Old Irish Beltene ('bright fire') from belo-te(p)niâ. Beltane was formerly spelled 'Bealtuinn' in Scottish Gaelic; in Manx it is spelt 'Boaltinn' or 'Boaldyn'. In Modern Irish, Oidhche Bealtaine or Oíche Bealtaine is May Eve, and Lá Bealtaine is May Day. Mí na Bealtaine, or simply Bealtaine is the name of the month of May. In the word belo-te(p)niâ) the element belo- is cognate with the English word bale (as in 'bale-fire'), the Anglo-Saxon bael, and also the Lithuanian baltas, meaning 'white' or 'shining' and from which the Baltic Sea takes its name. In Gaelic the terminal vowel -o (from Belo) was dropped, as shown by numerous other transformations from early or Proto-Celtic to Early Irish, thus the Gaulish deity names Belenos ('bright one') and Belisama. From the same Proto-Celtic roots we get a wide range of other words: the verb beothaich, from Early Celtic belo-thaich ('to kindle, light, revive, or re-animate'); baos, from baelos ('shining'); beòlach ('ashes with hot embers') from beò/belo + luathach, ('shiny-ashes' or 'live-ashes'). Similarly boil/boile ('fiery madness'), through Irish buile and Early Irish baile/boillsg ('gleam'), and bolg-s-cio-, related to Latin fulgeo ('shine'), and English 'effulgent'. According to the Gaelic scholar Dáithí Ó hÓgáin Céad Shamhain or Cétshamhainin means "first half", which he links to the Gaulish word samonios (which he suggests means "half a year") as in the end of the "first half" of the year that begins at Samhain. According to Ó hÓgáin this term was also used in Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. In Ó Duinnín's Irish dictionary it is referred to as Céadamh(ain) which it explains is short for Céad-shamh(ain) meaning "first (of) summer". The dictionary also states that Dia Céadamhan is May Day and Mí Céadamhan is May.

Revival

A revived Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year since 1988 during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland and attended by up to 15,000 people (except in 2003 when local council restrictions forced the organisers to hold a private event elsewhere).

Neopagan

Beltane is observed by Neopagans in various forms, and by a variety of names. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals taken from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.

Celtic Reconstructionist

Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans place emphasis on historical accuracy. They base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. Celtic Reconstructionists usually celebrate Lá Bealtaine when the local hawthorn trees are in bloom, or on the full moon that falls closest to this event. Many observe the traditional bonfire rites, to whatever extent this is feasible where they live, including the dousing of the household hearth flame and relighting of it from the community festival fire. Some decorate May Bushes and prepare traditional festival foods. Pilgrimages to holy wells are traditional at this time, and offerings and prayers to the spirits or deities of the wells are usually part of this practice. Crafts such as the making of equal-armed rowan crosses are common, and often part of rituals performed for the blessing and protection of the household and land.

Wicca

Wiccans and Wiccan-inspired Neopagans celebrate a variation of Beltane as a sabbat, one of the eight solar holidays. Although the holiday may use features of the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, it bears more relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Some Wiccans celebrate "High Beltaine" by enacting a ritual union of the May Lord and Lady. Among the Wiccan sabbats, Beltane is a cross-quarter day; it is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on May 1 and in the southern hemisphere on November 1. Beltane follows Ostara and precedes Midsummer.

[6]

Return to Top of Page

WALPURGIS NIGHT

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated today by Christian and non-Christian communities as well, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. The current festival is in most countries celebrating it named after Saint Walpurga, born in Devon about 710. Due to her holy day falling on the same day, her name became associated with the celebrations. Walpurga was honored in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. Early Romanism had a policy of 'Christianising' Pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1st.

Origins

Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various Pagan spring customs. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day, although bonfires and witches are more closely associated with Easter (especially in Ostrobothnia, Finland) and bonfires alone with midsummer in the rest of Finland. Saint Walpurga herself was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. Together with her brothers she travelled to Franconia, Germany, where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, Bavaria, which was founded by her brother Willibald. Walpurga died of an illness shortly after moving the mortal remains of her brother, Saint Winibald on 25 February 779. She is therefore listed in the Roman Martyrology under 25 February. Her relics were transferred on 1 May so that she might be buried beside Willibald, and that day carries her name in the Finnish and Swedish calendars.

Germany

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30th to May 1st, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring. Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of April 30 (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods..."

Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches' revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis night. The Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.

—Oxford Phrase & Fable.

A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht". In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires". In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks on Walpurgisnacht, e.g. tampering with neighbors' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury.

Finland

Today in Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity, taking place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student, and particularly the engineering student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of "Vappu". From the end of the 19th century, "Fin de Siècle", and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. Many people who have graduated from lukio, and thus traditionally assumed as university students or alumni, wear the cap. Engineering students have their own type of cap resembling the general one, but also having a pompon hanging from it. One tradition is drinking homemade sima (mead) (whose alcohol content varies) along with freshly cooked donuts.

In the capital Helsinki and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of the Helsinki University of Technology. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine-cans and milk cartons. The vappu of engineering students, unlike that of other students, starts a week before the actual day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki - and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population - in Helsinki city.

Traditionally May 1 is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto or Kaisaniemi in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hardcore party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between. Some Student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. Student caps, mead, streamers and balloons have their role in the picnic, as well as in the celebration as a whole. Vappu/Valborg and Midsummer are Finland's two main holidays in the summer-half of the year, on par with Christmas eve and New Year's eve in the winter-half.

Sweden

In Sweden, Walpurgis (Swedish: Valborgsmässoafton or Valborg) is one of the de facto public holidays during the year. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough writes that "The first of May is a great popular festival in the more midland and southern parts of Sweden. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flints together, blaze on all the hills and knolls". One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which may have begun in Uppland during the 18th century: "At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze, and ever since the early 18th century bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators". An older tradition from Southern Sweden was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task is to be paid in eggs. None of this is practised today.

The tradition which is most widespread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. Most of the songs are from the 19th century and were spread by students' spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsala and Lund where both current and graduated students gather at events that take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or "sista april" ("The last day of April") as it is called in Uppsala. Modern Valborg-celebrations, particularly in Uppsala, consist of having a light breakfast including champagne and stawberries. During the day people gather in parks, drink alcoholic beverages, grill and generally enjoy the weather, if happens to be any good. In Uppsala students also go rafting in Fyrisån on home-made and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold "Champagne Races" where students go to drink and spray champagne (more often actually sparkling wine) on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occassion as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. There are also newer student traditions in Gothenburg, like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers.

Estonia

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated on the night from April 30 to May 1, with the following day (May 1) being a public holiday of lesser importance called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). Yet Volbriöö itself has considerable importance as one of the main reasons to party across the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Nowadays some people still dress up as witches and wander the streets in a carnival-like mood. Yet for most Estonians, Volbriöö has become a reason to celebrate the arrival of Spring with huge outdoor drinking and partying throughout the night. This is especially strongly honoured in Tartu, the university town in Southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional march on the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting of each others' corporation houses all night, drinking lots of beer as they stay with the hosts and move along the streets from one place to another. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').

[7]

Return to Top of Page

May Day

Traditional May Day celebrations

May Day occurs on May 1st and refers to several public holidays. May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half of a year from November 1st, another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European Pagan and Neopagan festivals such as Samhain. May Day marks the end of the uncomfortable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations, regardless of the locally prevalent political or religious establishment. As Europe became Christianized the Pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were merged with or replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, and All Saint's Day. In the twentieth century, many Neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a Pagan religious festival again.

Origins

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian, with the festival of Flora the Roman Goddess of flowers, the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. Many Pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and America. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May. Various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on May 1. The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European Pagan cultures. While February 1 was the first day of Spring, May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer. In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbours' doorsteps.

