The Reason For The Season

There are many people who seem offended with people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.  They like to say that we need to remember the reason for the season or to put the Christ back into Christmas.  Personally, I find these sentiments offensive.  It is an attempt to force one groups’ beliefs and religion upon everyone else.

My family celebrates the holiday season.  For us, it is a time of giving and and a time for family; it is a time to celebrate love and life. Christians would have you believe that Christmas time is strictly a Christian holiday in celebration of the birth of Christ.  Yet, there are many, many other traditions and celebrations time of year.

This past week marked the winter solstice, the day of the year with the lest amount of sunshine when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky at noon.  People have used this date to mark the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years.  Many civilizations spent great time, effort, and resources to determine the exact date of the winter solstice.  Stonehenge is probably the most famous example, but there are many others.  It was vitally important to ancient peoples to know when winter started so that they could properly prepare for the long winter ahead.  This was critical since starvation was an every present reality in most places.  Making sure that grain and meat were prepared in time literally meant the difference between life and death.

There are many traditions and celebrations surrounding the winter solstice,  Christmas being but one of them.  December 25th was chosen by the Catholic Church as the celebration of Christ’s birth, or Christ Mass.  It was chosen to coincide with the many other pagan and religious celebrations at that time of year.  While Christians believe that December 25th was originally a Christian holiday, it was but one of many that have existed at this time throughout history.

The real “reason for the season”. historically, is the winter solstice.  Christians decry the commercialization and secularization of Christmas time, but in reality, these are just one more manifestations of thousands of years of celebrations and traditions related to this time of year.

Therefore I leave you with this list of winter solstice related celebrations and traditions taken from Wikipedia.

Amaterasu celebration, Requiem of the Dead (7th century Japan)

In late 7th century Japan, festivities were held to celebrate the reemergence of Amaterasu or Amateras, the sun goddess of Japanese mythology, from her seclusion in a cave. The other gods make a loud celebration in order to make Amaterasu come out of her cave. She peeks out, sees her image in a mirror, and the other gods convince her to stay out of the cave; thereby restoring sunlight to the world. Requiems for the dead were held and Manzai and Shishimai were performed throughout the night, awaiting the sunrise. Aspects of this tradition survive on New Years.[7]

Beiwe Festival (Sámi of Northern Fennoscandia)

The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.[8]

Brumalia (Roman Kingdom)

Influenced by the Ancient Greek Lenaia festival, Brumalia was an ancient Roman solstice festival honoring Bacchus, generally held for a month and ending December 25. The festival included drinking and merriment. The name is derived from the Latin word bruma, meaning “shortest day” or “winter solstice”. The festivities almost always occurred on the night of December 24.

Chawmos (Kalash of Pakistan)

In the ancient traditions of the Kalash people of Pakistan, during winter solstice, a demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao, the supreme being. “During this celebrations women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold up bread. Then the men and boys are purified with water and must not sit on chairs until evening when goat’s blood is sprinkled on their faces. Following this purification, a great festival begins, with singing, dancing, bonfires, and feasting on goat tripe and other delicacies”.[9]

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

Christmas or Christ’s Mass is one of the most popular Christian celebrations as well as one of the most globally recognized mid-winter celebrations in the Northern hemisphere. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, called the “Son of God,” the second person of the Holy Trinity, as well as “Savior of the World.” The birth is observed on December 25, which was the Roman winter solstice upon establishment of the Julian Calendar.[10] See Christian Nativity. Universal activities include feasting, Midnight Masses and singing Christmas carols about the Nativity. Good deeds and gift giving in the tradition of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus is also observed. Many observe the holiday for twelve days leading up to the Epiphany.

Deygān, Maidyarem (Zoroastrian)

Theologically, Maidyarem is associated with Vahman, the Amesha Spenta (or Holy Immortal) who created the primal bull, and all cattle, and is associated with good plans and intentions. Maidyarem is celebrated in Dey, the tenth month of the Zoroastrian calendar, from the sixteenth (Mihr) to the twentieth (Bahram) day. There are also speculations that by the Persian calendar many celebrated on the last day of the Persian month Azar, the longest night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. The next day, the first day of the month Dey, known as khoram ruz or khore ruz (the day of sun) belongs to God (Ahura Mazda). Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the ancient Persian Deygan Festival dedicated to Ahura Mazda, and Mithra on the first day of the month Dey.[11]

Dōngzhì Festival (East Asian Cultural Sphere and Mahayana Buddhist)

The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter (Chinese and Japanese: 冬至; Korean: 동지; Vietnamese: Đông chí) (Pinyin: Dōng zhì), (Rōmaji: Tōji), (Romaja:Dongji) is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the dongzhi solar term on or around December 21 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest; i.e., on the first day of the dongzhi solar term. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram (, “Returning”). Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan (湯圓, as pronounced in Mandarin Pinyin: Tāng Yuán) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice (Korean: 새알심) (English pronunciation:Saealsim), is prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean (Korean: 팥죽)(English pronunciation:Patjook). Patjook was believed to have a special power and sprayed around houses on winter solstice to repel sinister spirits. This practice was based on a traditional folk tale, in which the ghost of a man that used to hate patjook comes haunting innocent villagers on the winter solstice.

Goru (Dogon of Mali)

Goru is the (December) winter solstice ceremony of the Pays Dogon of Mali. It is the last harvest ritual and celebrates the arrival of humanity from the sky god, Amma, via Nommo inside the Aduno Koro, or the “Ark of the World”.[12]

Hanukkah (Judaism)

Hanukkah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה, Tiberian: Ḥănukkāh, nowadays usually spelled חנוכה pronounced [χanuˈka] in Modern Hebrew, also romanized as Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE, Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of 9 branches. An extra light called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש, “attendant” or “sexton”)[1] is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The “shamash” symbolically supplies light that may be used.

