Season's Greetings from the Solstice Lady
Every December I turn my obsession for research towards the solstice.
Since the beginning, back at the turn of the century, I have found the differences and remarkable similarities of cultural practices so very interesting that I wanted to share it with people .
So, I made this stack of colour coded cards, held together by a ring, which I carry in my pocket whenever I am out Solstice storytelling.
I added to it every year And then I made a second stack....
Here's a selection from those stacks, necessarily brief due to the size of the card.'
If it has a website listed with it, I have not been able to research and confirm it yet so I have left the original source listed.
excerpts from the cards
A Jewish Tale: return of the Light Myth
"When Adam saw the day gradually diminishing, he said, “Woe is me! Perhaps because I sinned, the world around me is growing darker and darker, and is about to return to chaos and confusion, and this is the death heaven has decreed for me. He then sat eight days in fast and prayer. But when the winter solstice arrived, and he saw the days getting gradually longer, he said, "Such is the way of the world,” and proceeded to observe eight days of festivity. The following years he observed both the eight days preceding and the eight days following the solstice as days of festivity."
(Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a)
Another Jewish Tale: Return of the Light Myth
Adam and Eve, after being sent from the garden of Eden, are afraid of the dark. The Holy One deals with this fear by creating seasons. The solstice begins to arrive and the days grow shorter. Adam and Eve notice the world getting darker and for eight days they fast and pray, afraid the world is coming to an end. Then they celebrate for eight days when they see the light of the sun has returned. After this story, we celebrated Havdalah, the end of Shabbat, and blessed the lights of fire.
(Dec 25) Peru- Tananukay- the Annual Fistfight
The custom arose as a way to resolve resentments that may be simmering over any disputes of the previous year with neighbours and/or family. The ceremony proceeds much like a martial arts tourney, styles including kicking and punching. The challenger, be it a man, woman or child steps forward and calls their chosen opponent by name. The fighters move to the centre of the circle and fight proceeds with a tacit agreement of good sportsmanship. (You can't hit your opponent if they are on ground, no biting etc_
Before and after the fight, the combatants are required to either hug or shake hands. Officials call the fight. If a fighter disagrees they can make an appeal to fight again
There are ceremonial combats involving characters particular to the Andean people including a slave master who must dance in a circle to embody his spirit animal, the cock.
Santa's Hat- the Pilleus (Saturnalia)
Everyone wore the red hat known as the pilleus. It was red, conical, and in some drawings, flopped over to one side or another. It was the hat of freedom, given to slaves who were freed in regular life, but became the symbol of universal freedom shared by all during the festival of Saturnalia, where all were equal, slave and master alike
Christ's Birthday adopted by the Church....
The date of birth of Yeshua Ben Nazareth (Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The western church leaders selected DEC-25 because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. Since there was no central Christian authority at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was universally accepted:
Eastern churches began to celebrate Christmas after 375 CE.
The church in Jerusalem started in the 7th century.
Ireland started in the 5th century
Austria, England and Switzerland in the 8th
Slavic lands in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Earthworks: ANCIENT BRAZIL
Brazilian archaeologists have found an assembly of 127 granite blocks arranged equidistant from each other. They apparently form an ancient astronomical observatory. One of the stones marked the position of the sun at the time of the winter solstice. This formation was probably used in religious rituals.
ANCIENT EGYPT: Return of the Light Myth
The god-Man Osiris died and was entombed on Dec 21st.
"At midnight, the priests emerged from an inner shrine crying
'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing" and showing the image of a baby to the worshippers.'
There is an Irish legend which says that the gates of heaven open at midnight on Christmas Eve. Anyone dying at that time would be spared the waiting time in purgatory. They were allowed straight into heaven
In Maeshowe, (Orkneys, Scotland) there is a chambered cairn built on a leveled area with a surrounding bank and ditch. It has been carbon dated at 2750 BCE. Inside the cairn is a stone structure with a long entry tunnel. The structure is aligned so that sunlight can shine along the entry passage into the interior of the megalith, and illuminate the back of the structure. This happens at sunrise at the winter solstice. Starting in the late 1990's, live video and still images have been broadcast to the world via the Internet.
"Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom?
There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew.
At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."
"4,000 Years of Christmas" Earl W. Count
The use of trinkets on the tree dates from early Roman days when it was common to hang little masks of Bacchus upon trees and vines to impart fertility to every part of the tree to which the wind turned the face
Tree – decorations- Tree-topper Witch
In some regions of Germany, people placed witches instead of angels at the tops of their Christmas trees, perhaps in recognition of the Crone, the old-woman face of the Goddess who presides over this part of the year.
The custom of placing a light at the top of the Christmas tree is another symbol of the rebirth of the sun. Catholics later changed this image to that of the angel heralding the Christ Child's birth.