Europe

Finland

While most celebrations take place on Mayday eve, May Day itself is a public holiday that is the only carnival-style festivity in the country. People, particularly students party on this day, arranging picnics and wearing the student cap. However, all political organizations, including right and left wing parties, also arrange speeches and such events.

Greece

May First is also International Workers Day, a holiday celebrating the struggles and achievements of the working class (such as unionization, 8-hours working day, healthcare and insurance provisions etc...). Workers' groups and unions are often active on this day; major manifestations are sometimes scheduled for May Day. Since May Day corresponds with the peak of the flower season, flower shows and festivals are common. The ancient Minoans are believed to have celebrated one of their two "New Year" celebrations about this time - the other was in October. One very common commemoration is the making of a May wreath which is hung on doorways, balconies, in chapels, and many other places. Keep an eye out for them.

Ireland

May Day has been celebrated in Ireland since Pagan times as the feast of Bealtaine and in latter times as Mary's day, bonfires are lit to mark the coming of summer and to banish the long nights of winter.

United Kingdom

Roodmas was an explicitly Christian Mass celebrated in England at midnight on May 1, presumably to diminish the popularity of traditional Walpurgis Night celebrations.

England

Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derive from the Pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ" (the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings). May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. With Christianity came agricultural feasts such as Plough Sunday (the first Sunday in January), Rogationtide, Harvest Festival and May Day. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip & St James, they became the patron saints of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons. The May Day Bank Holiday, on the first Monday in May, was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that the Good Friday and Easter Monday Bank Holidays, which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time. 1 May 1707 was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In Oxford, it is traditional for revellers to gather below Magdalen College tower to listen to Magdalen College School's choir May Morning. It is then thought to be traditional for some people (often mistakenly labelled as Oxford University students) to jump off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell. However this has actually only been fashionable since the 1970s. In recent years the bridge has been closed on 1 May to prevent people from jumping, as the water under the bridge is only 2 feet (61 cm) deep and jumping from the bridge has resulted in serious injury in the past yet there are still people who insist on climbing the barriers and leaping into the water, causing injury. In Durham, students of the University of Durham gather on Prebend's Bridge at 5am to see the sunrise and enjoy Pagan festivities, folk music, dancing, madrigal singing and a BBQ. This is emerging as a Durham tradition. A good example of more traditional May Day festivities is still witnessed in Whitstable, Kent where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. A separate revival occurred in Hastings in 1983 and has become a major event in the town calendar. Padstow also holds its annual 'Obby 'Oss festival. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent where the Jack In the Green is woken at dawn on the 1st of May by Morris dancers.

Maydayrun

The Maydayrun involves thousands of motorbikes taking a 55-mile (89 km) trip from London (Locksbottom) to the Hastings seafront, East Sussex. The event has been taking place for almost 30 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, while volunteers manage the parking. Hastings fills up with tourists and bikes by about 11 AM, and the A21 from Kent to East Sussex is the road the bikers travel. As a result, the road is severely congested during the event.

Cornwall & Southwest England

Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual 'Obby-Oss' day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional 'May Day' song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th century distinctive May day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall and have recently been revived in St. Ives and in 2008 will be revived in Penzance. Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook in Cornwall celebrate Flower Boat Ritual on the May Day bank holiday. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is taken in procession from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand where it is cast adrift. The houses in the villages are decorated with flowers and people traditionally wear red and white clothes. There are further celebrations in Cawsand Square with Morris dancing and May pole dancing.

Scotland

In St Andrews, some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on May Day, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow organize Mayday festivals and rallies. In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival is held on the evening of May eve and into the early hours of May Day on the city's Calton Hill.

France

On May 1st, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom on the 1st of May, to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime. The government permits individuals and workers' organisations to sell them free of taxation. It is also traditional for the lady receiving the spray of lily of valley to give a kiss in return. Now, people may present loved ones with bunches of lily of the valley or dog rose flowers.

Germany

In rural regions of Germany, especially the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht celebrations of Pagan origin are traditionally held on the night before May Day, including bonfires and the wrapping of maypoles, and young people use this opportunity to party, while the day itself is used by many families to get some fresh air. Motto: "Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). In the Rhineland, a region in the western part of Germany, May 1 is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the maypole, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so.

Pacific

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk composed "May Day is Lei Day in Hawai'i," the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.

Americas

May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These baskets are small and usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. The basket giver would ring the bell and run away. The person receiving the basket would try to catch the fleeing giver. If they caught the person, a kiss was to be exchanged. Modern May Day ceremonies in the U.S. vary greatly from region to region and many unite both the holiday's "Green Root" (Pagan) and "Red Root" (labor) traditions. Among the largest is the May Day Parade and Pageant created by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, an event that has happened every year since 1975 in Minneapolis and now attracts some 35,000 people. May 1 also is recognized in the U.S. as Law Day.

International Workers' Day

May Day can refer to various labour celebrations conducted on May 1 that commemorate the fight for the eight hour day. May Day in this regard is called International Workers' Day, or Labour Day. The idea for a "workers holiday" began in Australia in 1856. With the idea having spread around the world, the choice of May 1st became a commemoration by the Second International for the people involved in the 1886 Haymarket affair. The Haymarket affair occurred during the course of a three-day general strike in Chicago, Illinois that involved common laborers, artisans, merchants, and immigrants. Following an incident in which police opened fire and killed four strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant, a rally was called for the following day at Haymarket Square. The event remained peaceful, yet towards the end of the rally, as police moved in to disperse the event, an unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd of police. The bomb and resulting police riot left at least a dozen people dead, including seven policemen. A sensational show trial ensued in which eight defendants were openly tried for their political beliefs, and not necessarily for any involvement in the bombing. The trial led to the eventual public hanging of seven anarchists. The Haymarket incident was a source of outrage from people around the globe. In the following years, memory of the "Haymarket martyrs" was remembered with various May Day job actions and demonstrations.

May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labour movement. Although May Day received its inspiration from the United States, the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day's perceived appropriation by the Soviet Union. Alternatively, Labor Day traditionally occurs on the first Monday in September in the United States. People often use May Day as a day for political protest, such as the million people who demonstrated against far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, or as a day for protest against government actions, such as rallies in support of undocumented workers across the United States.

[7]

Return to Top of Page

MIDSUMMER

Midsummer may simply refer to the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place around the 24th of June and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between cultures.

Background

European midsummer-related holidays, traditions, and celebrations are pre-Christian in origin. They are particularly important in Northern Europe - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden - but are found also in Ireland, parts of Britain (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, the Ukraine, other parts of Europe, and elsewhere - such as Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, and also in the Southern Hemisphere (Brazil), where this imported European celebration would be more appropriately called Midwinter. Midsummer is also sometimes referred to by Neopagans and others as Litha, stemming from Bede's De temporum ratione in which he gave the Anglo-Saxon names for the months roughly corresponding to June and July as "se Ærra Liþa" and "se Æfterra Liþa" (the "early Litha month" and the "later Litha month") with an intercalary month of "Liþa" appearing after se Æfterra Liþa on leap years. The fire festival or Lith- Summer solstice is a tradition for many Pagans. Solstice celebrations still center upon the first day of Summer according to the calendar. However, there are some who still choose to hold the rite on the 21st of June, although this is not always the longest day of the year.

History

The celebration of Midsummer's Eve was from ancient times linked to the summer solstice. People believed that mid-summer plants had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other evil powers. In Sweden Mid-summer celebration originates from the time before Christianity; it was celebrated as a sacrifice time in the sign of the fertility.

The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the pre-Christian beginning of the day, which falls on the previous eve. In Sweden, Finland and Estonia, Midsummer's Eve is considered the greatest festival of the year, comparable only with Walpurgis Night, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve. In the 7th century, Saint Eligius (died 659/60) warned the recently converted inhabitants of Flanders against these Pagan solstice celebrations. According to the Vita by his companion Ouen, he would say:

"No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [summer solstice rites] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants.

