for 1999's Yuletide
& for the first winter
||| Note: click here for the year's Current Greetings page
-- times, dates and all links are updated there.|||
The Acacia Tree: Shekhinah of the Burning Bush
(Painting © 1999 by Sandra Stanton
for The Green World Oracle by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.)
In the sacred scriptures of the West's desert-born monotheisms,
Moses received his mission to guide his people
when god spoke to him from a Burning Bush.
The Burning Bush is believed to have been the acacia;
the Ark of the Covenant was crafted from the same tree --
a tree long associated with the divine feminine Being
known as the Shekhinah.
In this winter season bridging two millennia,
may we find anew the healing voice of the feminine spirit.
May we experience the peace,
flowing out of the burning center of her Being.
From the Burning Bush within the vast heavens,
may she bless all the most troubled lands on our planet.
May the soft, husky whisper of her voice be heard deep within our hearts
in this holy season of Light.
... "When one combines a process of inquiry with content of beauty and antiquity, when, even as a lark, one opens the flow of archetypal images contained in the history and legends of people long negated by this culture, many who confront these images are going to take to them and begin a journey unimagined by those who started the process."
--Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon
Winter Solstice arrives when the sun enters Capricorn
on late Tuesday to early Wednesday, 21 - 22 December 1999.
In the western United States, this will take place Tuesday night -- 11:44pm (PST);
on the East Coast, it'll be Wednesday pre-dawn -- 2:44am (EST);
in Europe and further east, it'll be dawn -- 7:44 (GMT)
More on 1999's Winter Solstice (from various sources):
This year the Winter Solstice, December 22 -- the longest night
of the year, will be extremely special. This is because the
solstice will coincide with a Full Moon. Ah, but not just any
Full Moon. The Moon will be within a few hours of its perigee,
its closest point to the Earth. This will make the Moon appear
to be about 14% bigger than usual. However, it is also only ten
days from the Earth's perihelion, its closest point to the Sun.
Since the Moon shines with reflected sunlight, then the moon
will appear 7% brighter than usual.
These events occurring together are extremely rare. This is
probably the biggest, brightest moon of the Millenium as well
as its last. That makes it a rare night indeed so check with
your local astronomy clubs and pagan centers to find out what
special events are planned. Whatever you do, get out and look
at the sky. You will never see a Moon like this again, even
if the world does not end seven days later.
December 22, 1999:
Winter solstice is at 2:44 a.m. EST
The moon is at perigee (221,614 miles from Earth), 5:55 a.m. EST
Full moon is at 12:31 p.m. EST
Note: this is the first time in 133 years [12/24/99:
but see directly below] that winter solstice
and the perigee full moon fall on the same day. For more data, see:
[Link updated 10/29/00]
Christmas Eve update: even more accurate 1999 news comes from Sky & Telescope's site at:
And if you'd like to look at charts, graphs, and math for winter solstices in general,
Winter Solstice links about the lore and sacrality of the season will be found below in the calendar section.
The world's three desert-born monotheisms also celebrate important feasts during this winter season: the Jewish feast of Chanukah is from sunset December 3rd to December 11th; the Moslem month of Ramadan is from approximately December 9th to January 7th (depending upon the new moon's sightings); non-Orthodox western Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th; and orthodox eastern Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, the same day that Ramadan ends.
Although Chanukah and Christmas always fall during December, it should be noted that the Moslem feast of Ramadan "migrates" each lunar year. In 1998, for example, it was January 17th to February 16th; in 2000 it'll begin November 27th to the new moon of late December; in 2001 it'll straddle November and December, and so forth. But this year it begins around December 9th and lasts until January 7th, which means that it intersects with days sacred to all the others -- Jewish, Christian, and Orthodox Christian. This intersection hasn't happened in dacades.
I find it significant that in this last year of the millennium, all three of the West's monotheistic "Peoples of the Book," Jews, Christians, and Moslems, brothers and sisters all, and parents of children who have a right to live free of those parents' ancient stories of hatred, all share the same overlapping period of ritual holiness, light, and peace. One cannot help but hope that a new tolerance may begin to emerge from this unusual convergence.
NOTE: Despite this season of goodwill, the reality is that many people will go hungry this winter. Here's one way to help: every time you go to The Hunger Site and click on the "Donate Free Food" button, one of their sponsors will make a donation of rice, wheat, maize or another food staple to a hungry person. You can do this once a day, and it's free. This is a form of public relations for the sponsoring corporations because it associates the company name and its products with a good cause (it costs them about $350-700/day of sponsorship). The food donations are distributed through the United Nations World Food Program, the world's largest food aid organization, with projects in 80 countries.
This summer I was initially dubious about this new site, but my doubts have faded. They're honestly trying to help and it's a wonderful way to use the web. Here's the link again -- you may wish to bookmark it and visit it once a day: The Hunger Site. [FYI: if you wish to give more, this site also provides access to organizations who gratefully welcome individual donations -- and The Hunger Site itself is always looking for additional sponsors, who can sponsor as little as one day/month. If you wish further background information on the site, Rick Hall, the Nutrition guide at about.com, offers this hopeful and excellent report.]
If everyone gives a thread, the naked one
will have a shirt
[Polish proverb from Okana's Web] [Link updated 10/29/00]
Winter Solstice Moon
© 1999 by Joanna Powell Colbert: used with her permission.
