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Winter Solstice: Festivals

Author: Christina Aubin [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 29th. 2003
Times Viewed: 26,824

Yule/Winter Solstice (between December 21st and 23rd) also known as: Nollaig; Yuletide, Alban Arthan; Juul; Jul; Jiuleis; Joulupukki; Children's Day; Dies Natalis Invicti Solis; Saturnalia; Mid-Winter; Brumalia; Sacaea; Festival of Kronos (Cronos); Dazh Boh; Chaomos; Inti Raymi; Dong Zhi; Soyal; Sada; Touji; Zagmuk; Sacaea

Winter Solstice Festivals

Yule, Geol, Yole, Jiuleis, Juul, Feailley Geul was typically a twelve-day festivity around the time of the winter solstice, its practice spans back through time, it is mentioned in the epic poem, Beowulf, written around 1000, from oral tradition. Although there is some etymological dispute as to the specific root from which Yule springs forth, there seem to be some common themes in current thought.

It has been suggested that the Indo-European root for Yule is Gwelo, which means -- "go round" and is also connected is the early Anglo-Saxon word Jule which means "feast time". According to Bede, the Anglo-Saxon's referred Winter Solstice as Modra-niht meaning 'Mothers' Night' and giuli is the Anglo-Saxon word for the actual two-month midwinter season. Old English as Geol, and Geola, was the actual name of the feast of Geol. In Middle English it is known as Yole.

Yule is also known as Jol, Winter Festival, in the Old Norse. It is also been suggested that the Germanic root of the word Yule is Geol meaning "turning the wheel." It also has been suggested that there is an etymological connection between the word, Yule, and the Ancient God, Yolnir, the Norse Allvater, the father of Welt-All, of "all the world." Yolnir also mentioned as Yol in some texts, evolved into Wodan, who then in turn became known as Odin. Jol was certainly celebrated with great enthusiasm and one cannot forget the all-important Mead, without which Jol would be lacking. As the Jul expressions, "jol drekka" or "drekka jol" translated means, "to drink jol".

To the Goths it was known as jiuleis. This is said to be from the Gothic root words giul or hiul, meaning wheel and purportedly ol or oel whose meaning is feast. The time period prior to Jiulesis was known as Fruma Jiuleis and Aftuma Jiulea was the month following.

Norwegian the holiday is juul and the month of Juul was known as Jolemoane. The Danish is Iol pronounced Yol. 'The savage Dane At Iol more deep the mead did drain." Sir W. Scott: Marmion

The Finnish is Joulu. Icelandic name for the month of Winter Solstice is J -- lm‡nu_r.

In the native Manx, of the Isle of Man, the winter festival is Feailley geul, and the Winter Solstice is shass greiney geuree and yn ad-gheurey. Zagmuk is the first mid-winter festival we can find written record of. As darkness begins to overtake world in winter, the Mesopotamians reenactment of their God Marduk's victory over darkness and disorder to ensure that the hard wrought order would once more reign. The order needed to be reestablished each year when darkness would once again attempt to engulf the light and its resulting order.

The Mesopotamian King would step down from the throne and be removed from power each winter, in order to free him to battle the chaos in Marduk's name. Once the battle been light and dark, order and chaos was successfully completed the King would be reinstate to the throne and assume his mantle of authority, and the world was safe from chaos for another year.

Sacaea is the Babylonian and ancient Persian Winter Solstice celebration. During the festival of Sacaea misrule, rules once more, slaves and masters changed place, a mock king ruled, chaos and upheaval presided over the festival.

Festival of Kronos (Cronos) or Kronia is the festival celebrated in Athens Greece in the months following winter solstice. Winter was a time of danger and chaos; it was believed that the Killantzaroi (also know as Kallikantzaroi or Karkantzaroi) roamed the earth playing tricks on people. Which is why today in almost every Greek home during this season you will find a wooden bowl over which a sprig of fresh basil hangs. This is used daily to bless the house to keep the Killantzaroi away. Other rituals done to keep the Killantzaroi away includes burning old shoes, hanging a pig's jawbone in the doorway, or keeping a fire so large that they can not come down the chimney.

The Festival of Kronos celebrates the drama of the battle between Cronos (father of Zeus and Father Time) and Zeus. Zeus, the young God usurps power from his father the old God Cronos. Cronos is then sent govern the Elysian Fields (Greek home of the dead). The festival was a very joyous event complete with feasts, role reversals; slaves were given temporary freedom and the masters and slaves dining together.