Indeed, as Saint Eligius demonstrates, as Christianity was introduced to previously Pagan areas, midsummer celebrations came to be often translated to new Christian holidays, often resulting in celebrations that mixed purely Christian traditions with traditions derived from Pagan Midsummer festivities.

Contemporary National Traditions

Australia

Cornish migrants in South Australia at one time celebrated the traditional European Midsummer with a bonfire on the traditional date of 24 June, which in Australia is the middle of winter. The earliest recorded bonfire was lit for this celebration in Moonta, on the night leading into June 24, 1862. Similar celebrations began in Burra soon after.

Bulgaria

On Midsummer day Bulgarians celebrate the so called Enyovden. On the same day Eastern Orthodox church celebrate the day of John the Baptist and the rites and traditions of both holidays are often mixed.B ulgarian folklore states the beginning of winter starts on Enyovden. It is thought that in the morning of Enyovden, when the sun rises, it “winks’, “plays”, and the one who sees that will be healthy throughout the year. It is believed that on Enyovden the different herbs have the greatest healing power especially at sunrise. Therefore, they have to be picked up early in the morning before dawn. Women–sorceresses, enchantresses - go to gather herbs by themselves to cure and make charms. The herbs gathered for the winter must be 77 and a half–for all diseases and for the nameless disease.

Canada

In Quebec, Canada, the celebration of June 24 was brought to New France by the first French colonists. Great fires were lit at night. According to the Jesuit Relations, the first celebrations of St John's day in New France took place around 1638. In 1834, Ludger Duvernay, printer and editor of La Minerve took the leadership of an effort to make June 24 the national holiday of the Canadiens (French Canadians). In 1908, Pope Pius X designated John the Baptist as the patron saint of the French-Canadians. In 1925, June 24 became a legal holiday in Quebec and in 1977, it became the secular National Holiday of Quebec. It still is the tradition to light great fires on the night of the 24th of June.

Croatia

In Croatia, midsummer is called Ivanje (Ivan being Croatian for John). It is celebrated on June 23, mostly in rural areas. Festivals celebrating Ivanje are held across the country. According to the tradition, bonfires (Ivanjski krijesovi) are built on the shores of lakes, near rivers or on the beaches for the young people to jump over the flames.

Denmark

In Denmark, the solstitial celebration is called Sankt Hans aften ("St. John's Eve"). It was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people. It has been celebrated since the times of the Vikings, by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today the water well tradition is gone. Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although bonfires are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by (i.e. on the shores of lakes and other waterways, parks, etc.). In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw and cloth (probably made by the elder women of the family) on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church's witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. (Unofficially a witch was lynched as late as 1897.) This burning sends the "witch" away from us, to Bloksbjerg, the mountain 'Brocken' in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day. Holger Drachmann and P.E. Lange-Müller wrote a midsommervise (Midsummer hymn) in 1885 called "Vi elsker vort land..." ("We Love Our Country") that is sung at every bonfire on this evening.

Estonia

"Jaanipäev" ("John's Day" in English) was celebrated long before the arrival of Christianity in Estonia, although the day was given its name by the crusaders. The arrival of Christianity, however, did not end Pagan beliefs and fertility rituals surrounding this holiday. In 1578, Balthasar Russow wrote in his Livonian Chronicle about Estonians who placed more importance on the festival than going to church. He complained about those who went to church, but did not enter, and instead spent their time lighting bonfires, drinking, dancing, singing and following Pagan rituals. Midsummer marks a change in the farming year, specifically the break between the completion of spring sowing and the hard work of summer hay-making. Understandably, some of the rituals of Jaanipäev have very strong folkloric roots. The best-known Jaanik, or midsummer, ritual is the lighting of the bonfire and jumping over it. This is seen as a way of guaranteeing prosperity and avoiding bad luck. Likewise, to not light the fire is to invite the destruction of your house by fire. The fire also frightened away mischievous spirits who avoided it at all costs, thus ensuring a good harvest. So, the bigger the fire, the further the mischievous spirits stayed away. Estonians celebrate "Jaaniõhtu" ("John's Night" in English) on the eve of the Summer Solstice (June 23) with bonfires. On the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, old fishing boats may be burnt in the large pyres set ablaze. On Jaaniõhtu, Estonians all around the country will gather with their families, or at larger events to celebrate this important day with singing and dancing, as Estonians have done for centuries. The celebrations that accompany Jaaniõhtu are the largest and most important of the year, and the traditions are similar those of Sweden, Finland and the southern neighbour Latvia. Since 1934, June 23rd is also national Victory Day of Estonia and both 23rd & 24th are holidays.

Finland

Before 1316, the summer solstice was called Ukon juhla, after the Finnish god Ukko. In e.g. Karelian tradition, many bonfires were burned side by side, the biggest of which was called Ukko-kokko (the "bonfire of Ukko"). After the celebrations were Christianized, the holiday is known as juhannus after St. John (Finnish: Johannes). The Swedish-speaking minority calls the event midsommar. Bonfires are very common in Finland, where many people spend their midsummer in the countryside outside towns. In the Finnish midsummer celebration, bonfires (Finnish kokko) are burnt at lakesides and by the sea. Especially in eastern Finland entire young birch trees (the decorative entire young birch tree is called meiju while birch in Finnish is koivu) are brought to both sides of the front door to welcome visitors. In Midsummer night the sauna is typically heated and family and friends are invited to bathe and to grill. In the coastal areas some of the Swedish speaking communities raise a maypole, a tradition that has spread from Sweden during the 20th century.

In folk magic, midsummer was a very potent night and the time for many small rituals, mostly for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. Will o wisps were believed to be seen at midsummer night, particularly to finders of the mythical "fern in bloom" and possessors of the "fern seed", marking a treasure. An important feature of the midsummer in Finland is the white night and the midnight sun. Because of Finland's location spanning around the Arctic Circle the nights near the midsummer day are short or non-existent. This gives a great contrast to the darkness of the winter time. Many music festivals of all sizes are organized on the Midsummer weekend. The Finnish midsummer is notorious for drunkenness and revelry. The number of drownings, road accidents and other mishaps usually peaks statistically. It's also common to start summer holidays on Midsummer day. For many families the Midsummer is the time when they move to their summer cottage by the lake. Often Finns spend the whole of July at the summer cottages. Midsummerday is also the Day of the Finnish Flag. The flag is hoisted at 6 pm on Midsummer eve and flown all night till 9 pm the following evening.

France

In France, the "Fête de la Saint-Jean" (feast of St John), traditionally celebrated with bonfires (le feu de la Saint-Jean) that are reminiscent of Midsummer's Pagan rituals, is a catholic festivity in celebration of Saint John the Baptist. It takes place on June 24, on Midsummer day (St John's day). In medieval times, this festival was celebrated with cat-burning rituals. In certain French towns, a tall bonfire is built by the inhabitants in order to be lit on St John's Day. In the Vosges region and in the Southern part of Meurthe-et-Moselle, this huge bonfire is named "chavande". June 21st is also known as the Fête de la Musique.

Germany

The day of sun solstice is called Sonnwende in German. On June 20, 1653 the Nuremberg town council issued the following order: "Where experience herefore have shown, that after the old heathen use, on John's day in every year, in the country, as well in towns as villages, money and wood have been gathered by young folk, and there upon the so-called sonnenwendt or zimmet fire kindled, and thereat winebibbing, dancing about the said fire, leaping over the same, with burning of sundry herbs and flowers, and setting of brands from the said fire in the fields, and in many other ways all manner of superstitious work carried on---Therefore the Hon. Council of Nürnberg town neither can nor ought to forbear to do away with all such unbecoming superstition, Paganism, and peril of fire on this coming day of St. John."

Ireland

In the Irish calendar, Midsummer is one of the four Irish Quarter days that divide the official calendar, and the evening before (St. John's Eve). Many towns and cities have 'Midsummer Carnivals' with fairs, concerts and fireworks either on or on the weekend nearest to Midsummer. In some rural spots, bonfires are occasionally lit on hilltops. This tradition harks back to Pagan times. Irish deities connected with Midsummer include Áine, to whom Midsummer offerings were traditionally made in County Limerick.