There is discussion if Hanukkah should be classified as a winter solstice holiday. The Jewish calendar is neither solar nor lunar in nature but exists as a tension between the two. As such, while the events that are commemorated by Hanukkah happened on or around the solstice, because of the use of the lunar calendar, Hanukkah is sometimes celebrated as early as late November.

Hogmanay (Scotland)

The New Years Eve celebration of Scotland is called Hogmanay. The name derives from the old Scots name for Yule gifts of the Middle Ages. The early Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading and occupying Norse who celebrated a solstitial new year (Britain celebrated the new year on March 25, “Lady Day”). In 1600, with the Scottish application of the January 1 New year and the church’s persistent suppression of the solstice celebrations, the holiday traditions moved to December 31. The most widespread Scottish custom is the practice of first-footing which starts immediately after midnight on New Year’s day. This involves being the first person (usually tall and dark haired) to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a fruit pudding) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts, and often Flies cemetery) are then given to the guests.[13]

 

Traditionally Hogmanay was a day of preparation and the celebrations did not begin until after midnight i.e. into the New Year. It was like many winter festivals and really celebrated the end of winter and the return of the sun.

Inti Raymi (Inca: Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador)

The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning “hitching post of the sun” or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km. from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists. The Monte Alto culture may have also had a similar tradition.[14][15]

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

Junkanoo, in The Bahamas, Junkunno or Jonkanoo, in Jamaica, is a fantastic masquerade, parade and street festival, suspected to be derived from either Dzon’ku ‘Nu (tr: Witch-doctor) of the West African Papaws, an Ewe people[16] or Njoku Ji, an Alusi (Igbo: deity) of the Igbo people.[17] It is traditionally performed through the streets towards the end of December, and involves participants dressed in a variety of fanciful costumes, such as the Cow Head, the Hobby Horse, the Wild Indian, and the Devil. The parades are accompanied by bands usually consisting of fifes, drums, and coconut graters used as scrapers, and Jonkanoo songs are also sung. A similar practice was once common in coastal North Carolina, where it was called John Canoe, John Koonah, or John Kooner. John Canoe was likened to the wassailing tradition of medieval Britain. John Canoe was interpreted by many Euro-Americans to bear strong resemblance to the social inversion rituals that marked the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia.

Karachun (Ancient Western Slavic)

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

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

In ancient Slavonic cultures, the festival of Kaleda began at Winter Solstice and lasted for ten days. In Russia, this festival was later applied to Christmas Eve but most of the practices were lost after the Soviet Revolution. Each family made a fire in their hearth and invited their personal household gods to join in the festivities. Children disguise themselves on evenings and nights and as Koledari, visited houses and sang wishes of good luck, like Shchedryk, to hosts. As a reward, they were given little gifts, a tradition called Kolyadovanie, much like the old wassailing or mummers Tradition.[18][19]

Lá an Dreoilín, Wren day(Celtic, Irish, Welsh, Manx)

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

 

Lenæa (Ancient and Hellenistic Greece)

In the Aegean civilizations, the exclusively female midwinter ritual, Lenaea or Lenaia, was the Festival of the Wild Women. In the forest, a man or bull representing the god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by Maenads. Later in the ritual a baby, representing Dionysus reborn, was presented. Lenaion, the first month of the Delian calendar, derived its name from the festival’s name. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by that of a goat, and the women’s role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth. Wine miracles were performed by the priests, in which priests would seal water or juice in a room overnight and the next day they would have turned into wine. The miracle was said to have been performed by Dionysus and the Lenaians. By the 5th century BC the ritual had become a Gamelion festival for theatrical competitions, often held in Athens in the Lenaion theater. The festival influenced the ancient Roman Brumalia.[20][21][22]

Lohri (India)

In Punjab, the winter solstice is celebrated as Lohri. Lohri is of Punjabi folk religion origin [23] It finds no mention in the Hindu Puranas but has over time been twinned with the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti which is celebrated a day after Lohri and is known as Maghi. For this reason, Lohri is not actually celebrated on the winter solstice but at the end of the month, Paush.

 

 

Lucia, St. Lucia (Swedish, Scandinavian)

Lucia Happens on December 13, what is supposed to be the longest night of the year. This was true according to the old (Julian) calendar, according to which this day is the winter solstice. “Lucia” is derived from “lux”, light. A young girl or woman is chosen to portray Lucia wearing a white robe and a red sash representing blood. She wears a crown or wreath with candles (today usually electric ones) and hands out treats to children. She is the one who brings the sun back and chases away winter. The chosen Lucia goes to the homes of the elderly and to hospitals very often, singing songs and glowing with candles. Frequently Lucia celebrations are held at a church where many women and men aooear, dressed in white, and sing. However, it is only Lucia who wears the crown while others hold candles and wear tinsel in their hair and around their waists. The boys are dressed as ‘Star boys’ and wear pointed hats decorated with gold stars.

Lussekatt is often eaten around this time and is often made as a large bun and served with coffee. The word “lussekatt” (“Lucy cat”) may be derived from the great Norse goddess Freya´s carriage drawn by cats. Very often it is the eldest daughter of a family who will wear a white dress and a crown of tinsel or green leaves, and candles. She will give the bread and coffee to her parents, often singing one of many Lucia songs.

Sweden takes this tradition very seriously, even going so far as to allow no male to wear the Lucia crown. Doing so often causes large uproar. It is a large honor to be picked to portray Lucia and many girls want to appear as her attendants in a large group to sing the Lucia songs. The year´s Nobel Prize winners are treated to coffee and “Lucy cats” at their hotel rooms, early in the morning.