Saturnalia is the ancient Roman Winter Solstice festival, which honored the God Saturn, the god of agriculture and ruler of the universe during the Golden Age. Saturnalia was a symbolic return to the Golden Age a tine of peace and prosperity, the time before Zeus overthrew his father Saturn. The festival began on December 17th (some cite the 19th) and over time grew from a three-day festival to a seven-day festival. It is much like the Greek Festival of Kronos (Cronos). The poet Cattalus (c. 84-54 BCE) wrote that Saturnalia was "the merriest festival of the year" and is "the best of days."

A Master of the Saturnalia, Lord of Misrule was chosen in each household, who was Master of household during his "reign". It was a time of family, friends, games, gifts, feasting and merriment. During Saturnalia the schools and courts were closed and even war was illegal. The uninhibited merriment and festivity span all the class in Roman society including the slaves, in fact it is said that the Masters served their slaves during the festival of Saturnalia.

Divalia is the fifth day of Saturnalia. This day is sacred to Dia, Angerona, and Volusia.

Brumalia celebrated the return of the sun after the winter solstice. The word bruma means "shortest day". The festival of Saturnalia immediately preceded Brumalia. It was also called Larentalia - the last and final day of Saturnalia. This day was sacred to Acca Larentia also referred to as Lupa, originally the chief deity of Larentum. Even when Saturnalia ceased to be celebrated Brumalia continued on into the forth century CE -- when its rituals were absorbed into the Christmas.

Sigillaria is the last two days of the Roman Saturnalia, which is when the gift giving was done. Typically gifts of earthenware images, figures or ciphers considered to be magical were given as well as candles. Compitalia, Ludi Compitalicii or Kalends was the ancient Roman New Year festival that was celebrated either during or a few days after Saturnalia. This festival honors the lares compitales, those protective spirits of neighboring farms and neighborhoods. Sacrifices of honey-cakes, poppies and garlic were offered to mother of the Lares and Grandmother of Ghosts, Mania. Shrines were built at the crossroads of bordering farms and at the boundary of abutting farms. Figures of all the free men and free women and a differing type of figurine for each of the slaves were hung in the entranceway of the house and in the neighbor shines.

Dies Natalis Invicti Solis and Deus Sol Invictus was the "birthday of the invincible sun", the celebration of the birth of Mithras, the invincible sun. Sol Invictus it is said came to Rome via Syria, as a variant of Baal known as El Gabalsun, the Sun God. It also has been put forth that Mithras was a minor Zoroastrian deity and worshiped in India as early as 1400 B.C.

Emperor Aurelian named Sol Invictus the supreme Roman Deity at some time in the late 3rd century and became known as Deus Sol Invictus.

Dies natalis solis invicti or Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was celebrated on December 25th, which in the Julian calendar was the Roman date for the Winter Solstice. Mithras offered salvation for His followers, He was virgin born to save humanity from evil, he died and was resurrected to become a messenger God between man and the God of Light, and his day of worshiped was Sunday, the day of the sun. Followers of Mithras were male, and typically soldiers, clerics, slaves and freeman. Mithras was once again, the sun that battled against the forces of chaos and disorder, the forces of darkness and despair, who brought the light, order and hope back every year at Winter Solstice.

Midvinterblot is the ancient Viking Winter Solstice festival. Most of the current understanding of this holiday is from texts written hundreds of years after the actual active celebrations. It is believes that the libation mead played a critical part in these celebrations, for drinking Yule meant drinking mead. It is widely believed that sacrifices both animal and human were done during these festivals.

Dong Zhi is Chinese for "arrival of winter", originally an agricultural festival, which was written about by Xu Shr Hong during the Chang Dynasty, is the Chinese Festival for the Winter Solstice. As the winter season can be harsh this is traditionally the time when workers gathered food to sustain their families through the cold season. The winter is the season of the Yin and summer the season of the Yang; Dong Zhi marks the turning point of Yin and heralds the coming of the Yang season. Dong Zhi, like the other Winter Solstice festivals is marked by hope and optimism as well as wonder and joy.