Italy

In Italy, the feast of Saint John the Baptist has been celebrated in Florence from medieval times, certainly in the Renaissance, with festivals sometimes lasting the three days from 21 to 24 June. This happens nowadays also in Cesena with a special street market and celebration that last from June 21st to 24nd. Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence and Turin where a fireworks display takes place at the celebration on the river. In Turin Saint John's cult is also diffused since medieval times when the city stops to work for two days and people from the surroundings comes to dance around the bonfire in the central square.

Jersey

In Jersey most of the former midsummer customs are largely ignored nowadays. The custom known as Les cônes d'la Saint Jean was observed as late as the 1970s - horns or conch shells were blown. Ringing the bachîn (a large brass preserving pan) at midsummer to frighten away evil spirits survived as a custom on some farms until the 1940s and has been revived as a folk performance in the 21st century.

Latvia

In Latvia, Midsummer is called Jāņi (Jānis being Latvian for John) or Līgo Svētki (Svētki = festival). It is a national holiday celebrated on a large scale by almost everyone in Latvia and by people of Latvian origin abroad. Celebrations consist of a lot of traditional elements - eating Jāņu cheese, drinking beer, singing hundreds of Latvian folk songs dedicated to Jāņi, burning bonfire to keep light all through the night and jumping over it, wearing wreaths of flowers (for the women) and leaves (for the men) together with modern commercial products and ideas. Oak wreaths are worn by men named Jānis in honor of their name day. Small oak branches with leaves are attached to cars in Latvia during the festivity. In the western town of Kuldīga, revellers mark the holiday by running naked through the town at three in the morning. The event has taken place for the past seven years. Runners are rewarded with beer, and police are on hand in case any "puritans" attempt to interfere with the naked run.

Lithuania

At the beginning of the 20th century, solstitial bonfires were common all over Lithuania, but Soviet years have repressed such customs. The Festival of Kupolė (Kupolinės) was associated with the Feast of St John the Baptist (Lithuanian:Joninės).

Norway

As in Denmark, Sankthansaften is celebrated on June 23rd in Norway. The day is also called Jonsok, which means "John's wake", important in Roman Catholic times with pilgrimages to churches and holy springs. For instance, up until 1840 there was a pilgrimage to the stave church in Røldal (southwest Norway) whose crucifix was said to have healing powers. Today, however, Sankthansaften is largely regarded as a secular event. In most places the main event is the burning of a large bonfire. In parts of Norway a custom of arranging mock marriages, both between adults and between children, is still kept alive. The wedding was meant to symbolize the blossoming of new life. Such weddings are known to have taken place in the 1800s, but the custom is believed to be older.

Poland

Especially in northern Poland–the Eastern Pomeranian and Kashubian regions, midsummer is celebrated on June 23rd. People dress in traditional Polka dress, and girls throw wreaths made of flowers into the Baltic Sea, and into lakes or rivers. The midsummer day celebration starts at about 8:00 p.m. and lasts all night until sunrise. People celebrate this special day every year and call it Noc Świętojańska which means St. John's Night. On that day in big Polish cities (like Warsaw and Kraków) there are many organized events, the most popular event being the Wianki, which means wreaths.

Portugal

In Portugal, Midsummer festivities are included in what is known today as Santos Populares (Popular Saints celebrations), now corresponding to different municipal holidays: St Anthony's Day in Lisbon (June 13th), St John's Day in Oporto, Braga, and Almada (June 24th), St Peter's day in Seixal, Sintra, Póvoa do Varzim, and Barcelos (June 29th). The actual Midsummer, St John's day, is celebrated traditionally more in Oporto. Saints’ days are full of fun and merriment. The streets are decorated with balloons and arches made out of brightly-coloured paper; people dance in the city's small squares, and altars, dedicated to the saints, are put up as a way of asking for good fortune. These holidays are days of festivities with good food and refreshments, people eat Caldo Verde (cabbage and potato soup), Sardinha Assada (grilled sardines), bread and drink red wine and água-pé (grape juice with a small percentage of alcohol).

In Lisbon, in Avenida da Liberdade, there are the Marchas, a parade of folklore and costumes of the inhabitants from the city's different traditional quarters, with hundreds of singers and dancers and a vast audience applauding their favorite participants. As St Anthony is the matchmaker saint, it is still the tradition in Lisbon to celebrate multiple marriages (200 to 300) and still following the tradition, if you are attracted to someone, one can declare himself in the heat of the festivities by offering to the loved person a manjerico (a flower-pot with a sweet basil plant) and a love poem. In Oporto St John's is a festival that is lived to the full in the streets, where anything is permitted. People carry a whole plant of flowering garlic with them (or a little plastic hammer), which they use to bang their neighbors over the head for good luck. According to one Portuguese Grandmother, the tradition is that St. John was a scalliwag in his youth and the people hit him on the head with the garlic saying "return to the right path". There is also dancing, while the highlight of the night is the firework display over the River Douro. Across the country the traditional midsummer bonfire is also built, and following an ancient Pagan tradition, revelers try to jump over the bonfire, this in order to gain protection during the rest of the year.

Romania

In Romania, the Midsummer celebrations are named Drăgaica or Sânziene. Drăgaica is celebrated by a dance performed by a group of 5-7 young girls of which one is chosen as the Drăgaica. She is dressed as a bride, with wheat wreath, while the other girls, dressed in white wear a veil with bedstraw flowers. Midsummer fairs are held in many Romanian villages and cities. The oldest and best known midsummer fair in Romania is the Drăgaica fair, held in Buzău between 10 and 24 June every year.

Russia and Ukraine

Ivan Kupala was the old Russian name for John the Baptist. Up to the present day, the Russian Midsummer Night (or Ivan's Day) is known as one of the most expressive Russian folk and Pagan holidays. Ivan Kupala Day is the day of summer solstice celebrated in Russia and Ukraine on June 23 OS and July 6 NS. This is a Pagan fertility rite, which has been accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. Many rites of this holiday are connected with water, fertility and autopurification. The girls, for example, would float their flower garlands on the water of rivers and tell their fortunes from their movement. Lads and girls would jump over the flames of bonfires. Nude bathing is likewise practiced. Nights on the Eve of Ivan Kupala inspired Modest Mussorgsky to create his Night on Bald Mountain. A prominent Ivan Kupala night scene is featured in Andrei Tarkovsky's film Andrei Rublev.

The Yakut people of the Sakha Republic celebrate a solstitial ceremony, Ysyakh, involving tethering a horse to a pole and circle dancing around it. Betting on Reindeer or horse racing would often take place afterward. The traditions are derived from Tengriism, the ancient sun religion of the region which has since been driven out by the Russian empire, Russian Orthodox Church and finally the Communist Party. The traditions have since been encouraged.

Spain

Bonfires are very common in Spain and Portugal. The traditional midsummer party in Spain is the celebration in honour of San Juan (St. John the Baptist) and takes place in June the 23rd night. It is common in many areas of the country. Parties are organised usually at beaches, where bonfires are lit and a set of firework displays usually take place. Bonfires are lit in the streets and there are fireworks too. On the Mediterranean coast, especially in Catalonia and València, special meals like Coca de Sant Joan are also served on this occasion. In Alicante, since 1928, the bonfires of Saint John were developed into elaborate constructions inspired by the Fallas of Valencia. Midsummer tradition is also especially strong in northern areas of the country, such as Galicia, where one can easily identify the rituals that reveal the Pagan beliefs widespread throughout Europe in Neolithic times. These beliefs pivot on three basic ideas: the importance of medicinal plants, especially in relation to health, youth and beauty; the protective character of fire to ward men off evil spirits and witches and, finally, the purifying, miraculous effects of water. What follows is a summary of Galician traditions surrounding St. John's festival in relation to these three elements.