Mass of the Rooster: Bolivia
Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo (“Mass of the Rooster”) on Christmas Eve, with people bringing roosters to midnight mass to symbolize the belief that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus Christ.
Gift -Bringers: Brazil
Children in Brazil often receive gifts from the Magi on Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, as well as from Papai Noel on Christmas Eve. With no use for chimneys in the tropical climate, they believe Papai Noel enters via the front door, and travels via helicopter rather than a reindeer-drawn sleigh.
In Russia, there's a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.
In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.
In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-together. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along,
The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.
In 1895, American Ralph E Morris hung the first string of Xmas Lights
In 2015, researchers discovered two stone lines that, when approached straight on, appear to frame Peru's Cerro Del Gentil Pyramid in the distance. The lines are located roughly 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) southeast of the pyramid, and extend about 1,640 feet (500 m). Using 3D-modeling software, the researchers discovered that the winter solstice sun sets exactly where the lines converge on the pyramid in the horizon
Fruitcake originated in ancient Egypt, where it was considered essential for the afterlife
(Dec 21)St Thomas Day: England
In rural England, long ago, it was customary on this day for the elderly, the poor and for children to go door to door requesting handouts from those more fortunate. This was known as "Thomasing" as well as "mumping," "doleing," "corning," or "gooding.” Typically thomasing was done by elderly poor women, collecting money and food to help their Christmas be merry.
“Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat,
Please spare a penny for the old man's hat,
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you [Muir, 1977, 35].
In past times, some households gave small gifts as well as food. In return the Thomasers would give their benefactors sprigs of holly or mistletoe for luck.
Also ...students were allowed, if they arrived at school before their teacher, to lock him out of the class. If they succeeded in winning this race, they avoided having to work on this day.
In some places, the students were given the run of the schools on St Thomas Day. They would declare themselves with imaginary titles and claim high achievement in their school work.
(Dec 21) St Thomas Day: Belgium
In Belgium children were allowed to lock out not only their teachers but also their parents. Trapping their folks on the doorstep they would exact promises of treats before allowing their parents back into the home. At the schools, teachers could be tied to their chairs until the students' demands were met.
A festival celebrated on Dec 25 by the Vainakh people, including modern Chechens and Ingush. They turn themselves to the east, looking for the return of their sun goddess, Deela-Malkh, who has been off visiting her mother Aza since summer solstice.
Sacaea: Babylonia (Mock King)
A Babylonian winter observance deriving from Zagmuk.
The sacrifice in Sacaea was explicit: the king was to be ritually killed to secure continuity and renewal. As the loss of a king was a serious matter (not least to the king) a substitute king was invested with all the trappings and regalia of power and was celebrated for a month prior to being sacrificed after which there was great celebration and jollity.
Before Christianity the Swedish people celebrated "midvinterblot" at winter solstice. It simply means "mid-winter-blood", and featured both animal and human sacrifice. This tradition took place at certain cult places, and basically every old Swedish church is built on such a place. The pagan tradition was finally abandoned around 1200 CE, due to the missionaries persistence. (Of course they were sacrificed too, by the Vikings, in the beginning.) Midvinterblot paid tribute to the local gods, appealing to them to let go of the winter's grip. The winters in Scandinavia are dark and grim, and these were the days before central heating. And the Gods were powerful. Until this day Thursday is named after the war god Thor. Friday after Freja (fertility) It is interesting to note that to this day the Swedish name for Christmas is Jul (Yule), and the Jul gnome has a more important role than Christmas father or the Christchild. You don't kill those pagan tradition easily. The old Viking religion with Thor and his friends is still practiced by some people, somewhat less bloodily.
Intercalary Days: Roman
The official calendars attempted to reconcile the 354 day lunar year with the 366 day solar year.
The Roman calendar at first settled the problem by introducing 12 “intercalary days” at year’s end which served to bridge the lunar light cycle with the solar. The Romans celebrated the first of the intercalary days on Dec 25. This was Brumalia, the festival of Winter Solstice, and the 11 wild days of Saturnalia and Oplaia followed, named after and celebrated for the god Saturn and the goddess Ops. Cold, clever, passive, Saturn represented the sun at mid-winter its lowest point. The last day of each week, Saturn’s Saturday, represented the ending of the whole year, lying restful and quiet before the new Sun - day. The goddess Ops, giver of law and order - today little remembered except in the words opal and opulent - majestically insisted on a once a year overturning of her orderliness. Slaves became masters, prisoners went free, the rich gave to the poor and every sacred right-side up heaved upside down. People laid their bodies down on the earth for Opalia, and coupled with sweetheart and stranger---that the year might be opulent in its blessings.