Makara Sankranti, मकर संक्रान्ति (India and Nepal, Hindu)

Makara Sankranti, celebrated at the beginning of Uttarayana उत्तरायण, is the only Hindu festival which is based on the celestial calendar rather than the lunar calendar. The zodiac having drifted from the solar calendar has caused the festival to now occur in mid-January (see precession of equinoxes). In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as the festival of Pongal. The day before Pongal, they celebrate Bhogi. In Assam it is called Magh Bihu (the First day of Magh), in Punjab Maghi and in Hindi speaking states, West Bengal and Maharshtra it is observed as Makar Sankranti and is celebrated by exchanging balls of sesame candy (Til Gur) and requesting each other to be as sweet as the candy balls for the next year. It is called Makara Sankrant because the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Capricorn on 14 January (Makar meaning Capricorn). It is celebrated with much pomp in Andhra Pradesh, where the festival is celebrated for three days and is more of a cultural festival than an auspicious day as in other parts of India. In some parts of India, the festival is celebrated by taking dips in the Ganges or another river and offering water to the Sun god. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow punya. In many states, mainly in Gujarat, families fly bright colorful kites from their roofs all day and into the night. It is a form of celebrating and welcoming the longer days. It is also very common to feed grass to the cows on this day. In Assam on Bihu Eve or Uruka families build house-like structures called bhelaghar and separate large bhelaghar are built by the community as a whole. Different sorts of twine are tied around fruit trees. Traditionally, fuel is stolen for the final ceremony, when all the bhelaghar are burned. Their remains are then placed at the fruit trees. Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest. Since the festival is celebrated in midwinter, the foods prepared for this festival are such that they keep the body warm and give high energy. Laddu of til made with jaggery is specialty of the festival.[24]

Maruaroa o Takurua, (New Zealand, Maori)

Occurring June 20 – June 22 the Maruaroa o Takurua is seen by the New Zealand Maori as the middle of the winter season. It follows directly after the rise of Matariki (Pleiades) which marked the beginning of the New Year and was said to be when the Sun turned from his northern journey with his winter-bride Takurua (the star Sirius) and began his journey back to his Summer-bride Hineraumati.

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

Meán Geimhridh (Irish tr: midwinter) or Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Ir tr: winter solstice) is a name sometimes used for hypothetical midwinter rituals or celebrations of the Proto-Celtic tribes, Celts, and late Druids. In Ireland‘s calendars, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. The passage and chamber of Newgrange (Pre-Celtic or possibly Proto-Celtic 3,200 BC), a tomb in Ireland, are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December. The point of roughness is the term for the winter solstice in Wales which in ancient Welsh mythology, was when Rhiannon gave birth to the sacred son, Pryderi. In Britain, during the 18th century, there was a revival of interest in Druids. Today, amongst Neo-druids, Alban Arthan (Welsh tr. light of winter but derived from Welsh poem, Light of Arthur) is celebrated on the winter solstice with a ritualistic festival, and gift giving to the needy.

Midwinter (Antarctica)

In research stations throughout Antarctica, Midwinter is celebrated on the Southern Hemisphere winter solstice in June as a way to mark the fact that the people who winter-over just went through half their tour of duty. Depending on the station the celebrations can last from a day to a week and are typically marked by parties, team games, redecoration of the premises and days off work.[25]

Mōdraniht (Anglo-Saxon paganism)

Mōdraniht (Old English “Night of the Mothers” or “Mothers’-night”) was an event held at Christmas Eve by the Anglo-Saxon Pagans where a sacrifice may have been made. The event is attested by the medieval English historian Bede in his 8th century Latin work De temporum ratione. Scholars have proposed connections between the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht and celebrations involving the dísir, the idisi, and the Matres and Matrones practiced by other Germanic peoples.

Mummer’s Day, Montol (Celtic, Cornish)

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

Rozhanitsa Feast (12th century Eastern Slavic Russian)

In 12th century Russia, the eastern Slavs worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhnitsa, offering bloodless sacrifices like honey, bread and cheese. Bright colored winter embroideries depicting the antlered goddess were made to honor the Feast of Rozhanitsa in late December. And white, deer-shaped cookies were given as lucky gifts. Some Russian women continued the observation of these traditions into the 20th century.[26]

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

Derived from a pre-Zoroastrian festival, Shab-e Chelleh is celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter in the Persian calendar, which always falls on the solstice. Yalda is the most important non-new-year Iranian festival in modern-day Iran and it has been long celebrated in Iran by all ethnic/religious groups. According to Iranian mythology, Mithra was born at the end of this night after the long-expected defeat of darkness against light. “Shab-e Chelleh” is now an important social occasion, when family and friends get together for fun and merriment. Usually families gather at their elders’ homes. Different kinds of dried fruits, nuts, seeds and fresh winter fruits are consumed. The presence of dried and fresh fruits is reminiscence of the ancient feasts to celebrate and pray to the deities to ensure the protection of the winter crops. Watermelons, persimmons and pomegranates are traditional symbols of this celebration, all representing the sun. It used to be customary to stay awake Yalda night until sunrise eating, drinking, listening to stories and poems, but this is no longer very common as most people have things to do on the next day. During the early Roman Empire many Syrian Christians fled from persecution into the Sassanid Empire of Iran, introducing the term Yaldā, meaning birth, causing Shab-e Yaldā to became synonymous with Shab-e Chelleh. Although both terms are used interchangeably, Chelleh is more commonly accepted for this occasion.[11]

Sanghamitta Day (Buddhist)

Sanghamitta is in honor of the Buddhist nun who brought a branch of the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka where it has flourished for over 2,000 years.