  • Medicinal plants: Traditionally, women collect several species of plants on St. John's eve. These vary from area to area, but mostly include fennel, different species of fern (e.g. dryopteris filix-max), rue (herb of grace, ruta graveolens), rosemary, dog rose (rosa canina), lemon verbena, St John's wort (hypericum perforatum), mallows (malva sylvestris), laburnum, foxgloves (digitalis purpurea) and elder flowers. In some areas, these are arranged in a bunch and hung in doorways. In most others, they are dipped in a vessel with water and left outside exposed to the dew of night until the following morning (o dia de San Xoan -St. John's day), when people use the resulting flower water to wash their faces.
  • Water: Tradition holds it that the medicinal plants mentioned above are most effective when dipped in water collected from seven different springs. Also, on some beaches, it was traditional for women who wanted to be fertile to bathe in the sea until they were washed by 9 waves.
  • Fire: Bonfires are lit, usually around midnight both on beaches and inland, so much so that one usually cannot tell the smoke from the mist common in this Atlantic corner of Iberia at this time of the year, and it smells burnt everywhere. Occasionally, a dummy is placed at the top, representing a witch or the devil. Young and all gather around them and feast mostly on pilchards, potatoes boiled in their skins and maize bread. When it is relatively safe to jump over the bonfire, it is done three times (although it could also be nine or any odd number) for good luck at the cry of “meigas fora” (witches off!).It is also common to drink Queimada, a beverage resulting from setting alight Galician grappa mixed with sugar, coffee beans and pieces of fruit, which is prepared while chanting an incantation against evil spirits.

Sweden

In modern Sweden, Midsummer's Eve and Midsummer's Day (Midsommarafton and Midsommardagen) are celebrated from the eve of the Friday between June 19th - 25th . It is arguably the most important holiday of the year, and one of the most uniquely Swedish in the way it is celebrated, even if it has been influenced by other countries long ago. The main celebrations take place on the Friday, and the traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge maypole. One typical dance is the frog dance. Before the maypole is raised, greens and flowers are collected and used to cover the entire pole. Raising and dancing around a maypole (majstång or midsommarstång) is an activity that attracts families and many others. People dancing around the pole listen to traditional music and many wear traditional folk costumes. The year's first potatoes, pickled herring, sour cream, and possibly the first strawberries of the season are on the menu. Drinking songs are also important at this feast, and many drink heavily.

Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don't take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a midsommarstång.

In earlier times, small spires wrapped in greens were erected; this probably predates the maypole tradition, which is believed by many to have come from the continent in the Middle Ages. Others argue that some form of Midsummer pole occurred in Sweden during the pre-Christian times, and was a phallic fertility symbol, meant to impregnate the earth, but as there were no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation of the poles form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages. Midsummer was, however, linked to an ancient fertility festival which was adapted into St. John's Day by the church, even though it retained many Pagan traditions, as the Swedes were slow to give up the old heathen customs. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year. Many young people became passionate at Midsummer, and this was accepted, probably because it resulted in more childbirths in March which was a good time for children to be born. Midsummer is one of the only Pagan holidays that are still celebrated in Europe (if not the only). In Denmark and Norway it is referred to as the eve of St. Hans but it's only in Sweden that it has kept its original name.

United Kingdom

In Great Britain from the 13th century Midsummer was celebrated on Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve, June 23rd) and St. Peter's Eve (June 28th) with the lighting of bonfires, feasting and merrymaking. In late fifteenth-century England, John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, gives the following description: "At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin." The church fathers decided to put a stop to these practices and ordained that people should fast on the evening before, and thus turned waking into fasting (Festial 182). Mirk adds that at the time of his writing, "in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one is of clean bones and no wood and is called a "bonnefyre" [bonfire]; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a wakefyre, because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, "St. John's fire" (Festial 182). These traditions largely ended after the Reformation, but persisted in rural areas up until the nineteenth century before petering out.

Other Midsummer festivities had uneasy relations with the Reformed establishment. The Chester Midsummer Watch Parade, begun in 1498, was held at every Summer Solstice in years when the Chester Mystery Plays were not performed. Despite the cancellation of the plays in 1575, the parade continued; in 1599, however, the Lord Mayor ordered that the parades be banned and the costumes destroyed. The parade was permanently banned in 1675. Many people state that fairies dance at midnight on midsummer's eve. You just may see one if you stay up and watch for them. Traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit on some high hills in Cornwall (see Carn Brea and Castle an Dinas, St. Columb Major). This tradition was revived by the Old Cornwall Society in the mid 20th century. Another Cornish midsummer celebration is Golowan, which takes place at Penzance, Cornwall which normally starts on the Friday nearest St John's Day. Golowan lasts several days and culminates in Mazey Day. This is a revival of the Feast of St John (Gol-Jowan) with fireworks and bonfires.

Midsummer festivals are celebrated throughout Scotland, notably in the Scottish Borders where Peebles holds its Beltane Week. The Eve of St. John has special magical significance and was used by Sir Walter Scott as the title, and theme, for a pseudo-ballad poem. He invented a legend in which the lady of Smailholm Tower, near Kelso, keeps vigil by the midnight fires three nights in a row (see above) and is visited by her lover; but when her husband returns from battle, she learns he slew that lover on the first night, and she has been entertained by a very physical ghost. June 24th, Midsummer Day, the feast of St. John the Baptist, is one of the quarter days in England. In recent years on the Summer Solstice, English Heritage has run a "Managed Open Access" to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice celebrations.

United States

Midsummer celebrations are held throughout the US. The NYC Swedish Midsummer celebrations in Battery Park, New York City, attracts some 3,000-5,000 people annually, which makes it one of the largest celebrations after the ones held in Leksand and at the Skansen Park in Stockholm. Sweden Day, a Midsummer celebration which also honors Swedish heritage and history which has been held annually on the sound in Throgs Neck, in New York City since 1941. Swedish Midsummer is also celebrated in other places with large Swedish and Scandinavian populations, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Lindsborg, Kansas. The Swedish "language village" (summer camp) Sjölunden, run by Concordia College in Minnesota, also celebrates Midsummer. Geneva, Illinois, hosts a Swedish Day (Swedish:Svenskarnas Dag) festival on the third Sunday of June. The event, featuring maypole-raising, dancing, and presentation of an authentic Viking ship, dates back to 1911.

The Seattle, Washington neighborhood of Fremont puts on a large Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant, which for many years has controversially included painted naked cyclists. In St. Edwards Park in Kenmore, Washington, the Skandia Folkdance Society hosts Midsommarfest, which includes a Scandinavian solstice pole. A solstitial celebration is held on Casper Mountain in Wyoming at Crimson Dawn park. Crimson Dawn is known in the area for the great stories of mythical creatures and people that live on Casper Mountain. The celebration is attended by many people from the community, and from around the country. A large bonfire is held and all are invited to throw a handful of red dirt into the fire in hopes that they get their wish granted.

Neopagan

As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably, despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how they believe the Ancient Germanic Pagans observed the tradition, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Germanic culture being only one of the sources used. In Neo-druidism, the term Alban Hefin is used for the summer solstice. The name was invented by the late-18th century Welsh Romantic author and prolific literary forgerer Iolo Morganwg.

Germanic Neopaganism

Midsummer or Litha is listed on the reconstructed Germanic calendar used by some Germanic Neopagans. In modern times, Litha is celebrated by Germanic Neopagans who emphasize the reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon Germanic Paganism.

[8]

Return to Top of Page

SUMMER SOLSTICE

A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most inclined toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun's apparent position in the sky to reach its northernmost extreme at the summer solstice. The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction. The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some cultures they are considered to start or separate the seasons while in others they fall in the middle. The English expression "midsummer" (summer solstice) may derive from a tradition according to which there were only two seasons: winter and summer.