Artificial Christmas Tree; Germany
Germans made the very first artificial Christmas trees, using dyed goose feathers to look like needles of a pine or fir tree
(Jan 5) El Dia de los Tres Reyes- Three Kings Day: Gift Bringers
A traditional day of gift-giving in many Latin cultures that recalls the legend of Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior, three kings who, it is said, traveled to Bethlehem with gifts for the baby Jesus. Also known as Old Christmas or the Epiphany, the occasion is a special one for children who, on the evening of January 5, place straw or grass under their beds to attract the camels carrying the kings. The gifts left the next morning are said to come from the kings themselves.
Seasonal Sport: Ethiopia
In spite of Ethiopia’s Christian heritage, Christmas is not an important holiday there. Most people actually call the holiday Ganna or Genna after a hockey-like ball game played only once a year, on Christmas afternoon.
Evergreen Tree: Babylonia
After the death of Nimrod, (great grandson of Noah) his wife, Semiramis, swore she had seen a full evergreen tree spring from the roots of a dead stump. She claimed this proved Nimrod a god. Nimrod would visit the tree every year to leave gifts on the anniversary of his birth, which was winter solstice. He would be reborn as Tammuz, the god of all growing things who engages yearly with the dragon Tiamat in the battle to return fertility to the world.
Evergreen: Japan (Shinto)
The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) tells the tale of eight hundred various deities arriving to form a plan to regain the sun. Amatarasu (Great August Kami/ Deity Shining in Heaven) had gone into self imposed exile in a sacred cave so the other deities combined their aptitudes and magics so they might lure her out to see, and hopefully be transfixed, by her reflection in the freshly forged first mirror.
The gods went to the Heavenly Mount Kagu where they uprooted a mighty 500 branch Sakaki tree. They brought this tree back to the Cave of Heaven where Amaterasu languished. A strand of 500 precious jewels was used to secure the middle branches of the tree so that the mirror was prominently displayed. The lower branches were hung with placating streamers.
(see the Solstice myths and Legends section for the whole tale)
The Sakaki is considered a sacred tree, still used in Shinto rites today.
(Dec 31) Perchtenlauf: Pennsylvania Dutch
The Pennsylvania Dutch practice an old custom called Perchtenlauf. People don fearsome masks called Perchten, often handed down from one generation to the next. The women represent the goddess Perchta or Bertha in beauty as bringer of light, giver of health and prosperity. Young men take to the streets showing Perchta's destructive aspect by wearing the frightening horned and fanged Perchten masks. They rove from home to home to drive out the demons with by ringing bells, singing loudly or shouting, banging on drums or pots and pans and cracking whips.
Latvia- Yule Log (Burning of Jolė's Blade)
In old Lativia, one would choose a tree on their own land to be ceremonially prepared for the traditional “Burning of Jolė's Blade” by sprinkling it with flour and cider, or a beverage of Jolan tradition. Thus the Yule Log was decreed. Once it was cut, the tree (preferably Ash, in honour of Yggdrasil, the northern World Tree) was burned throughout the longest night to the end of the 12 days of the season.
Christmas Cancelled: England
The English Parliament abolished Christmas in 1647.
Polydor Virgil, an early British Christian, said:
"Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them."
"The Christmas most people believe is traditional - the Victorian Christmas of Charles Dickens' time - bares little resemblance to Christmas past.
During the Middle Ages and into the early period of modern Europe, Christmas was a peasant celebration filled with hedonism, drinking, carnality and social inversion. It was even banned in an effort to curb decadence.
The British Parliament abolished religious festivals, including Christmas, in 1647
The Puritans of New England outlawed Christmas between 1659 and 1681. People caught celebrating were fined five shillings."
”History of Christmas” Helen Buttery
note from Solsticelady... a history teacher told me that one of the main reasons the Brits overthrew the Puritans to put the monarchy back in place was that the nobles wanted Christmas back.
inventor Albert Sadacca was fifteen in 1917 when he first got the idea to make safe Christmas tree lights.
"These times are intercalendary periods in Celtic and Teutonic year-reckoning, the paradoxical 'time between the times' when the crack appears and the paths between the worlds are laid open. They are periods of 'ritual reversal' when the dead enter the world of the living and the living enter the world of the dead."
from Nigel Jackson, "Trance Ecstasy and the Furious Host", The Ley Hunter 117, 1992
#1 Christmas Tree Exporter- Nova Scotia, Canada
The Canadian province of Nova Scotia leads the world in exporting three things: lobster, wild blueberries, and Christmas trees.
Ivy was associated with the Roman god Bacchus and was not allowed by the Church as decoration until later in the middle ages, when a superstition that it could help recognize witches and protect against plague arose.
It is said that there are many places in Europe where, if you place your ear to the ground at midnight on Christmas Eve- you can hear the bells resonating through the earth
Many ancient peoples believed that evil spirits and demons could be driven off by the sound of ringing bells.