Saturnalia, Chronia (Ancient Greek, Roman Republic)

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

Şewy Yelda (Kurdish)

The Night of Winter. Since the night is the longest in the year, ancient tribes believed that it was the night before a victory of light over darkness and signified a rebirth of the sun. The sun plays an important role in several ancient religions still practiced by some Kurds in addition to its importance in Zoroastrianism.

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

 

Sol Invictus Festival (3rd century Roman Empire)

Sol Invictus (“the undefeated Sun”) or, more fully, Deus Sol Invictus (“the undefeated sun god”) was a religious title that allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian; and Mithras, a soldiers’ god of Persian origin.[27] Emperor Elagabalus (218–222) introduced the festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) to be celebrated on December 25, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.[28] With the growing popularity of the Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth came to be given much of the recognition previously given to a sun god, thereby including Christ in the tradition.[29] This was later condemned by the early Catholic Church for associating Christ with pagan practices.[citation needed]

 

Soyal (Zuni and Hopi of North America)

Soyalangwul is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopitu Shinumu, “The Peaceful Ones,” also known as the Hopi. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and is a time for purification. Pahos (prayer sticks) are made prior to the Soyal ceremony, to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. The kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season.[30][31]


We Tripantu (Mapuche in southern Chile)

We Tripantu (Mapudungun tr: new sunrise) is the conclusion of the Mapuche New Year that takes place between June 21 and June 24 in the Gregorian calendar.[32] It is the Mapuche’s equivalent to the Inti Raymi. The ancestral incertidubre stayed up throughout the year’s longest night with anxiety that the next day would not come. After three days it became clear that the winter was diminishing. The Pachamama (Quechua tr: Mother Earth), Nuke Mapu (uke’ Mapu) begins to bloom fertilized by Sol, from the Andean heights to the southern tip. Antu (Pillan), Inti (Aymara), or Rapa (rapanui) Sol, the sun starts to come back to earth, after the longest night of the year: it’s winter Solstice. Todo start to bloom again.[33]

 

Yule (Germanic peoples)

Yule or Yuletide (“Yule-time”) is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar (Julian calendar) was adopted. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt.

Terms with an etymological equivalent to Yule are used in the Nordic countries for the Christian Christmas (with its religious rites), but also for other holidays of the season. Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. In Germanic Neopaganism have adopted pre-Christian festival, as have some other non-Chrisitian religions, such as Wicca, to various extents.

 

Zagmuk, Sacaea (Ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Babylonian)

Adapting the Egyptian Osiris Celebrations, the Babylonians held the annual renewal or new year celebration, the Zagmuk Festival. It lasted 10 days overlapping either the winter solstice or vernal equinox in its center peak. It was a festival held in observation of the sun god Marduk‘s battle over darkness. The Babylonians held both land and river parades. Sacaea, as Berossus referred to it, had festivals characterized with a subversion of order leading up to the new year. Masters and slaves interchanged, a mock king was crowned and masquerades clogged the streets. This has been a suggested precursor to the Festival of Kronos, Saturnalia and possibly Purim.[34][35]

Ziemassvētki (Latvian, Baltic, Romuva)