Dong Zhi is celebrated with merriment, family gatherings, gifts and feasting. During Dong Zhi, the importance of family and community are central, as is honoring the ancestors of the family. Dong Zhi is the time when it is believed the oldest of ancestors return to come together with the family. Folks carry out rituals and performances for the Gods not only thank them for the harvests but to insure future prosperity. Traditional foods include:' Tang Yuan' (translated: family reunion) which are warm balls of sticky rice and rice flour. Also traditional is 'Hun Dun', which is stuffed dumplings. Also is traditional to give the animal stables and household utensils a through cleaning, to prepare them for the coming new season.

Touji is the Japanese Winter Solstice, whose name aptly means winter's arrival.

Dazh Boh, is the Ukrainian (Russian) Winter Solstice festival, celebrating their giver God, Dazh Boh, or Dazhbog. Dazh Boh not only celebrates the returning sun but the ancestors as well. The Ukrainian custom of didukh, meaning grandfather, is an ancient custom honoring the ancestors that is still done today. A collection of wheat sheaf's or mixed grain stalks is placed under the images of deity in the house. It is still believed that the ancestor's spirits still reside in the wheat and grain during the holidays.

Caroling is another important aspect to Ukrainian winter celebrations, the Koliadky and shchedrivky are their New Year's ritual songs, through time adapted to Christianity, they still harkens back to ancient times. Koliadky. They range in subject from creation to celestial bodies, forces of nature and mother-earth to other agricultural themes, from family to romance, and historical battles and kings. An interesting note is that some scholars believe the shchedrivky 's about creation are some of the earliest songs that are still sung today. The word "Shchedryk" means the "Generous One" thus the shchedrivky most likely meant songs to the generous one.

In areas of Russia there is a woman (Marena; Marzana goddess of winter and the earth) clad in white, who is drawn on a sledge from house to house with maiden attendants who sing the Kolyada in anticipation of gifts in return for their gift of song. Some say She represents the goddess of the Sun, as has been said that in Russian folklore the sun is female but there seems to indication that She is a Goddess in her own right who is consort of the God Dazhbog for it is said when the days began to grow longer, she enters her sledge, dressed in her best finery with a stunning circlet, speeds her horses toward summer, toward Dazhbog.

Another interesting Ukrainian custom is to place a spider and web on the tree to bring good luck. According to folklore there was a poor woman without anything to place on her children's tree woke to find the tree's branches had become covered with spider's webs which curiously turned to silver by the rising sun on Solstice morning, an act no doubt of the Dazh Boh, the generous one in his return.

Sviatki is another name for the Russian Yuletide, which also brings with it the importance of caroling like the Ukrainian Dazh Boh, lasted for a two-week period. Fortune telling marked the festival, as did dancing, singing and merrymaking.

During Sviatki a maiden, called Lady Kolyada is fashioned from snow, much like the typical snowman complete with a carrot nose and coal for eyes. Lady Kolyada joins the people to enjoy the merriment. Also according to tradition folks who bear stars as they sing and dance in a circle with fired torches and push a festive Wheel accompany the Lady Kolyada.

Koleda is another Winter Solstice from the Russian area; it originated in the former lands of Sarmatia, located northeast of the Black Sea. At Koleda, Dazxdbog, the Slavic Sun God, dies and is reborn and called Koleda -- the newly born sun. This is closely akin to the Ukrainian Dazh Boh festivals.

Choimus or Chaomos is the Winter Solstice of the people of Kalash in Pakistan. The Kalash is the only tribe in the area, who never converted to Islam, and to this day, still celebrates Choimus. The religion of the Kalash is the last remnant of Kafiristan, the culture that existed before present day Islam took over.

Choimus honors the legendary demigod Balomain, who once had lived among the Kalash and is remembered for his giving spirit and epic deeds. At Choimus, Balomain's spirit wander the country of the Kalash and counts the people and collects their prayers on behalf of Dezao, the creator God. Balomain carries these prayers back to Tsiam, the Kalash mythical land of origin.

The rites of Choimus begin with purification. One the first day, Shishaou Sucheck, is the purification of women and girls with a ritual bath. They then braid their hairs and dress in elaborate costumes and headdresses and many paint their faces. After chanting the hymns to Balomain, water is then poured over their hands and each is given five loaves of a bread, jaou or choimus bread, that had been made earlier in the day by the men only. A branch burning juniper three times over each woman's head to the words, "Sooch Be pure".