Definitions and frames of reference

Of the many ways in which solstice can be defined, one of the most common (and perhaps most easily understood) is by the astronomical phenomenon for which it is named, which is readily observable by anyone on Earth: a "sun-standing." This modern scientific word descends from a Latin scientific word in use in the late Roman republic of the 1st century BC: solstitium. Pliny uses it a number of times in his Natural History with the same meaning that it has today. It contains two Latin-language segments, sol, "sun", and -stitium, "stoppage." The Romans used "standing" to refer to a component of the relative velocity of the Sun as it is observed in the sky. Relative velocity is the motion of an object from the point of view of an observer in a frame of reference. From a fixed position on the ground, the sun appears to orbit around the Earth. At the temperate mid-latitudes, during summer the Sun remains longer and higher above the horizon, which is the cause of summer's heat.

The seasons are not caused by the varying distance of Earth from the Sun due to the orbital eccentricity of the Earth's orbit. This variation does make a contribution, but is small compared with the effects of exposure because of Earth's tilt. Currently the Earth reaches perihelion at the beginning of January - the beginning of the northern winter and the southern summer. However, although, the Earth is at its closest to the Sun and therefore receiving more heat, the whole planet is not in summer. Although it is true that the northern winter is somewhat warmer than the southern winter, the placement of the continents may also play an important factor. In the same way, during aphelion at the beginning of July, the Sun is farther away, but that still leaves the northern summer and southern winter as they are with only minor effects. This explanation would be useful for observers in outer space. They would see how the Earth revolves around the Sun and how the distribution of sunlight on the planet would change over the year. To observers on Earth, it is also useful to see how the Sun seems to revolve around them.

Cultural Aspects

The concept of the solstices was embedded in ancient Greek celestial navigation. As soon as they discovered that the Earth is spherical they devised the concept of the celestial sphere, an imaginary spherical surface rotating with the heavenly bodies (ouranioi) fixed in it (the modern one does not rotate, but the stars in it do). As long as no assumptions are made concerning the distances of those bodies from Earth or from each other, the sphere can be accepted as real and is in fact still in use. The stars move across the inner surface of the celestial sphere along the circumferences of circles in parallel planes perpendicular to the Earth's axis extended indefinitely into the heavens and intersecting the celestial sphere in a celestial pole. The Sun and the planets do not move in these parallel paths but along another circle, the ecliptic, whose plane is at an angle, the obliquity of the ecliptic, to the axis, bringing the Sun and planets across the paths of and in among the stars. Cleomedes states:

The band of the Zodiac (zōdiakos kuklos, "zodiacal circle") is at an oblique angle (loksos) because it is positioned between the tropical circles and equinoctial circle touching each of the tropical circles at one point … This Zodiac has a determinable width (set at 8° today) … that is why it is described by three circles: the central one is called "heliacal" (hēliakos, "of the sun").

The term heliacal circle is used for the ecliptic, which is in the center of the zodiacal circle, conceived as a band including the noted constellations named on mythical themes. Other authors use Zodiac to mean ecliptic, which first appears in a gloss of unknown author in a passage of Cleomedes where he is explaining that the Moon is in the zodiacal circle as well and periodically crosses the path of the Sun. As some of these crossings represent eclipses of the Moon, the path of the Sun is given a synonym, the ekleiptikos (kuklos) from ekleipsis, "eclipse."

Solstice Celebrations

The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) that such a passage happens. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some languages they are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be center points (in English, in the Northern hemisphere, for example, the period around the June solstice is known as midsummer, and Midsummer's Day is 24 June, about three days after the solstice itself). Similarly 25 December is the start of the Christmas celebration, which was a Pagan festival in pre-Christian times, and is the day the Sun begins to return to the northern hemisphere.

Many cultures celebrate various combinations of the winter and summer solstices, the equinoxes, and the midpoints between them, leading to various holidays arising around these events. For the June solstice, Christian cultures celebrate the feast of St. John from June 23 to June 24, while Neopagans observe Midsummer. In many cultures the solstices and equinoxes traditionally determine the midpoint of the seasons, which can be seen in the celebration of midsummer. The cumulative warming that results from the tilt of the planet becomes most pronounced after the summer solstice.

Solstice Determination

Unlike the equinox, the solstice time is not easy to determine. The difference is hardly detectable with indirect viewing, rendering it nearly impossible to determine the solstice day based on observations made within the 3 (or even 5) days surrounding the solstice, without the use of more complex tools. Ptolomy used an approximation method based on interpolation, which is still used by some amateurs. This method consists on recording the declination angle at noon during some days before and after the solstice, trying to find two separate days with the same declination. When those two days are found, the halfway time between both noons is estimated solstice time. An interval of 45 days has been postulated, as the best one to achieve up to a quarter-day precision, in the solstice determination.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

LAMMAS

In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day (loaf-mass day), the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called "the feast of first fruits". The blessing of new fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western Churches on the first, or the sixth, of August. The Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I (died 604) specifies the sixth.

Lammas was named for the Norfolk village of Lammas. Also known as Lambess, this cultural holiday is observed in both England and Scotland on August 1st, sometimes with celebrations of handfastings or funeral games. Special loaves of bread are made from the grain collected at the harvest. In mediæval times the feast was known as the "Gule of August", but the meaning of "gule" is unknown. Ronald Hutton suggests that it may be an Anglicisation of Gŵyl Awst, the Welsh name for August 1 meaning "feast of August", but this is not certain. If so, this points to a pre-Christian origin for Lammas among the Anglo-Saxons and a link to the Gaelic festival of Lughnasadh. 'Gule' could also come from 'Geohhol' (Old English form of 'jule') and thus Lammas Day was the 'Jule of August'. There are several historical references to it being known as Lambess eve, such as 'Publications of the Scottish Historical Society' 1964 and this alternate name is the origin of the Lambess surname, just as Hallowmass and Christmas were also adopted as familial titles.

Neopaganism

Lammas is a Neopagan holiday, being a cross-quarter holiday between the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Fall Equinox (Mabon). It is opposite Candlemas or Imbolc, in early February. Lammas takes place with the Sun near the midpoint of Leo in the tropical zodiac. Neopagan people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Lammas on February 1, to reflect the 6 month offset of seasons on the other side of the planet

Other Uses

Lammas is one of the Scottish quarter days. It means sheep in Estonian and Finnish. Lammas leaves or Lammas growth refers to a second crop of leaves produced in high summer by deciduous trees in temperate countries to replace those lost to insect damage. They often differ slightly in shape, texture and/or hairiness from the earlier leaves.

[8]

Return to Top of Page

LUGHNASADH

Lughnasadh (pronounced Modern Irish Lá Lúnasa; Modern Gaelic Lùnastal) is a Gaelic holiday traditionally associated with the first of August.

Ancient Celebration

Lughnasadh was one of the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar: Imbolc at the beginning of February, Beltaine on the first of May, Lughnasadh in August and Samhain in October. One early Continental Celtic calendar was based on the lunar, solar, and vegetative cycles, so the actual calendar date in ancient times may have varied. Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season, the ripening of first fruits, and was traditionally a time of community gatherings, market festivals, horse races and reunions with distant family and friends. Among the Irish it was a favored time for handfastings - trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or later formalizing it as a more permanent marriage.

In Celtic mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh, as a funeral feast and games commemorating his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture. The first location of the Áenach Tailteann was at the site of modern Teltown, located between Navan and Kells. Historically, the Áenach Tailteann gathering was a time for contests of strength and skill, and a favored time for contracting marriages and winter lodgings. A peace was declared at the festival, and religious celebrations were also held. A similar Lughnasadh festival was held at Carmun (whose exact location is under dispute). Carmun is also believed to have been a goddess of the Celts, perhaps one with a similar story as Tailtiu.