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

Amaterasu celebration, Requiem of the Dead (7th century Japan)
In late 7th century Japan, festivities were held to celebrate the reemergence of Amaterasu or Amateras, the sun goddess of Japanese mythology, from her seclusion in a cave. The other gods make a loud celebration in order to make Amaterasu come out of her cave. She peeks out, sees her image in a mirror, and the other gods convince her to stay out of the cave; thereby restoring sunlight to the world. Requiems for the dead were held and Manzai and Shishimai were performed throughout the night, awaiting the sunrise. Aspects of this tradition survive on New Years.[7]
Beiwe Festival (Sámi of Northern Fennoscandia)
The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.[8]
Brumalia (Roman Kingdom)
Influenced by the Ancient Greek Lenaia festival, Brumalia was an ancient Roman solstice festival honoring Bacchus, generally held for a month and ending December 25. The festival included drinking and merriment. The name is derived from the Latin word bruma, meaning “shortest day” or “winter solstice”. The festivities almost always occurred on the night of December 24.
Chawmos (Kalash of Pakistan)
In the ancient traditions of the Kalash people of Pakistan, during winter solstice, a demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao, the supreme being. “During this celebrations women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold up bread. Then the men and boys are purified with water and must not sit on chairs until evening when goat’s blood is sprinkled on their faces. Following this purification, a great festival begins, with singing, dancing, bonfires, and feasting on goat tripe and other delicacies”.[9]
Christmas, Natalis Domini (4th century Rome, 11th century England, Christian)
Christmas or Christ’s Mass is one of the most popular Christian celebrations as well as one of the most globally recognized mid-winter celebrations in the Northern hemisphere. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, called the “Son of God,” the second person of the Holy Trinity, as well as “Savior of the World.” The birth is observed on December 25, which was the Roman winter solstice upon establishment of the Julian Calendar.[10] See Christian Nativity. Universal activities include feasting, Midnight Masses and singing Christmas carols about the Nativity. Good deeds and gift giving in the tradition of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus is also observed. Many observe the holiday for twelve days leading up to the Epiphany.
Deygān, Maidyarem (Zoroastrian)
Theologically, Maidyarem is associated with Vahman, the Amesha Spenta (or Holy Immortal) who created the primal bull, and all cattle, and is associated with good plans and intentions. Maidyarem is celebrated in Dey, the tenth month of the Zoroastrian calendar, from the sixteenth (Mihr) to the twentieth (Bahram) day. There are also speculations that by the Persian calendar many celebrated on the last day of the Persian month Azar, the longest night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. The next day, the first day of the month Dey, known as khoram ruz or khore ruz (the day of sun) belongs to God (Ahura Mazda). Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the ancient Persian Deygan Festival dedicated to Ahura Mazda, and Mithra on the first day of the month Dey.[11]
Dōngzhì Festival (East Asian Cultural Sphere and Mahayana Buddhist)
The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter (Chinese and Japanese: 冬至; Korean: 동지; Vietnamese: Đông chí) (Pinyin: Dōng zhì), (Rōmaji: Tōji), (Romaja:Dongji) is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the dongzhi solar term on or around December 21 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest; i.e., on the first day of the dongzhi solar term. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù (復, “Returning”). Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan (湯圓, as pronounced in Mandarin Pinyin: Tāng Yuán) or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice (Korean: 새알심) (English pronunciation:Saealsim), is prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean (Korean: 팥죽)(English pronunciation:Patjook). Patjook was believed to have a special power and sprayed around houses on winter solstice to repel sinister spirits. This practice was based on a traditional folk tale, in which the ghost of a man that used to hate patjook comes haunting innocent villagers on the winter solstice.
Goru (Dogon of Mali)
Goru is the (December) winter solstice ceremony of the Pays Dogon of Mali. It is the last harvest ritual and celebrates the arrival of humanity from the sky god, Amma, via Nommo inside the Aduno Koro, or the “Ark of the World”.[12]
Hanukkah (Judaism)
Hanukkah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה, Tiberian: Ḥănukkāh, nowadays usually spelled חנוכה pronounced [χanuˈka] in Modern Hebrew, also romanized as Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE, Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of 9 branches. An extra light called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש, “attendant” or “sexton”)[1] is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The “shamash” symbolically supplies light that may be used.
There is discussion if Hanukkah should be classified as a winter solstice holiday. The Jewish calendar is neither solar nor lunar in nature but exists as a tension between the two. As such, while the events that are commemorated by Hanukkah happened on or around the solstice, because of the use of the lunar calendar, Hanukkah is sometimes celebrated as early as late November.
Hogmanay (Scotland)
The New Years Eve celebration of Scotland is called Hogmanay. The name derives from the old Scots name for Yule gifts of the Middle Ages. The early Hogmanay celebrations were originally brought to Scotland by the invading and occupying Norse who celebrated a solstitial new year (Britain celebrated the new year on March 25, “Lady Day”). In 1600, with the Scottish application of the January 1 New year and the church’s persistent suppression of the solstice celebrations, the holiday traditions moved to December 31. The most widespread Scottish custom is the practice of first-footing which starts immediately after midnight on New Year’s day. This involves being the first person (usually tall and dark haired) to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a fruit pudding) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts, and often Flies cemetery) are then given to the guests.[13]
Traditionally Hogmanay was a day of preparation and the celebrations did not begin until after midnight i.e. into the New Year. It was like many winter festivals and really celebrated the end of winter and the return of the sun.
Inti Raymi (Inca: Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador)
The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning “hitching post of the sun” or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km. from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists. The Monte Alto culture may have also had a similar tradition.[14][15]
Junkanoo, John Canoe, Dzon’ku ‘Nu (West Africa, Bahamas, Jamaica, 19th-century North Carolina, Virginia)
Junkanoo, in The Bahamas, Junkunno or Jonkanoo, in Jamaica, is a fantastic masquerade, parade and street festival, suspected to be derived from either Dzon’ku ‘Nu (tr: Witch-doctor) of the West African Papaws, an Ewe people[16] or Njoku Ji, an Alusi (Igbo: deity) of the Igbo people.[17] It is traditionally performed through the streets towards the end of December, and involves participants dressed in a variety of fanciful costumes, such as the Cow Head, the Hobby Horse, the Wild Indian, and the Devil. The parades are accompanied by bands usually consisting of fifes, drums, and coconut graters used as scrapers, and Jonkanoo songs are also sung. A similar practice was once common in coastal North Carolina, where it was called John Canoe, John Koonah, or John Kooner. John Canoe was likened to the wassailing tradition of medieval Britain. John Canoe was interpreted by many Euro-Americans to bear strong resemblance to the social inversion rituals that marked the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia.
Karachun (Ancient Western Slavic)
Karachun, Korochun or Kračún was a Slavic holiday similar to Halloween as a day when the Black God and other evil spirits were most potent. It was celebrated by Slavs on the longest night of the year. On this night, Hors, symbolising the old sun, becomes smaller as the days become shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and dies on December 22nd, the December solstice. He is said to be defeated by the dark and evil powers of the Black God. In honour of Hors, the Slavs danced a ritual chain-dance which was called the horo. Traditional chain-dancing in Bulgaria is still called horo. In Russia and Ukraine, it is known as khorovod. On December 23rd Hors is resurrected and becomes the new sun, Koleda. On this day, Western Slavs burned fires at cemeteries to keep their departed loved ones warm, organized dinings in the honor of the dead so as they would not suffer from hunger and lit wooden logs at local crossroads.