[Note: this link will take you to a series of solstice/Yule paintings, each with fine lore]
This wonderful page covers the first two weeks of worldwide "December Holidays" from Waverly Fitzgerald's School of the Seasons, one of my favorite sites (and one which appears elsewhere among my own pages). Waverly is thorough, wide-ranging, and has a superb eye for lore. She did this page in 1998 -- and it'll be updated 12/1/99. I'm using the "old" URL for those who, like me, love sneak previews -- a few dates will change each year (e.g., Chanukah), but most remain the same. Don't miss this one. Here's the URL for the remaining two weeks in December (1998): [12/1/99: she has now updated both December pages for 1999; URLs remain the same]: http://www.nas.com/jpcolbertart/seasons/decdays2.html
Here are the first two weeks of January (1999): http://www.nas.com/jpcolbertart/seasons/jandays.html
And the second two (1999):
For further updates, just follow the link at the bottom of each page to her home page, where you'll also find great special feature articles on the holiday season.
[Link updated 10/29/00] Note:
this site has moved to: http://home.att.net/~alpine.shaman/mainpage.html
unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since 2/26/00]
From the Alpine Shaman comes another lore-calendar, not nearly as complete as Waverly's but nevertheless a pleasure in its own right. His is done by weeks, not months -- this URL will take you to the week of November 22, 1999 -- click on the forward-arrow at the bottom to keep moving from week to week. He gives succinct data on holidays, ancient lore, gardening & householding do's and dont's, moon phases, astrological signs where the moon is, etc. He also includes his own links to the Runes and Celtic trees associated with each week. [Note: as of 12/2/99, his calendar for the weeks of 2000 are not yet online but should be in the near future.]
Another "must see" is this award-winning site, created by San Franciscan, Teresa Ruano, and offering appealing essays on Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, and much else. (Note: click anywhere on the large candle to enter the site). The focus is pagan, but the fabulous collection of links includes Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa as well.
If you click on "About the site," you'll find a hypertext link to Ruano's beautifully written reasons for choosing a candle for her site; she also gives the Margot Adler text which swirls around that opening candle (-- and which I have also used above). Above all, don't forget to explore her "and Today" page -- here, starting with December first, she gives new entries for each day throughout the holiday season. This is a great site for browsing -- just click on all hypertext! (Note: the site is updated each year.)
This site from fellow-Capricorn, Frances Donovan comes from about.com (formerly the Mining Company, "mining" the web for gems so you don't have to). Donovan's opening essay on Yule is brief but lovely; she also offers terrific links to other related Yule sites [link updated 10/29/00], making this another good place to browse for lore and rituals. (You can also access previous weekly issues of this site and learn about entry-level data on wicca as well as Donovan's path from Catholicsm to Wicca. She has an honest, amusing, engaging style.)
From the excellent Witches' Voice site come various essays on many aspects of winter solstice and Christmas, especially from pagan perspectives.
This is Carol McCullough's colorful "Winter Festivals from the Past & Present." Her opening commentary mentions the calendar changes of 1752, which is why the Orthodox Church retains the older date of 7 January (if you're interested in the history behind these calendar changes, you might wish to explore some of the links on my page about Time). Then she offers a survey of worldwide festivals with brief comments on each: Sweden's Midvimterblot; Druid/Wiccan solstice; Tibet's Dosmoche (a 5-day celebration for the dying year) and Butter Sculpture festivals; medieval Europe's Feast of the Ass; Italy's La Befana; Pakistan's Chaomas; Ethiopia's Ganna games; England's wassailing of the apple trees (also a Snapdragon game); Mexico's "Night of the Radishes"; and Japan's Hari-Kuyo, or festival of Broken Needles. At the end, under "Happy Holidays," she has good links to other sites, including those for Chanukah and Kwanzaa. I wish she had more data for each festival but the page is bright, pleasant and gives a good sense of the variety of winter festivals available throughout the world. It's a great starting point for you to explore further into those that intrigue you most.
From N. S. Gill, the Ancient/Classical History guide at about.com, comes this excellent page of information and links to four ancient winter solstice celebrations held in Rome (Saturnalia and feasts honoring Mithras), Mesopotamia (the Zagmuk festival), and Israel (Chanukah).
http://astrology.about.com/science/astrology/library/weekly/aa121799a.htm [Link updated 10/29/00]
From Anthony Pena, the Astrology guide at about.com, comes this provocative essay, "Jesus Was A Capricorn?" Pena looks convincingly at facts surrounding the Christmas Star, magi, and ancient astronomy; he speculates (along with other astrologers) that Jesus was probably a Pisces and may have been born 1 March in the year 7 BCE. Pena also provides a great collection of links to myths of Saturn and Janus, the Saturnalia, Star of Bethlehem, life in Roman antiquity, and much more.
http://www.christmasarchives.com/ [Link updated 10/29/00]
"The Christmas Archives" come from "Christmas historian," Countess Maria Huber. The site is an obvious labor of love -- attractive, nicely illustrated, and Huber's grasp of history is solid. In a personal, even chatty style, she looks at the complex interweaving of Christianity's Christmas with the non-Christian roots of this holiday (in general, however, her focus is on Christianity). If you wish to know about creches; Christmas carols; Christmas trees; tinsel's history; special foods; St. Benedict, crows, and Odin; and much else associated with Christmas (especially in Poland, England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland), you'll find it here. I could locate no overall site map, which means that many links are available only from pages several layers deep after an initial link from the home page, but if you follow your nose (and all hypertext), this is a good site for browsing.
14 December, 1999:
by Tatyana Smirnova
[Courtesy of Tradestone International]
MY PRIVATE MYTHIC HOLIDAY SHOPPING PAGE
This spur-of-the-moment page includes a handful of terrific sites where I buy my own holiday treasures. (Don't forget that in the West, the Christmas/Yule season lasts til Epiphany/Three Kings' Day on 6 January! -- thus, no holiday gift is ever really "late.") It also includes a link to "Monsters in the Toybox," a great essay from Pat Grauer about what not to buy (her essay is Christian-oriented but I found it wise and valuable for all).