On the next day then men and boys are purified, they bathe and are forbidden to sit on chairs or beds until the evening. When the blood of a goat is sprinkled on their faces. The men's hats are adorned with holly, oak and juniper as well as feathers and beads.

During Choimus long, edible, apricot kernels necklaces are given as gifts. Ancestral spirits are offered seasonal foods and then a torch for the ancestors, a kotik, is lit. The torches are called in a processional that are thrown into a large bonfire. People then circle the fire singing, dancing, and leaping. It is expected that single Kalash women find husbands during Choimus. The festival lasts many days and moves throughout the valley.

Soyal or Soyalangwul meaning "Establishing Life Anew for All the World" is the Winter Solstice celebration among the Hopi of the southwestern United States. The Soyal are rituals intended on assisting the annual turning the sun to its summer pathway, for light to triumph over darkness and marks the beginning of the growing season and the beginning of the ritual year. Also central to the Soyal is the return of the first Katcina, his physical form and mannerisms gives appearance of a small child, representative of the rebirth of new light and the life it brings, followed by The Yellow Corn Girl, The Hummingbird Kachina, the Tocha, and Eagle Kachina. The Katcinas are the all-encompassing spiritual beings of the Hopi, they awake and emerge from the Kivas, the underground ceremonial chamber believed to be a gateway to the underworld, at Winter Solstice and depart in July back to the underworld.

During this time there are periods of silence, abstinence of food, tranquility, peace as well as the consumption of sacred foods to assist in attainment of a higher spiritual awareness. Preparation of the paho, the prayer feathers that are then wrapped in corm husks were undertaken, these feathers were what the Hopi prayed upon. The laying down of the group's yearly blueprint is also done at this time. The Soyal was so significant in the Hopi year that the management was over seen by the village chief with the help of those who were the religious leaders of the people.

Diwali is the "Festival of Lights" is a group of five days of Hindu winter celebration, which begins in November and run through December. The importance and grandeur of these festivals makes them quite spectacular. Each day has its own particular significance, with its own myths and rituals. It marks the close of one year and the beginning of the New Year. During Diwali oil lamps, diyas, are lit to drive away the darkness and evil are place in homes, in windows, on the roofs, in courtyards, along road and river ways. It is hallmarked by the exchange of sweets and fireworks.

Homes are cleaned and decorated with Rangoli designs and small rice flour and vermilion powder footprints are drawn over the house to greet Lakshmi- the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Diwali also celebrates Lord Rama's return. It is a time of visiting friends, celebration, feasting, gift giving, song, dance, a time of joy.

Makar Sankranti is another Hindu festival that is celebrated January 14th, for three days. Sankranti translated means to change direction. Thus Makar Sankranti is when the Hindus celebrate the Sun's begins its northward journey known as the Uttarayan as it enters the sign of Makar, or Capricorn, the time of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sadeh or Sada, also known as Adur-Jashan or Maidyarem are the names for the Zorastrian mid-winter festival one of their six seasonal festivals of obligation know as the Gahambar. As many festivals of this time it too has rituals surrounding purification and fire, primarily bonfires.

Shab e Cheleh Festival is another ancient Persian, Zoroastrian, Winter Solstice celebration. The last day of the month of Azar is Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. It was believed that the dark forces of Ahriman, were at their zenith. Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian supreme deity, created Ahriman also known as Angra Mainyu. Ahriman consciously choused evil and through this decision he created death and an on going battle between Ahriman and Ahura Mazda.

On the night of Winter Solstice the Deities battle and Ahura Mazda prevails and the following day is know as the day of sun, khore rooz. The night of Solstice was a night of bonfires, kind deeds, feasts, and role-reversals.

Novo Hel, according to the BBC, was the Gaulish midwinter festival. Novo meaning new and Hel meaning sun this may be the possible root for the word No'l.

Alban Arthuan, "The Light of Arthur," and Nollaig, pronounced Null-ig are Celtic Winter Solstice festivals. Both festivals are hallmarked by both fire and celebration. The use of mistletoe, holly and greens indoor served as a reminder that life persisted even in a world where all things are perceived as dead. The lighting of bonfires, hearth fires and candles assisted in coxing back the sun. Feasting and merrymaking were an intrinsic part of the Winter Solstice celebrations. Reenactments of the victory of the oak king over the holly king occurred (the new year over the old year), then celebrations that ensured once it was certain spring would return again.

Blessed Solstice!

Christina Aubin
Email: Christina

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