Koleda, Коляда, Sviatki, Dazh Boh (Ancient Eastern Slavic and Sarmatian)
In ancient Slavonic cultures, the festival of Kaleda began at Winter Solstice and lasted for ten days. In Russia, this festival was later applied to Christmas Eve but most of the practices were lost after the Soviet Revolution. Each family made a fire in their hearth and invited their personal household gods to join in the festivities. Children disguise themselves on evenings and nights and as Koledari, visited houses and sang wishes of good luck, like Shchedryk, to hosts. As a reward, they were given little gifts, a tradition called Kolyadovanie, much like the old wassailing or mummers Tradition.[18][19]
Lá an Dreoilín, Wren day(Celtic, Irish, Welsh, Manx)
For an unknown period, Lá an Dreoilín or Wren day has been celebrated in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales on December 26. Crowds of people, called wrenboys, take to the roads in various parts of Ireland, dressed in motley clothing, wearing masks or straw suits and accompanied by musicians. Previously the practice involved the killing of a wren, and singing songs while carrying the bird from house to house, stopping in for food and merriment.
Lenæa (Ancient and Hellenistic Greece)
In the Aegean civilizations, the exclusively female midwinter ritual, Lenaea or Lenaia, was the Festival of the Wild Women. In the forest, a man or bull representing the god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by Maenads. Later in the ritual a baby, representing Dionysus reborn, was presented. Lenaion, the first month of the Delian calendar, derived its name from the festival’s name. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by that of a goat, and the women’s role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth. Wine miracles were performed by the priests, in which priests would seal water or juice in a room overnight and the next day they would have turned into wine. The miracle was said to have been performed by Dionysus and the Lenaians. By the 5th century BC the ritual had become a Gamelion festival for theatrical competitions, often held in Athens in the Lenaion theater. The festival influenced the ancient Roman Brumalia.[20][21][22]
Lohri (India)
In Punjab, the winter solstice is celebrated as Lohri. Lohri is of Punjabi folk religion origin [23] It finds no mention in the Hindu Puranas but has over time been twinned with the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti which is celebrated a day after Lohri and is known as Maghi. For this reason, Lohri is not actually celebrated on the winter solstice but at the end of the month, Paush.
Lucia, St. Lucia (Swedish, Scandinavian)
Lucia Happens on December 13, what is supposed to be the longest night of the year. This was true according to the old (Julian) calendar, according to which this day is the winter solstice. “Lucia” is derived from “lux”, light. A young girl or woman is chosen to portray Lucia wearing a white robe and a red sash representing blood. She wears a crown or wreath with candles (today usually electric ones) and hands out treats to children. She is the one who brings the sun back and chases away winter. The chosen Lucia goes to the homes of the elderly and to hospitals very often, singing songs and glowing with candles. Frequently Lucia celebrations are held at a church where many women and men aooear, dressed in white, and sing. However, it is only Lucia who wears the crown while others hold candles and wear tinsel in their hair and around their waists. The boys are dressed as ‘Star boys’ and wear pointed hats decorated with gold stars.
Lussekatt is often eaten around this time and is often made as a large bun and served with coffee. The word “lussekatt” (“Lucy cat”) may be derived from the great Norse goddess Freya´s carriage drawn by cats. Very often it is the eldest daughter of a family who will wear a white dress and a crown of tinsel or green leaves, and candles. She will give the bread and coffee to her parents, often singing one of many Lucia songs.
Sweden takes this tradition very seriously, even going so far as to allow no male to wear the Lucia crown. Doing so often causes large uproar. It is a large honor to be picked to portray Lucia and many girls want to appear as her attendants in a large group to sing the Lucia songs. The year´s Nobel Prize winners are treated to coffee and “Lucy cats” at their hotel rooms, early in the morning.
Makara Sankranti, मकर संक्रान्ति (India and Nepal, Hindu)
Makara Sankranti, celebrated at the beginning of Uttarayana उत्तरायण, is the only Hindu festival which is based on the celestial calendar rather than the lunar calendar. The zodiac having drifted from the solar calendar has caused the festival to now occur in mid-January (see precession of equinoxes). In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as the festival of Pongal. The day before Pongal, they celebrate Bhogi. In Assam it is called Magh Bihu (the First day of Magh), in Punjab Maghi and in Hindi speaking states, West Bengal and Maharshtra it is observed as Makar Sankranti and is celebrated by exchanging balls of sesame candy (Til Gur) and requesting each other to be as sweet as the candy balls for the next year. It is called Makara Sankrant because the sun enters the zodiacal sign of Capricorn on 14 January (Makar meaning Capricorn). It is celebrated with much pomp in Andhra Pradesh, where the festival is celebrated for three days and is more of a cultural festival than an auspicious day as in other parts of India. In some parts of India, the festival is celebrated by taking dips in the Ganges or another river and offering water to the Sun god. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow punya. In many states, mainly in Gujarat, families fly bright colorful kites from their roofs all day and into the night. It is a form of celebrating and welcoming the longer days. It is also very common to feed grass to the cows on this day. In Assam on Bihu Eve or Uruka families build house-like structures called bhelaghar and separate large bhelaghar are built by the community as a whole. Different sorts of twine are tied around fruit trees. Traditionally, fuel is stolen for the final ceremony, when all the bhelaghar are burned. Their remains are then placed at the fruit trees. Special puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest. Since the festival is celebrated in midwinter, the foods prepared for this festival are such that they keep the body warm and give high energy. Laddu of til made with jaggery is specialty of the festival.[24]
Maruaroa o Takurua, (New Zealand, Maori)
Occurring June 20 – June 22 the Maruaroa o Takurua is seen by the New Zealand Maori as the middle of the winter season. It follows directly after the rise of Matariki (Pleiades) which marked the beginning of the New Year and was said to be when the Sun turned from his northern journey with his winter-bride Takurua (the star Sirius) and began his journey back to his Summer-bride Hineraumati.
Meán Geimhridh, Celtic Midwinter (Celtic, Ancient Welsh, Neodruidic)
Meán Geimhridh (Irish tr: midwinter) or Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Ir tr: winter solstice) is a name sometimes used for hypothetical midwinter rituals or celebrations of the Proto-Celtic tribes, Celts, and late Druids. In Ireland’s calendars, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. The passage and chamber of Newgrange (Pre-Celtic or possibly Proto-Celtic 3,200 BC), a tomb in Ireland, are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December. The point of roughness is the term for the winter solstice in Wales which in ancient Welsh mythology, was when Rhiannon gave birth to the sacred son, Pryderi. In Britain, during the 18th century, there was a revival of interest in Druids. Today, amongst Neo-druids, Alban Arthan (Welsh tr. light of winter but derived from Welsh poem, Light of Arthur) is celebrated on the winter solstice with a ritualistic festival, and gift giving to the needy.
Midwinter (Antarctica)
In research stations throughout Antarctica, Midwinter is celebrated on the Southern Hemisphere winter solstice in June as a way to mark the fact that the people who winter-over just went through half their tour of duty. Depending on the station the celebrations can last from a day to a week and are typically marked by parties, team games, redecoration of the premises and days off work.[25]
Mōdraniht (Anglo-Saxon paganism)
Mōdraniht (Old English “Night of the Mothers” or “Mothers’-night”) was an event held at Christmas Eve by the Anglo-Saxon Pagans where a sacrifice may have been made. The event is attested by the medieval English historian Bede in his 8th century Latin work De temporum ratione. Scholars have proposed connections between the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht and celebrations involving the dísir, the idisi, and the Matres and Matrones practiced by other Germanic peoples.
Mummer’s Day, Montol (Celtic, Cornish)