LINKS TO CROSS-CULTURAL
The Three Candles
3 [sunset] - 11 December is the Jewish celebration of Chanukah for 1999. Waverly Fitzgerald's thoughtful page gives both an historical and a cross-cultural perspective. For example:
The Jewish festival of light, Hanukkah, begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. This means it spans the darkest time of the year both in the lunar cycle and the solar cycle....
From Dakota State University come five well-chosen Chanukah links. They express a great range of variety and overall excellence. This is a good browsing site.
This is a family oriented site, lively, well written, and many pages are as interesting for adults as for children:
...We've got stories, tasty holiday recipes, holiday pictures for the kids to print and color, easy crafts to make, holiday games to play, and spinning dreidels!
Detail of the Werl Altarpiece by the Master of Flemalle
[Madrid's Prado Museum]
4 December is the feast of St. Barbara:
....This saint protects children from different diseases and, first of all, small-pox. This festival has to do not only with children, but with animals too....
This site from Bulgaria looks at traditions involving this saint; it also provides festive Bulgarian recipes for foods associated with this day: "bathed bread," stuffed dried peppers, lentils, and macaroons. (Also see my Balkans: Bulgarian pages.)
[Courtesy of Natural Bridges -- Link updated 10/29/00]
5-6 December are the eve and feastday of St. Nicholas. Waverly Fitzgerald (see above for more of her pages) offers this well researched page on St. Nicholas as well as his companion, "Black Pete." I found especially interesting the echoes of Poseidon (whose feastday is December 1st) found in this Turkish saint.
I love the additional nautical lore offered on this Bulgarian site about St. Nicholas. Although the connection to Poseidon (see directly above) isn't specified, it's obvious from the context:
The folk-Christian myth relates of the partitioning of the world when to Saint Nicholasí lot fell the seas, rivers and lakes. He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish and water demons, as well as of the sea winds. According to the myths, St. Nicholas makes winds rage and cease, he can walk on the seas, and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it.
The site offers several Bulgarian recipes for ribnik, dough-wrapped carp (a fish offered to St. Nicholas) as well as for rice with dried fruits.
This is a nice little 1993 essay by Shava Nerad Averett that links the spirit of a kindly Santa Claus to the spirits of the kachinas of the American southwest.
Finally, this link will take you to facts and fictions about Clement Moore's famous depiction of St. Nick.
(From Blue Mountain Arts)
9 December - 7 January is the estimated month of Ramadan for 1999-2000 -- the actual dates depend upon the first sight of the new moon's rising, as the Moslem calendar is both lunar and experiential -- in other words, the new moon actually has to be seen: if the night is cloudy, Ramadan might start the following night, or the next, or whenever the sky clears. This handsomely designed website comes from the ArabView Network. It includes information on Ramadan, many tasty recipes, and links to related sites. About Ramadan itself:
The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar where all Muslims "Fast" or refrain from eating from dusk till dawn. It is also believed that during this holy month, the Quran was revealed (believed to be on the 27th day of Ramadan - "Laylat al Qadr" or "Night of Power") to the Prophet Mohammad....
As I mentioned above, Ramadan "migrates" each lunar year. In 1998 it was January 17th to February 16th; in 2000 it'll begin November 27th to the new moon of late December; in 2001 it'll straddle November-December, and so forth. But this year it begins around December 9th and lasts until January 7th, which means that it touches upon days sacred to all the others -- Jewish, Christian, and Orthodox Christian. This won't happen again for decades.
This is another handsomely designed site with links to basic information on Ramadan and Islam.
"Ramadan -- What Is It?" comes from a December 1996 essay by Abdulhamid Mukhtar. Based on tradition as well as etymologies, it's a very interesting piece of writing. For example:
Ramadan is derived from the Arabic root word ramida or arramad -- intense scorching heat and dryness, especially the ground.... Some said it is so called because the hearts and souls are more readily receptive to the admonition and remembrance of Allah during Ramadan, as the sand and stones are receptive to the sun's heat....
This site is trapped in frames so there's no way to extricate a specific page from among its links. What I found most fascinating, however, was clicking on a section called "Articles," where there's a lengthy essay on the question of whose sighting of the new moon begins and ends Ramadan. The author takes issue with political boundaries and "government scholars" in determining Ramadan:
...The sighting of the moon of Ramadhan or the moon of Shawaal by a Muslim obliges all the Muslims to fast or break fast, with no difference between a country or another or between a Muslim or another because any Muslim who saw the moon is proof for any who did not see it.
The witnessing by a Muslim in any country is not more deserving than the witnessing by a Muslim in any other country. There is no value of the divisions and borders which the kuffar established in the Muslims' lands, which made it so that the Muslims of Dar'a in Syria start fasting while the people of Ramtha in Jordan do not, although there is nothing between the two cities except imaginary borders....
From the "Worldwide Online Newsletter" comes a simple one page site with a useful overview of Ramadan. It includes hypertext for more in-depth data -- especially interesting is one on the "Moslem Lunar Calendar" with colorful visibility curves showing worldwide sighting-potentials. Looking at these charts gives one a good sense of the complexity of these sightings in their interlinked time zones.
From the Islam guide at about.com comes "The Ramadan Spirit," an eloquent page contrasting the Moslem month of fasting with the materialism of some of the other seasonal celebrations.