A festival corresponding to Lughnasadh may have been observed by the Gauls at least up to the first century; on the Coligny calendar, the eighth day of the first half of the month Edrinios, is marked with the inscription TIOCOBREXTIO that identifies other major feasts. The same date was later adopted for the meeting of all the representatives of Gaul at the Condate Altar in Gallo-Roman times. During the reign of Augustus Caesar the Romans instituted a celebration on August 1 to the genius of the emperor in Lyon , capital of Roman Gaul, named after the Celtic god Lugh. Lyon (modern French) derives from the Latinized Gaulish word "Lugdunum" ("Lugodunon" in Gaulish), literally Lugh's (Lug) fortress (dunos-dunon). In Anglo Saxon culture the festival corresponds to Lammas, see below.

Modern Day Celebration

On mainland Europe and in Ireland many people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. The Christian church has established the ritual of blessing the fields on this day. In the Irish diaspora, survivals of the Lá Lúnasa festivities are often seen by some families still choosing August as the traditional time for family reunions and parties, though due to modern work schedules these events have sometimes been moved to adjacent secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July in the United States. On August 1st, the national holiday of Switzerland, it is traditional to celebrate with bonfires. This practice may trace back to the Lughnasadh celebrations of the Helvetii, Celtic people of the Iron Age who lived in what is now Switzerland. In Northern Italy, e.g. in Canzo, Lughnasadh traditions are still incorporated into modern 1 August festivities. The modern day Neopagan festival of Lammas is linked to this.

Etymology

In Old Irish, the name of the festival has at various points in time been written Lughnasa, Lughnasad or Lughnassadh. In Modern Irish (Gaeilge), the name for the month of August is Lúnasa, with the festival itself being called Lá Lúnasa ("the day of Lúnasa"). In Modern Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), the festival and the month are both called Lùnastal. In Welsh (Cymraeg), the day is know as Calan Awst, an originally Latin term. In Gaulish, the festival may have been called something like *Lugunassatis (the asterisk indicates this is a reconstructed form).

Neopaganism

Lughnasadh is observed by Neopagans in various forms, and by a variety of names. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.

Celtic Reconstructionism

Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy, and base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of first fruits, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time. In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit. In Celtic Reconstructionism (CR), Lá Lúnasa is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers to not harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honored by many at this time, as he is a deity of storms and lightning, especially the storms of late summer. However, gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many CRs also honor the goddess Tailitu on this day, and may seek to keep the Cailleachan ("Storm Hags") from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.

Wicca

In Wicca, Lughnasadh is one of the eight "sabbats" or solar festivals in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the Autumn equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain. One telling of the story commemorates the sacrifice and death of the Wiccan Corn God; in its cycle of death, nurturing the people, and rebirth, the corn is considered an aspect of their Sun God. Some Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it. These celebrations are not based on Celtic culture, despite the use of a Celtic name used for the sabbat. The Celtic name seems to have been a late adoption among Wiccans, since in early versions of Wiccan literature the festival is merely referred to as "August Eve".

[7]

Return to Top of Page

MABON

The holiday of Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druidic traditions), is a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and God during the winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. In the northern hemisphere this equinox occurs anywhere from September 21 to 24. In the southern hemisphere, the autumn equinox occurs anywhere from March 19 to 22. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas/Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain. [9]

Return to Top of Page

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX

The equinoxes occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the Sun being vertically above a point on the Equator. The term equinox can also be used in a broader sense, meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long. At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: the vernal point and the autumnal point. An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location on the Earth's Equator where the centre of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring around March 20/21 and September 22/23 each year.

Names

  • Autumnal equinox: this classical name is a direct derivatives of Latin (autumnus = autumn).
  • September equinox: a usage becoming the preferred standard by technical writers choosing to avoid Northern Hemisphere bias (implied by assuming that March is in the springtime and September is autumnal—true for those in the Northern Hemisphere but exactly opposite in the Southern Hemisphere).
  • Northward equinox and southward equinox: names referring to the apparent motion of the Sun at the times of the equinox.
  • Vernal point and autumnal point are the points on the celestial sphere where the Sun is located on the vernal equinox and autumnal equinox respectively (again, the seasonal attribution is that of the Northern Hemisphere).
  • First point (or cusp) of Aries and first point of Libra are names used by navigators and astrologers. Navigational ephemeris tables record the geographic position of the First Point of Aries as the reference for position of navigational stars. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the astrological signs where these equinoxes are located no longer correspond with the actual constellations once ascribed to them.

Length of Equinoctial Day and Night

On a day of the equinox, the centre of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, night and day being of roughly the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night); in reality, the day is longer than the night at an equinox. Commonly, the day is defined as the period when sunlight reaches the ground in the absence of local obstacles. From the Earth, the Sun appears as a disc rather than a single point of light, so when the centre of the Sun is below the horizon, its upper edge is visible. Furthermore, the atmosphere refracts light, so even when the upper limb of the Sun is below the horizon, its rays reach over the horizon to the ground. These cumulative effects make the day about 14 minutes longer than the night at the Equator and longer still towards the Poles. The real equality of day and night only happens in places far enough from the equator to have a seasonal difference in day length of at least 7 minutes, actually occurring a few days towards the winter side of each equinox. The date at which the time between sunset and sunrise crosses 12 hours , is known as the equilux. Because sunset and sunrise times vary with an observer's geographic location (longitude and latitude), the equilux likewise depends on location and does not exist for locations sufficiently close to the equator. The equinox, however, is a precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth.

Heliocentric view of the seasons

The Earth's seasons are caused by the rotation axis of the Earth not being perpendicular to its orbital plane. The Earth's axis is tilted at an angle of approximately 23.44° from the orbital plane; this tilt is called the axial tilt. As a consequence, for half of the year (i.e. from around March 20 to around September 22), the northern hemisphere tips toward the Sun, with the maximum around June 21, while for the other half of the year, the southern hemisphere has this honour, with the maximum around December 21. The two instants when the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator are the equinoxes. Also at that moment, both the North and South Poles of the Earth are just on the terminator and day and night are divided equally between the hemispheres. A few remarks can be made about the equinoxes:

  • Because the Sun is a spherical (rather than a single-point) source of light, the actual crossing of the Sun over the Equator takes approximately 33 hours.
  • At the equinoxes, the rate of change for the length of daylight and night-time is the greatest. At the Poles, the equinox marks the start of the transition from 24 hours of nighttime to 24 hours of daylight. High in the Arctic Circle, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway has an additional 15 minutes more daylight every day around the time of the Spring equinox, whereas in Singapore (which is virtually on the Equator), the amount of daylight each day varies by just seconds.
  • It is 94 days from the June solstice to the September equinox, but only 89 days from the December Solstice to the March equinox. The seasons are not of equal length, because of the variable speed of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.
  • The instances of the equinoxes are not fixed, but fall about six hours later every year, amounting to one full day in four years. They are reset by the occurrence of a leap year. The Gregorian calendar is designed to follow the seasons as accurately as is practical, which is good, but not absolutely perfect.
  • Smaller irregularities in the times are caused by perturbations of the Moon and the other planets.
  • Currently, the most common equinox and solstice dates are March 20, June 21, September 22 and December 21; the four-year average will slowly shift to earlier times in coming years. This shift is a full day in about 70 years (compensated mainly by the century "leap year" rules of the Gregorian calendar). This also means that in many years of the twentieth century, the dates of March 21, June 22, September 23 and December 22 were much more common, so older books teach (and older people may still remember) these dates.
  • Note that the times are given in UTC (roughly speaking, the time at Greenwich, ignoring British Summer Time). People living farther to the east (Asia and Australia), whose local times are in advance, will see the seasons apparently start later; for example, in Tonga (UTC+13), an equinox occurred on September 24, 1999, a date which will not crop up again until 2103. On the other hand, people living far to the west (America) whose clocks run behind UTC may experience an equinox as early as March 19.

