Winter Angel holiday card featuring artwork by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more info.
I’m always searching out forgotten holiday traditions, and one of my favorites that I am trying to revive is the custom of honoring the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some scholars believe the Twelve Days start on Christmas Day and end on January 5 with Twelfth Night. Others (including me) observe them from December 26 through January 6, Epiphany.
But it has been suggested that originally the Twelve Days spanned the time between the new moon closest to the Solstice (this would be during the time of Hanukkah) and the first full moon of the new year, or perhaps the time between Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13) and New Year’s Day.
Image from our Present Moment 2017 wall calendar. Photo © Kichigin. Click image for more info.
Many years ago I read in the Oxford Companion to the Year that December 21 was when the Romans celebrated Angerona, the goddess who advocates for silence with her finger to her lips. The connection between the shortest day of the year and silence intrigued me and led me to develop my favorite Solstice ritual: I spend the day in silence and without using any electricity. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio or work on my computer. I don’t turn on the lights. I don’t answer my phone. At dusk, I go for a long walk in the park near my home. At night, I light candles, take a bubble bath, and go to bed early. I love the way this practice places me inside a delicious pool of quiet and serenity, allowing me to move more slowly and to listen to my own thoughts and feelings more closely. My other Winter Solstice tradition is to host a Solstice party on the Sunday closest to Solstice. Continue reading
Image from The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar. Eurasian Bullfinch on frozen branches © Markus Varesvuo. Click image for more info.
This Roman holiday is sometimes viewed as the pagan version of Christmas, even though it was certainly being acknowledged long before the Biblical events that are celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice.
Saturnalia, as it was practiced in Rome for centuries before the birth of Christ, has many elements found in other end-of-year rituals, including Hanukkah and Twelfth Night. This seven-day festival, which begins on December 17, was a time when courts did not meet and war could not be declared, so it was a time outside of time, like the Halcyon Days. Continue reading
Image from our Environmental Art 2017 wall calendar. Abstract Circles Inspired by the Inverted Mandelbrot Set © Simon Beck. Click image for more info.
Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, the god of winds. She was so happy in her marriage with Ceyx, son of the Morning Star, that they called themselves Zeus and Hera (surely not the couple that comes to mind when searching Greek mythology for an example of a happy marriage).
At any rate, this made Zeus mad and he struck down the ship on which Ceyx was sailing with a thunderbolt. When her husband’s ghost appeared before her, Alcyone threw herself into the sea and drowned. Some pitying god transformed them both into kingfishers. Continue reading
Rose photo by Emilian Robert Vicol / Flickr.
In 1531, on December 9, so the legend goes, an Indian farmer named Juan Diego was passing by the hill called Tepeyac outside of Mexico City on his way to an early morning Mass when he heard birds singing overhead, whistles, flutes, and beating wings. Then he saw a maiden dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess.
She spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language, Juan’s language, and had skin as brown as cinnamon. She told Juan that she was Maria, the Mother of God, and that he should tell the bishop of Mexico City to build her a chapel on the site. The bishop, however, was not impressed by this message and demanded some proof. Continue reading
Peace Angel greeting card by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more.
For Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are a special time called Advent (from the Latin for “to come”), a time spent anticipating the birth of the Son of God. Choosing this date to honor this moment was not accidental. For centuries, people had been eagerly anticipating the Winter Solstice and the arrival of the Sun at the same time of the year. Whether waiting for the birth of a divine child or the rebirth of the Sun, this is a time of anticipation in the darkness of winter.
Different customs help Christians count the days until Christmas: Advent calendars have a new little window to be opened each day; adding a piece of straw every day to the manger in the nativity scene; and the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.
You can also create your own customs to mark the four Sundays before Christmas or Winter Solstice. I inherited one of my favorite Advent customs from my friend, Helen Farias, who wrote stories based on winter gods and goddesses. She suggested reading one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas while sipping on warming holiday drinks, nibbling on traditional holiday cookies, and lighting the next candle on the Advent wreath. Continue reading
Image from The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar by Mark Nepo. Photo © davidluna / RooM the Agency. Click image for more info.
Winter is the time for festivals of light and the first one to appear on the calendar this year is Diwali, which is celebrated on the new moon (often called the dark moon) of the Hindu month of Kartika. Diwali is the name for the third day of a five-day holiday and falls on October 30 this year.
The name Diwali means “line of lights.” People set out lit oil-filled clay lamps (diya) on windowsills and in front of houses. Fireworks, bonfires, and electric and neon lights add to the illumination.
There is a sense of newness and renewal. Before the holiday, houses are cleaned and whitewashed. Women and children create rangoli—circular decorative designs, like small mandalas, made of colored rice flour or even flower petals on thresholds—in front of houses and in hallways to honor Lakshmi the goddess of wealth (although Kali is honored in some parts of India and Krishna in others). Continue reading
Image from our Day of the Dead 2017 wall calendar. Constant © Kristy Patterson-D’Anna & Andrew D’Anna. Click image for more info.
Halloween, falling as it does on the start of the darkest time of the year, focuses on those who have departed. In the United States, on October 31, the emphasis may be on ghosts, monsters, and scary pumpkin faces, but in earlier times, and in other cultures, this is the time to honor the dead.
In Mexico, indigenous customs mingled with the Spanish Catholic celebration of All Souls’ Day on November 1 (“Halloween” is an abbreviated version of All Hallows’ Eve), during which people pray for those who have died. The resulting holiday, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), is a joyful celebration of those who have died. Continue reading