Finally, from the Arab World guide at about.com comes this page of well chosen links to many aspects of Ramadan. This is a good place to browse.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
[From "The Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe":
see directly below]
12 December is the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and this illustrated essay explains the background of this major winter celebration in Mexico:
December 12 is perhaps the most important day on Mexico's fiesta calendar, for it is the day which honors the "Mother of the Mexicans," the Virgin of Guadalupe. According to legend, an apparition of the Virgin appeared to the recently converted Indian Juan Diego in 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac, just north of Mexico City; this site had served in pre-Conquest times as an ancient pilgrimage site dedicated to the Aztec earth goddess, Tonantzin. A brown-skinned Virgin, speaking in Juan Diego's native tongue of Nahuatl, declared herself to be Mary, the Mother of Christ, and requested that a church be built in her honor on the hill....
Courtesy of Sandra Stanton (also see below for direct link)
13 December is the feastday of Sweden's St. Lucia, a light-bearing saint who originated in Italy as the goddess Juno-Lucina. This page from Sandra Stanton begins with Lucina and offers a brief historical perspective.
This is another page of image and data on St. Lucia, this time from Joanna Powell Colbert.
And from Waverly Fitzgerald, woven from several good sources, comes a more detailed look at St. Lucia, patroness of eye diseases and the blind. Waverly reminds us that before the calendar change, St. Lucia's feast would have fallen on winter solstice (just like the Baltic goddess Saule -- see below).
St. Ignatius of Antioch
20 December is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch as it is celebrated in Bulgaria. According to tradition, the Virgin's labor pains began on this day and continued until Christmas:
....This festival venerates the bishop of Antioch - Saint Ignatius Theophorus, sentenced to death because of his Christian faith and thrown to the lions. It was from the day of St. Ignatius to Christmas Eve that Virgin Mary's labours continued. Christmas and New Year festivities begin from Ignazhden. The popular belief holds this day as the beginning of the new year, that is why in some places in Bulgaria its name is Nov den /New Day/. And since it is the start of a new year, it is very important what man or woman first steps in the house - good or bad. On this personality depends the whole year ahead....
(FYI: St Ignatius lived in the first-second centuries A.D. and was thrown to the lions in Rome, where he died as a martyr. He is reported to have said: I am God's wheat, ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ...If the lions are lazy, poke them.)
Although this Bulgarian feast honors a Christian saint, the feast's traditional connection with the beginnings of the Virgin's labor as well as its association with new life and new beginnings clearly mark it as a Christian holiday substituted for a much older winter solstice celebration. The site provides recipes connected with this feast, including ring-cakes and potato dishes.
Used with the permission of Joanna Powell Colbert
[See directly below]
21-22 December (Winter Solstice) is celebrated as the feast of the Baltic goddess Saule in Latvia and Lithuania. Joanna Powell Colbert gives us this page on Saule's connection with light -- in this case, the golden apples of the sun: "....At Winter Solstice, Kaleda, Saule is reborn as her daughter the morning-star...." The page offers good data in addition to a lovely image of Saule (see directly above for detail).
Based on data from "O Mother Sun" by Patricia Monaghan (Crossing Press), this page gives more information on Saule. My favorite part is this beautiful passage on the goddess, her sun-stone (amber), and spinning (note: this site is double-listed on my Common Themes: Weaving page):
....Among the Balts, the connection between the sun and spinning is very old, and the sun-stone, amber, forms the link....Sometimes amber discs were also placed in the grave, perhaps as prayers to the Sun Goddess to spin forth the lost life in another body.... [A]mber was considered a magical substance for a spinner; as the light never tangles in the sky, so an amber spindle protected the new thread from snarls caused by unhappy or malicious spirits....
"Saule, my amber weeping Goddess
creating light like thread.
As "Saules Mat" my mother sun, daily blessing
your thankful world with light."
From Sacred Serpent (whose other pages are found elsewhere on my website) comes another site dedicated to Saule ("Sow-lay") by Vilija, a woman who knows the language and lore firsthand. It's beautifully done, authoritative, impressively detailed. For example, in addition to being the Sun, Saule is also the mother of the planets, all of whom are her daughters! --
...As the female head of the heavenly family, Saule is the mother of the planets. Among Her daughters are: Vaivora (Mercury), Ausrine, (Morning Star or Venus), Zemyna (Earth), Ziezdre (Mars), Selija (Saturn) and Indraja (Jupiter). Thus, according to some scholars, Lithuanians named the planets during a matriarchal age. i.e. earlier than the Romans.
On December 13th, (Feast of St. Lucia), Saule pauses on Her return to dance with Her daughters. She also dances at Velykos (Easter) and Rasa (summer solstice)....
The site conjures up many such evocative images.
From Kristaps ("Chris") Johnson comes yet one more page on Saule and, to a lesser extent, her brother, the Moon. Chris approaches Saule in her own right but also in an interesting cross-cultural context. The illustrated page includes her ancient symbols as found in lovely embroideries. (Note: on older browsers like mine, the need to keep scrolling sideways can be distracting.)
21-22 December (Winter Solstice): This rich essay, again from Sacred Serpent, is "The Winter Solstice: Kucios and Kaledos," by Audrius Dundzila, Ph.D. looks at traditions surrounding the Balts' winter solstice eve (Kucios) and winter solstice itself (Kaledos), which is the rebirth of Saule, Mother Sun.
21-22 December (Winter Solstice): From Sweden comes this well written and quite intriguing essay on Yule, or Winter Solstice, from a pagan perspective. The author is Mike Nichols. Here is how he begins:
Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season. Even though we prefer to use the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.
In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with its associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.
Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth....