Geocentric view of the seasons

In the half year centred on the June solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the north, which means longer days with shorter nights for the Northern Hemisphere and shorter days with longer nights for the Southern Hemisphere. In the half year centred on the December solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the south and the durations of day and night are reversed. Also on the day of an equinox, the Sun rises everywhere on Earth (except the Poles) at 06:00 in the morning and sets at 18:00 in the evening (local time). These times are not exact for several reasons, one being that the Sun is much larger in diameter than the Earth that more than half of the Earth could be in sunlight at any one time (due to unparallel rays creating tangent points beyond an equal-day-night line); other reasons are as follows:

  • Most places on Earth use a time zone which is unequal to the local time, differing by up to an hour or even two hours, if daylight saving time (summer time) is included. In that case, the Sun could rise at 08:00 and set at 20:00, but there would still be 12 hours of daylight.
  • Even those people fortunate enough to have their time zone equal to the local time will not see sunrise and sunset at 06:00 and 18:00 respectively. This is due to the variable speed of the Earth in its orbit, and is described as the equation of time. It has different values for the March and September equinoxes (+8 and −8 minutes respectively).
  • Sunrise and sunset are commonly defined for the upper limb of the solar disk, rather than its centre. The upper limb is already up for at least one minute before the centre appears, and likewise, the upper limb sets one minute later than the centre of the solar disk. Due to atmospheric refraction, the Sun, when near the horizon, appears a little more than its own diameter above the position than where it is in reality. This makes sunrise more than another two minutes earlier and sunset the equal amount later. These two effects add up to almost seven minutes, making the equinox day 12hrs 7min long and the night only 11hrs 53min. In addition to that, the night includes twilight. When dawn and dusk are added to the daytime instead, the day would be almost 13 hours.
  • The above numbers are only true for the tropics. For moderate latitudes, this discrepancy increases (for example, 12 minutes in London) and closer to the Poles it gets very large. Up to about 100 km from both Poles, the Sun is up for a full 24 hours on an equinox day.
  • Height of the horizon on both the sunrise and sunset sides changes the day's length. Going up into the mountains will lengthen the day, while standing in a valley with hilltops on the east and the west can shorten the day significantly. This is why settlements in east-west running valleys are more favourable (daylight-wise) than north-south running valleys.

Cultural Aspects of the Equinox

  • The September equinox marks the first day of Mehr or Libra in the Persian calendar. It is one of the Iranian festivals called Jashne Mihragan, or the festival of sharing or love in Zoroastrianism.
  • The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, oftentimes near the autumnal equinox day, and is an official holiday in China and in many countries with a significant Chinese minority. As the lunar calendar is not synchronous with the Gregorian calendar, this date could be anywhere from mid-September to early October.
  • The traditional harvest festival in the United Kingdom was celebrated on the Sunday of the full moon closest to the September equinox

Modern Innovations

  • The September equinox was "New Year's Day" in the French Republican Calendar, which was in use from 1793 to 1805. The French First Republic was proclaimed and the French monarchy was abolished on September 21, 1792, making the following day (the equinox day that year) the first day of the "Republican Era" in France. The start of every year was to be determined by astronomical calculation, (that is: following the real Sun and not the mean Sun as all other calendars).
  • World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling, celebrated every year on the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first day of autumn equinox in the southern.
  • Wiccans and many other Neopagans hold religious celebrations of "Mabon" on the autumnal equinox.

Myths, Fables and Facts

  • One effect of equinoctial periods is the temporary disruption of communications satellites. For all geostationary satellites, there are a few days near the equinox when the sun goes directly behind the satellite relative to Earth (i.e. within the beamwidth of the groundstation antenna) for a short period each day. The Sun's immense power and broad radiation spectrum overload the Earth station's reception circuits with noise and, depending on antenna size and other factors, temporarily disrupt or degrade the circuit. The duration of those effects varies but can range from a few minutes to an hour. (For a given frequency band, a larger antenna has a narrower beamwidth, hence experiences shorter duration "Sun outage" windows).
  • Although the word equinox is often understood to mean "equal [day and] night," as is noted elsewhere, this is not strictly true. For most locations on earth, there are two distinct identifiable days per year when the length of day and night are closest to being equal; those days are commonly referred to as the "equiluxes" to distinguish them from the equinoxes. Equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are days. By convention, equiluxes are the days where sunrise and sunset are closest to being exactly 12 hours apart. This way, you can refer to a single date as being the equilux, when in reality, it spans from sunset on one day to sunset the next, or sunrise on one to sunrise the next.
  • What is true about the equinoxes is that two observers at the same distance north and south of the equator will experience nights of equal length.
  • The equilux counts times when some direct sunlight could be visible, rather than all hours of usable daylight (which is any time when there is enough natural light to do outdoor activities without needing artificial light). This is due to twilight; a particular type of twilight which is officially defined as civil twilight. This amount of twilight can result in more than 12 hours of usable daylight up to a few weeks before the spring equinox, and up to a few weeks after the fall equinox.
  • In a contrary vein, the daylight which is useful for illuminating houses and buildings during the daytime and is needed to produce the full psychological benefit of daylight, is shorter than the nominal time between sunrise and sunset. So in that sense, "useful" daylight is present for 12 hours only after the vernal equinox and before the autumnal equinox, because the intensity of light near sunrise and sunset, even with the sun slightly above the horizon, is considerably less than when the sun is high in the sky.

[1]

Return to Top of Page

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily imply complete accuracy or endorsement by Celtic Myth and Moonlight.  The information was entirely obtained from independent "third party" sources, such as Wikipedia, and is intended to be "politically neutral."  You are encouraged to continue your research using other sources of information.

Wikipedia - The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit

Information obtained from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Green Triquetra


Celtica - The Celtic Lands Cultural and Religious Symbols
Sacred Paths
Celtic Deities Astrology & Signs of the Zodiac
Full Moon Names Runes
Local & Regional Events Web Links

Green triquetra


Celtic Myth and Moonlight, 641 Penn Avenue, West Reading, PA 19611 (Berks County) || 610.685.2307 || Email Celtic Myth & Moonlight
Our regular hours are Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Fridays 11-6; Thursdays 11-7 and Saturdays 10-5
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas: Open Sundays 12-4
During January & February: Mondays 11-5; Tuesdays through Fridays 11-6; Saturdays 10-5 (Closed Sundays)

Celtic Myth and Moonlight's MySpace Site || Celtic Myth and Moonlight's Facebook Site
Celtic Giftware, Pagan, Wicca & Occult Spirituality, cloaks, Gothic clothing, daggers, athames, dragons, fairies, herbs, incense, essential oils, colognes, Scottish, Irish & English jewelry, mead kits, music, books, Tarot decks, pewter, pottery, prints, swords, silver, tapestries, hand-blown glass witch balls, workshops, and many other items from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and England.

 

 
Click here for discounts and special offers
clothing, capes and accessories journals, quills, pens and inks Chalices, Goblets & Champagne Flutes Prints, Plaques & Wall Hangings Cauldrons, Mortars & Pestles Candles, Incense & Holders
Jewelry, Perfumes and Sgian Dubhs Herbs, Oils, Resins and Mead Books, Music & Tarot Decks Magical Tools Mystical Beings Boxes and Hourglass Timers
  Shop Links  
Celtic Myth and Moonlight home page Tour the Store Page Online Shopping Main Page Directions and Map to Store
Monthly Newsletter Page Web Links Local and Regional Events Page Contact Celtic Myth and Moonlight
Visit our Join Our MySpace Site Visit or Join our MySpace Site Become a Fan on FaceBook Our Facebook Fan Site Visit our Yahoo site Visit our Facebook site

© 2003-2014 Celtic Myth and Moonlight, a Woman-Owned Small Business
Webwizard, Graphic Designer & Photographer: George Dula's Website Design & Photography

The 3/50 Project: Saving the brick & mortars our Nation is built on. Small Business Saturday:  Shop Small - Support Your Local Small Businesses

Thistlr - Link to Online Shopping Main Page