Mummer’s Day referencing the animist garbs, or Darkie Day referencing the soot facing ritual, is an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration that occurs every year on December 26 and New Year’s Day in Padstow, Cornwall. It was originally part of the pagan heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated all over Cornwall where people would guise dance and disguise themselves by blackening up their faces or wearing masks. In Penzance the festival has been given the name Montol believing it to be the Celtic Cornish word for Winter Solstice.
Rozhanitsa Feast (12th century Eastern Slavic Russian)
In 12th century Russia, the eastern Slavs worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhnitsa, offering bloodless sacrifices like honey, bread and cheese. Bright colored winter embroideries depicting the antlered goddess were made to honor the Feast of Rozhanitsa in late December. And white, deer-shaped cookies were given as lucky gifts. Some Russian women continued the observation of these traditions into the 20th century.[26]
Shab-e Chelleh, یلدا , Yaldā (2nd millennium BC Persian, Iranian)
Derived from a pre-Zoroastrian festival, Shab-e Chelleh is celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter in the Persian calendar, which always falls on the solstice. Yalda is the most important non-new-year Iranian festival in modern-day Iran and it has been long celebrated in Iran by all ethnic/religious groups. According to Iranian mythology, Mithra was born at the end of this night after the long-expected defeat of darkness against light. “Shab-e Chelleh” is now an important social occasion, when family and friends get together for fun and merriment. Usually families gather at their elders’ homes. Different kinds of dried fruits, nuts, seeds and fresh winter fruits are consumed. The presence of dried and fresh fruits is reminiscence of the ancient feasts to celebrate and pray to the deities to ensure the protection of the winter crops. Watermelons, persimmons and pomegranates are traditional symbols of this celebration, all representing the sun. It used to be customary to stay awake Yalda night until sunrise eating, drinking, listening to stories and poems, but this is no longer very common as most people have things to do on the next day. During the early Roman Empire many Syrian Christians fled from persecution into the Sassanid Empire of Iran, introducing the term Yaldā, meaning birth, causing Shab-e Yaldā to became synonymous with Shab-e Chelleh. Although both terms are used interchangeably, Chelleh is more commonly accepted for this occasion.[11]
Sanghamitta Day (Buddhist)
Sanghamitta is in honor of the Buddhist nun who brought a branch of the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka where it has flourished for over 2,000 years.
Saturnalia, Chronia (Ancient Greek, Roman Republic)
Originally celebrated by the ancient Greeks as Kronia, the festival of Cronus, Saturnalia was the feast at which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of Saturn, which originally took place on 17 December, but expanded to a whole week, up to 23 December. A large and important public festival in Rome, it involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch set in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria). Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves during this period. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e., colorful, informal “dinner clothes” and the pileus (freedman’s hat) was worn by everyone. Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet before, with, or served by the masters. Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals which led to more tomfoolery, marked chiefly by having masters and slaves ostensibly switch places, temporarily reversing the social order. In Greek and Cypriot folklore it was believed that children born during the festival were in danger of turning into Kallikantzaroi which come out of the Earth after the solstice to cause trouble for mortals. Some would leave colanders on their doorsteps to distract them until the sun returned.
Şewy Yelda (Kurdish)
The Night of Winter. Since the night is the longest in the year, ancient tribes believed that it was the night before a victory of light over darkness and signified a rebirth of the sun. The sun plays an important role in several ancient religions still practiced by some Kurds in addition to its importance in Zoroastrianism.
In modern times, communities in the Kurdistan region still observe the night as a holiday. Many families prepare large feasts for their communities and the children play games and are given sweets in similar fashion to modern-day Halloween practices.
Sol Invictus Festival (3rd century Roman Empire)
Sol Invictus (“the undefeated Sun”) or, more fully, Deus Sol Invictus (“the undefeated sun god”) was a religious title that allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian; and Mithras, a soldiers’ god of Persian origin.[27] Emperor Elagabalus (218–222) introduced the festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) to be celebrated on December 25, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.[28] With the growing popularity of the Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth came to be given much of the recognition previously given to a sun god, thereby including Christ in the tradition.[29] This was later condemned by the early Catholic Church for associating Christ with pagan practices.[citation needed]
Soyal (Zuni and Hopi of North America)
Soyalangwul is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopitu Shinumu, “The Peaceful Ones,” also known as the Hopi. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and is a time for purification. Pahos (prayer sticks) are made prior to the Soyal ceremony, to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. The kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season.[30][31]
We Tripantu (Mapuche in southern Chile)
We Tripantu (Mapudungun tr: new sunrise) is the conclusion of the Mapuche New Year that takes place between June 21 and June 24 in the Gregorian calendar.[32] It is the Mapuche’s equivalent to the Inti Raymi. The ancestral incertidubre stayed up throughout the year’s longest night with anxiety that the next day would not come. After three days it became clear that the winter was diminishing. The Pachamama (Quechua tr: Mother Earth), Nuke Mapu (uke’ Mapu) begins to bloom fertilized by Sol, from the Andean heights to the southern tip. Antu (Pillan), Inti (Aymara), or Rapa (rapanui) Sol, the sun starts to come back to earth, after the longest night of the year: it’s winter Solstice. Todo start to bloom again.[33]
Yule (Germanic peoples)
Yule or Yuletide (“Yule-time”) is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar (Julian calendar) was adopted. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt.
Terms with an etymological equivalent to Yule are used in the Nordic countries for the Christian Christmas (with its religious rites), but also for other holidays of the season. Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. In Germanic Neopaganism have adopted pre-Christian festival, as have some other non-Chrisitian religions, such as Wicca, to various extents.
Zagmuk, Sacaea (Ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Babylonian)
Adapting the Egyptian Osiris Celebrations, the Babylonians held the annual renewal or new year celebration, the Zagmuk Festival. It lasted 10 days overlapping either the winter solstice or vernal equinox in its center peak. It was a festival held in observation of the sun god Marduk’s battle over darkness. The Babylonians held both land and river parades. Sacaea, as Berossus referred to it, had festivals characterized with a subversion of order leading up to the new year. Masters and slaves interchanged, a mock king was crowned and masquerades clogged the streets. This has been a suggested precursor to the Festival of Kronos, Saturnalia and possibly Purim.[34][35]
Ziemassvētki (Latvian, Baltic, Romuva)
In ancient Latvia, Ziemassvētki, meaning winter festival, was celebrated on December 21 as one of the two most important holidays, the other being Jāņi. Ziemassvētki celebrated the birth of Dievs, the highest god of Latvian mythology. The two weeks before Ziemassvetki are called Veļu laiks, the “season of ghosts.” During the festival, candles were lit for Dieviņš and a fire kept burning until the end, when its extinguishing signaled an end to the unhappiness of the previous year. During the ensuing feast, a space at the table was reserved for Ghosts, who was said to arrive on a sleigh. During the feast, certain foods were always eaten: bread, beans, peas, pork and pig snout and feet. Carolers (Budeļi) went door to door singing songs and eating from many different houses. The holiday was later adapted by Christians in the middle ages. It is now celebrated on the 24th, 25th and 26 December and largely recognized as both a Christian and secular cultural observance. Lithuanians of the Romuva religion continue to celebrate a variant of the original polytheistic holiday.
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Putting The Yule Back Into Christmas