There is rich lore here, including wassail cups, bees, crickets, windy weather, shepherds tending flocks by night, lambing, ivy, holly, and mistletoe. If you're interested in the ancient roots of this season, don't miss this essay.
Adoration of the Shepherds
Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494)
Tigertail Virtual Museum
24 December is Christmas eve in Bulgaria and this page details many folk customs, rooted in an agricultural past, associated with this celebration:
It is also called Sukha koleda /Dry Christmas/, Malka koleda /Little Christmas/, Kadena vecher /Incensed Night/, Bozhich. The forty-day Advent, starting on 15 November, finishes on this day.
Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of God began her labours on St. Ignatiusí Day and gave birth to Godís son on Christmas Eve....
Recipes included on the page are for meatless chomlek, stuffed cabbage leaves, boiled wheat, walnut kernels in the Thracian style, "Swift Pumpkin" dessert, stewed dried fruit, and a round breadloaf:
...the water used to make the bread was brought in a white caldron by a girl or by a young woman married in the autumn preceding Christmas Eve and having borne no children yet....
This is a page with a wide variety of Christmas Eve customs from Poland:
Customs to ensure a betrothal or good harvest were a major part of rural Polish Christmas time traditions.
For Poles, Christmas Eve is a time of family gathering and reconciliation. It's also a night of magic: Animals are said to talk in a human voice and people have the power to tell the future....
There are also good links to other Polish Yuletide features, including links to food, carols, and creches.
[Note for another great page on Christmas Eve customs in Poland, see Okana's Web below under "Yule in Russia & Eastern Europe."]
Used with the permission of Joanna Powell Colbert [
see directly below]
26 December is celebrated as the birthday of the eastern European winter goddess, Rozhanitza. On this day, people used to give each other gifts of embroidered cloth in the goddess' honor. Here (above, her clothing reflecting Mary B. Kelly's research on these embroideries) Joanna shows her with her daughter, a deer-goddess. The link gives further tantalizingly brief data on this virtually unknown goddess.
Hopi Turtle Icons
[See directly below]
26 December is also celebrated in the American southwest -- in this case, with a sacred dance honoring the Turtle.
....They named it the Turtle Dance because the turtle is a animal which has a long life. The elders were saying that the life span of the Native Americans of the Pueblo of San Juan relies on that certain reptile, the life-span that it has.
The elders had a big ceremonial in naming the elements in the songs, the elements which are provided for human survival like the evergreens, the gourd rattle, and the turtle itself. And then also the songs relate to creations of the Kachinas....
Links on this illustrated pueblo site will take you to more information on the dance, a recording of a Turtle Song, and also to a beautiful essay by a Hopi elder on her memories of winter solstice. (Note: on this site you can also order tasty homegrown dried soup packets with native recipes.)
From about.com's guide to the southwest, Boise Matthews, comes an excellent page on solstice and other winter dances in the pueblos -- turtle, corn, buffalo, and deer dances. Don't miss the "Tis the Season Introduction" link -- it'll take you to an exploration of the unique southwestern Solstice and Christmas blend of Native American and Hispanic cultures.
(From the Berber Corporation)
26 December - 1 January is Kwanzaa, a new ritual, dating only from 1966, but the human heart, not antiquity, is the true measure of a ritual's power and depth. This site comes from the scholar who created the celebration, Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach:
...the central interest of this website is to provide information which reveals and reaffirms the integrity, beauty and expansive meaning of the holiday and thus aids in our approaching it with the depth of thought, dignity, and sense of specialness it deserves.
This is "Everything About Kwanzaa," a great site that was awarded the Times Pick by the Los Angeles Times on 12/23/96. Whereas the preceding site has many fine linked pages (with accompanying load-times), this site is a long, convenient page with everything in one place. I like both styles but if I were in a hurry, I'd use this one. The other one is better for leisurely browsing.
This is a simpler site from WIVB, a TV station in Buffalo, New York. It's well organized and has colorful graphics. Its best feature is an essay on Kwanzaa's meaning and history from Dr. Conrad W. Worrill.
This useful little essay designed for educators from K-12 is "Kwanzaa- What Is It?" from the Akwansosem African Studies Program-Outreach at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
From the Flint Public Library in Michigan comes "Kwanzaa: an African-American Cultural Celebration." The site offers a good collection of links to other sites but it also offers a unique Kwanzaa bibliography of non-fiction (divided into adult and youth), fiction (youth only), and audio & video resources.
Adoration of the Magi
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
6 January is the feast of the Epiphany, the day on which the three Magi (Wise Men and astrologers) found the Christ child. This is Waverly Fitzgerald's special page for "Twelfth Night," January 6th (Epiphany).
Every country has rich traditions surrounding this feast of Epiphany. This website tells us how it's celebrated in Bulgaria:
On 6 January the Bulgarian people celebrate Epiphany or St. Jordanís Day. This festival has different names in the different parts of the country, some of them are Krastovden /Day of the Cross/, Voditzi /Waters/ or Vodokrashti /Waterchristen/. The night before St. Jordanís Day is the last one of the Ēincensed" nights....According to the popular belief, in the dead of night on Epiphany the skies open and everyone who sees them, will be given by God all that he wishes. In the past, many people used to sit up all night watchfully awaiting the heaven to open....
Bulgarian recipes for this feastday are for cluster loaf, cabbage leaves stuffed with grouts, and a wheat dessert prepared in the Stara Zagora style.