Angels on top of the tree: German
It was the practice in ancient times, of Pagan Germanic tribes-folk, to place a representation of a witch at the top of the seasonal tree. It is believed that this may have been a reference to the Crone aspect of the goddess.
Some chose instead to place a light at the top of the tree as acknowledgement of the rebirth of the sun.
The Christmas Tree of the USA
The General Grant Tree in California’s King’s Canyon National Park was proclaimed “the Nation’s Christmas Tree” by U.S President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
The giant sequoia, which stands over 300 feet tall and estimated to be over 1,600 years old, is the third largest tree in the world.
Gingerbread men: Pagan Germanic
The followers of Wodan, early Germanic tribes, celebrated this season by sacrificing any prisoners they had to their god. They would hang their prisoners from trees for nine days, reenacting their god's sacrifice of himself on the World Tree in order to gain the knowledge of the runes. By repeating this act, they were asking their god to help them through the cold and dark of winter.
Eventually this ritual gave way to using representations of prisoners. So little men were formed out of gingerbread and hung on the trees to represent the sacrifice.
For centuries, wreaths have represented the unending cycle of life and have been symbols of victory and honour. Ancient Druids, Celts, and Romans used evergreen branches made into wreaths in their winter solstice celebrations. As early as 1444, wreaths were used as Christmas decorations in London. In 16th-century Germany, evergreen branches were intertwined in a circular shape to symbolize God's love, which has no beginning and no end.
Bells- The Devil's Knell
According to old English folk tales, the Devil died when Jesus was born. So some towns developed a tradition of ringing the church bells near midnight on Christmas Eve to announce the Devil’s demise. In England this custom was called tolling or ringing “the Devil’s knell.”
Otherworld visitation: Finland
In Finland, the family is very likely to take a trip to a cemetery. The purpose is to light candles in remembrance of deceased relatives, but some folks without locally-buried kin visit cemeteries anyway to enjoy the candles. Many graveyards have a special place where candles can be placed in honour of people buried elsewhere. In Helsinki, around 75% of families visit a cemetery at Christmastime, usually on Christmas Eve, so authorities arrange for police to provide traffic control.
Christmas Cancelled: The New World
Public notice from 1659 in Boston regarding the banning the celebrations of Christmas.
The celebration of Christmas was made a crime in Massachusetts in 1659. That edict was repealed in 1681, but in 1686 the governor needed two soldiers to escort him to Christmas services. In 1706 a Boston mob smashed the windows in a church holding Christmas services. Due to the early predominance of the Dutch in New York (founded by them and first named New Amsterdam), New Yorkers celebrated Christmas from the 17th century on, but as late as 1874 Henry Ward Beecher, America's most prominent preacher, said, "To me, Christmas is a foreign day."
First Decorated Tree
The city of Riga, Latvia holds the claim as home to history’s first decorated Christmas tree, back in 1510.
Hanging of Stockings
The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings allegedly began with three poor sisters who couldn’t afford a marriage dowry. The wealthy Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna (modern-day Turkey) saved them from a life of prostitution by sneaking down their chimney and filling their stockings with gold coins.
Located on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is an ancient stone-walled Mayan city whose population collapsed around the 15th century when Spanish settlers had begun to occupy Mexico, bringing new disease that wiped out large portions of the Mexican population. Much of the stone buildings that made up the city still stand today. One of these buildings contains a small hole at its top that produces a star-burst effect when the sun rises on the winter (and summer) solstice.
In France, a Yule tradition has survived as the Reveillon.
meaning "renewal" and "awakening," this midnight
meal is now enjoyed after midnight mass, but originally would have
been part of late night feasting that welcomed the birth of the sun. Families serve a traditional thirteen different desserts, one each to celebrate the renewed Wheel of the Year, with its thirteen lunar cycles.
The tradition of mummers is associated with the winter solstice more than Christmas. It dates back to pagan times when people would try to employ magic to encourage the sun to return before daylight completely disappeared. In Britain, mummers perform small dramas about the struggle between the sun and the forces of winter -a tradition that survives to this day in some areas. In Latvia, Christmastime is still a solstice holiday, and is often celebrated from December 22nd through the 25th. Customs of a Latvian Christmas are usually traced to activities that encourage the return of the Sun Maiden. Latvian mummers are more like Halloween trick-or-treaters, going from house to house wearing masks, usually disguised as some kind of animal or the spirit of death. They play music and bestow blessings on the homes they visited, and are given food to eat.
Christmas song and dance: Marshall Islands
In the Marshall Islands, people prepare for Christmas months in advance, stockpiling gifts and dividing into jeptas, or teams, that hold song-and-dance competitions on Christmas Day. They also build a piñata-like wojke containing little presents (matches, money, soap) for God.