John's Baptism of Christ
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
7 January is Christmas in the Orthodox Church, but it's St. John the Baptist's Day in Bulgaria and elsewhere, for it was on this day that John's baptism of Christ at the Jordan River was celebrated (FYI: historically, Christ's Baptism is a far more ancient Christian feast than the Nativity):
In the church calendar, this is the day celebrated in honour of Saint John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. It is also the holiday of all who bear the Saint's name. By old Bulgarian custom at early dawn - before sunrise - young women brought water from a river or a well. In a large caldron, referred to as "chebar", they bathed the children for health. The young couples, who had married in the winter before St. John's Day, were also given a bath in this "chebar"....
Bulgarian recipes for the day include stuffed leg of pork, banitza (a cheese pastry) and apple pie.
YULETIDE IN SCANDINAVIA
Gnomes in goat-drawn sled
Courtesy of Tradestone International
"Of Goats and Elves" is a great little passage from one of Teresa Ruano's pages (see her larger site above). It looks at Scandinavia's "Julbock or Julbukk, or Yule goat...who had his beginnings as carrier for the god Thor." As a Capricorn-goat (with Norwegian bloodlines on both sides), I have a special fondness for goats in lore and myth, especially Scandinavian ones where they are honored and not turned into "scapegoats"!.
This is Christmas in Finland, a warm and very engaging site. A special favorite of mine are the 13 antique Christmas cards from the Finnish National Museum in Helsinki: each is at least a century old and many feature Father Christmas and his goat-companion. There are also pages with lore; traditions (including a Christmas Eve sauna); stories, poems & songs; 15 eeriely cheerful pre-war paintings and posters by Finnish artist, Rudolf Koivu (1890-1946); recipes, and much more (including, for children, links to Santa's office in Lapland, his Main Post Office, a rather disjointed video of his ride, and, best of all -- from 1-24 December -- daily updates and stories from Radio Santa Claus -- this radio link also connects you to info on Santa's home in Lapland, his elves, etc).
This is "Yule in Iceland," another warm and enjoyable site where you'll find intriguing historic and folkloric data (e.g., medieval Yule celebrations, the Yule cat, the Jólasveinar [or "Yuletide Lads" -- i.e., elfin mischief-makers], and much more) by following the hypertext as well as the menu of links at the bottom of each linked page; there's also a way to send a nice variety of Icelandic Yule greeting cards dating from 1910-1930.
YULETIDE IN RUSSIA
AND EASTERN EUROPE
Russia's Father Frost
Lacquer box courtesy of Russian Sunbirds
From Russian Sunbirds comes one of many tales of "Father Frost." This one is about a little girl who survives the usual combination of a weak father and a wicked stepmother through the compassionate help of Father Frost.
This is a very brief entry from "Encyclopedia Mythica" on personifications of frost and snow -- Jack Frost, Father Frost, and Germany's crone who makes snow by shaking out her feather bed.
From the "Weather Doctor," meteorologist Dr. Keith C. Heidorn, comes this marvelous essay on frost. Heidorn combines the science of frost formation with the folklore of Jack Frost, Father Frost, the "frosty sisters" of the Pleiades (from an Australian Aboriginal myth), and other such beings. There are lovely photos of different types of frost as well.
This is Linda DeLaine's page for about.com on Russian "Christmastide Traditions." She looks at St. Nicholas, Father Frost, the Snowmaiden (who helpds Father Frost distribute gifts), old Babouschka (who travels the countryside searching for the Christ child and giving gifts to other children along the way), Christmas trees, and much else. There are also great links to lore as well as sites with holiday recipes for Russian foods. (NOTE: don't forget that Christmas in the Orthodox Church is on 7 January, not 25 December.)
This is "Slovaks and Christmas Traditions" by Ondro Mihal. He looks briefly at significant dates leading up to Christmas, beginning with St. Martin's day on 11 November, St. Katherine's on 25 November, St. Andrew's on 30 November, St. Nicholas' on 6 December, St. Lucia's on 13 December, and, finally, whether it's on 24 December or 6 January, Christmas eve (celebrated with bountiful ritual foods).
From the International Folk Culture Center on the campus of Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas comes this lengthy and moving essay on "Christmas Carols in Bulgaria." Here's an excerpt:
....On Christmas Eve, families gathered together because according to the ancient beliefs this was the time when the sun was born and it wasn't strong enough to conquer the darkness. Mankind took part in this duel between the chaos and the world order with songs, blessings, magic and rituals....
This is a fascinating (illustrated) page on the Yuletide Vlach festivals found in Bulgaria:
....During the twelve days that elapse between Christmas and Epiphany the Vlachs believe that the mysterious beings called Karkandzal'i or Karkalanza wander about the earth fron dark till cockcrow. They especially haunt the springs and defile the water, and is very dangerous to meet them....
These "mysterious beings" are also believed in by Greeks and Turks and attempts have been made to trace their origins to ancient centaur myths. The festivals include bands of mummers traveling about in masks and costumes --- for more on mummers, see below. (Note: there's a sudden intrusion of "Hot Links" in the middle of the essay -- these links go to regional folklore, including an interesting site on Turkish Shadowplays. Just don't be fooled into thinking the essay has been completed! -- it continues below the links with more great data on the mummers.)
This essay is so beautifully written, so richly and evocatively detailed, that while reading it I felt I was there on Gwiazdka, or Yule eve, in Poland. It comes from Okana's Web. Here is an excerpt:
It was quite an honor to be selected for the czuwac, the "star watch"; usually it went to the youngest in the home, who was having trouble staying out of mischief. The sky began to darken, and the watcher took their place at the window, waiting restlessly, stomach growling, the inky blackness is scrutinized for the first star's glow. It seems forever, when... "Juz idzie! There it is!"
A cheer arises, for the sacred day has now begun. The Yule log in the hearth is consecrated, and is lit with an ages-old ritual, then a candle in the czuwac window is rekindled, then a light in every window, and all through the home. The Light is reborn, the wheel turns ...
and the celebration begins. A plate of bread and salt were passed, the salt of the taste of death, the bread of the promise of the future, both traditional at any Polish gathering, was consecrated and shared by all present......
(Note: for another site on Polish customs for Christmas Eve, see above under "Links to Specific Calendar Dates" for 24 December.)
This site looks at Estonia's Christmas traditions -- the essay is long and very appealing. One tiny detail struck me: I've often wondered why women's spinning was traditionally discontinued from Christmas eve through Epiphany, only to resume on Distaff Day, January 7th --- this site mentions that noisy activities like spinning , milling, etc. might disturb good spirits during this time, and so they were stopped.
YULETIDE IN WESTERN EUROPE
The Holly King
Used with the permission of Joanna Powell Colbert
[see directly below]
This is Joanna's page on the Holly King, a Green Man variant -- it's brief but good, and I'm fond of her painting.
From the always excellent "Celtic Connection" comes Akasha Ap Emrys' page on Yule customs in northern Europe. About holly, for example, she writes:
....Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes. It was to extend invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay visit to the residents....
Her site includes listings of Yule deities, incense, herbs, foods, symbols, activities, colors, and spells.
With simple words, accompanied by powerful ritual actions, Akasha Ap Emrys shares her winter solstice ritual honoring the Holly King, who rules the dark half of the year, and welcoming the Oak King, who is reborn of the Mother on solstice to rule the light half of the year. This ritual is well suited for solitaries although it could also be done with groups.
For groups, this is an elaborate Yule ritual fashioned from a number of sources by Arani. It involves more focus on lyrical language and "sacred theatre" than Akasha's does -- it also requires a number of people although portions could be excerpted by solitaries.
This is Starhawk's Yule ritual from her Spiral Dance. Don't miss it.
This is a literate and nostalgic look at Christmas celebrations in Ireland.
This site looks at Christmas in Greece:
...Throughout the festivities, there is never any question about whether Greece is remembering the Christ in Christmas. Beautiful carols called kalandas have been handed down from Byzantine times and add to the reverent quality of the celebration. And can the remote Greek villages, with whitewashed walls, stone corrals for the precious livestock, and clear starry skies be very far in spirit from a night in long ago Bethlehem? ....
The site also has some great lore, including traditions about male spirits, the Kallikantzari, who are full of mischief and sometimes, malice, and who threaten people from Christmas to Epiphany.
This is a joint effort between France and French Canada -- together, they've created an informative site with well chosen art.... [Note: this site is fully annotated below under "Yule in the New World"]
YULETIDE IN THE NEW WORLD
Fr. Peter Wilke
[Courtesy of Bridge Building Images]
This is "Feliz Navidad: Making Merry in Mexico," an excellent overview of Christmas customs in Mexico by Dale Hoyt Palfrey (click on her "Christmas in Mexico" Index for more pages):
....Christmas festivities begin with Las Posadas, nine consecutive days of candelight processions and lively parties starting December 16.
In villages and urban neighborhoods throughout Mexico youngsters gather each afternoon to reenact the holy family's quest for lodging in Bethlehem....
The page is well written and includes illustrations of children's roles in the festivities; there is good data on Shepherds Plays (Pastorelas); elaborate Nativity scenes (Nacimientos -- many of which include "forces of evil represented by a serpent and a grotesque Lucifer lurking in the shadows"); Christmas eve Mass (Misa de Gallo, Mass of the Rooster); special holiday foods; the Day of the Holy Innocents (akin to April Fools Day); Three Kings Day (Epiphany, January 6th); and the ancient Aztec star-flower (Cuitlaxochitl), used medicinally for the heart and known to the rest of the world as the poinsettia.
From "Mexico Online" comes Marvin H. Perton's account of Christmas in Mexico. It lacks the personal style of the preceding link but often greatly expands on Palfrey's data; he also gives more emphasis to regional differences, which is useful for tourists. I was intrigued by his mention of the December 23rd festival of Noche de los Rábanos, Night of the Radishes, when huge radishes are carved into religious and/or humorous works of art (also see above under Carol McCullough's "Winter Festivals from the Past & Present" for more details).
This is a joint effort between French Canada and France -- together, they've created an informative site with well chosen art (if you click once on an image, you get detailed data on its origins, background, etc; click again and you'll get an enlargement). I found that the categories tend to blur (e.g., "Communal," "Religious" and "Family" have too many overlapping boundaries), but if you simply make up your mind to click on each link and all hypertext, you'll find treasures here. The focus is on Christianity and its traditions (Christmas carols, great creches, etc), but one illustrated link goes to ancient pre-Christian festivals (Rome's Saturnalia, Mithras feast, and Sigillaria); another takes you to an interesting but troubling historical page on how Christmas was "PR-ed" by a well-intentioned Jesuit missionary trying to convert Canada's Huron Peoples in 1641:
....Thus the Infant Jesus was wrapped in rabbit skin rather than linen swaddling clothes, he slept in a lodge of broken bark and not in a manger; hunters replaced the shepherds and, as a final touch, three Indian chiefs were substituted for the Wise Men who, instead of gold, incense and myrrh, offered fur skins to the holy Child....
A photograph of a creche from a chapel near Quebec depicts this Huron "nativity." Aside from this page (which accepts too uncritically the right of Christians to manipulate indigenous peoples -- especially when so many of these peoples have been tragically abused ever since), the rest of the site is well done and worth exploring.
YULETIDE "DOWN UNDER"
In Australia, Yuletide comes at Summer Solstice, not Winter. This illustrated page, "A Summer Christmas," is by Margaret RainbowWeb, a delightful crone who lived through WWII in London and then moved to Australia; she starts with seasonal greetings and poetry and then provides links to other Australian sites on the Yule season. (Note: If you follow the link back to her "Welcome" page, you'll have access to wide-ranging, ecological, practical, meditative, sensible pages on just about anything you can imagine -- a wonderful site for browsing at any time of the year!)
Christmas Mummers in Russia
Palekh: Ivan Golikov, Alexander Kotukhin. Mummers (1924)
This site comes from England's Dartington Morris Men, whose Mummers Play dates back 120 years, but its roots go much farther back into medieval times. The site includes a script (reconstructed in 1948). In looking at the history of this "sacred theatre," the author writes:
...Mummers were once found in nearly every village in England.
Together with mystery and miracle plays they are survivors of folk
drama. The purpose of the performance is a familiar one the
world over -- to ask for a blessing on spring crops and livestock
after the cold winter and to celebrate the long dark days of winter
gradually shortening as spring approaches.
Mummers' Play is a story of combat, death and revival - in which
one of the combatants is stricken down, but lives to fight another
day, symbolising autumn and winter bursting to life again in the
spring, then summer. Traditionally the players blackened their
faces or wore other disguises so as not to be recognised. The
mediaeval word "mummer" comes from the Old French "momer"
meaning to put on a disguise....
From England's contemporary Eydon Mummers comes another page on the ancient custom of midwinter mummers' plays, a custom found across Europe:
....Mummers' plays are a last vestige of the old fertility rites performed in mid-winter to bring life back to the world. They are related to similar myths and legends world wide, such as the Greek Myth of Persephone. Like these, the Mummers' play always has a
cycle of death, followed by resurrection by magical means. In the Mummers' plays this cycle involves a fight between the Hero and the Villain in which one (or both) get killed. The corpse is then magically brought to life again by the Doctor....
Among the links is a recent script dating from c. 1900.
This is another contemporary English mummers company, the Ragged Heroes, with color photos of contemporary costumed players (text is minimal). Characters include St. George, Bold Slasher (a soldier), "Jack Vinney, the man of the woods, with Dick, the Green Horse," the Old Woman, the Quack Doctor, and others.
Detail of Women Making Pirogi
Lacquer box courtesy of Russian Sunbirds
A motif running through many of my Yule links is food -- preparing it with joy, then sharing it with loved ones in festive surroundings. Quite a few of these links have subsections devoted to seasonal foods but if you wish to enjoy a site totally dedicated to the joys of festive foods, this elegant, lively one from James Matterer ("Master Huen" in the Society for Creative Anachronism) is absolutely splendid. Whether you want an authentic medieval banquet, or something much simpler, don't miss Master Huen's "Boke of Gode Cookery." (Note: I've listed Jim's pages elsewhere on my site with an expanded review. Near the bottom of the above URL, you'll find that review along with words of praise from other admirers of his.)
From Sweden comes this page of special Yule recipes for rosehip soup, gingersnaps, and saffron bread (which is especially associated with St. Lucia's Day on 13 December).
THE YULETIDE TREE
A Noble Fir
[Image adapted from the site directly below]
For millennia trees have represented the cosmic axis of the world, connecting underground root-realms to the earth-plane as well as to the heavens. Yggdrasill is one example of such a cosmic axis from Teutonic myth, but, worldwide, there are countless more.
Although rarely approached from this perspective, the Christmas tree obviously comes out of this same ancient lineage. At its foot are scattered gifts representing the underground wealth of abundant foods, jewels, precious metals; among its boughs are scattered ornaments representing the daily interface between normal reality and the numinous, shimmering realms lying all around us; and on top of the tree there shines a star or winged being from the distant reaches of space....
"Christmas Tree History and Characteristics" by the National Christmas Tree Association Internet Committee is a great site on Christmas trees compiled by several professors and tree experts. Sixteen popular Christmas tree types are considered in detail, each with a photo, plus a description, growing conditions, locations, habits, and, in some instances, wonderful folklore (e.g., the grand fir and its role in Native American traditions). There is also a wise and beautifully written Preface.
The Imbolc page:
The traditional end of the Yule season in the Catholic Church is Candlemas on 2 February. This coincides with the pagan feast of Imbolc. I have created a separate page (see link directly above) for this ancient feast which marks the embryonic quickening of the seed of light, first planted on the darkest night of the year during Winter Solstice.
To Winter Greetings 2000
To the Wheel of the Year
To European Earth-Based Ways
To the "Common
Themes": TIME page
(Calendars, Millennium Issues, etc)
The "square" on the mini-console below will stop the sound; the "triangle" will start it again; the two lines will pause it; the slider controls the volume.
Music: "Santa Maria amar," from the
medieval Cantigas de Santa María by "Anon."
Courtesy of Curtis Clark of the Renaissance Internet Band.
Text and layout © 1999 by Kathleen
All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.
Page designed pre-dawn 21 August 1999;
text begun that evening.
Music & all but Winter Links added 31 August 1999, 1:19am.
More art & many new links added between 20-25 November 1999.
Published on St. Katherine's Day/Thanksgiving Day, 25 November 1999.
November 26, 28, 1999;
December 1, 2-3; 4-5; 12, 14, 17, 18, 24, 1999;
29 October 2000 (checking all links so I can transfer to 2000 page);
4 December 2000; 21 December 2000; 11 July 2001 (Ned.3.0); 9 November 2001 (removed a Chinese link whose subject matter no longer reflects the season).