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It’s that time of year again.  This is the time when those representing the 70% of the population in the U.S. start complaining about businesses, government, and individuals who decide to say, “Happy Holidays!”, instead of “Merry Christmas!”.   The fact that businesses have decided that they wish to cater to ALL of their potential customers (you know, other 30% of us), instead of just the 70% who identify as Christians seems to escape them.  But even ignoring the good business sense to include everyone, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the Holidays, instead of just Christmas.

At this time of year we find Hanukkah and Kwanza, two very important religious and culturally important celebrations that fall this time of year.  The most important celebration that falls this time of year, though, is the Winter Solstice.  This has been celebrated for thousands upon thousands of years by cultures throughout northern hemisphere.

Yule its self is of Nordic-germanic roots, but winter festivals were common throughout Europe.  In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar in his Julian calendar established December 25 as the date of the winter solstice of Europe.  This date was adopted by the Catholic Church as the day for the Feast of the Christ, or Christmas.   Almost all of the things we associate with Christmas celebrations are derived from pagan customs, including decorating trees and gift giving.

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Even the Bible story of the Virgin Birth has its roots in much older traditions.  As the irreverent graphic above points out, the idea of a god/savior being born to a virgin is not at all uniquely Christian.

It is proper, therefore, to celebrate the “Holidays”.  If these crying Christians wish to celebrate Christmas exclusively, that is perfectly fine, but please don’t try to tell me that I can’t celebrate Yule, the Winter Solstice, or any other holiday I want to this time of year.  I mean, come on now, lighten up and have a cup of nog!

– Much thanks to Varun Sankhe for the graphics!

The Last “War on Christmas” Post For This Year

I’ve talked a lot about the “War on Christmas” here lately. The whole thing is pretty stupid if you ask me and it is driven almost entirely by Christians who feel like their beliefs are under attack because someone dares to say, “Happy Holidays”, instead of, “Merry Christmas”, or, FSM forbid, someone puts up a billboard suggesting that the nativity of Jesus never really happened. The Christian majority would have you believe that it is the atheists who are the ones engaging in a “War on Christmas”, but in fact, it is these Christians who are making all the fuss about these things.

The reality is that Christians are easily in the majority. According to a survey done by Trinity College, as of 2008, 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, while only 15.0% identified as “none”, which includes agnostic and atheist. How can it be that people who are among a groups that constitutes a full 3/4 of the population possibly consider themselves persecuted? It is not like they are discriminated against in society. On one is losing their jobs because they are Christians. They aren’t being marginalized in society; no one is shunning them or calling them evil or bad people because they are Christians. The same certainly can’t be said of atheists.

If these Christians are so sure of their beliefs, if they are so confident in their world view, then why do they take such easy offense when someone dares to question their beliefs? Normally, if someone is confident in something, they aren’t particularly worried about dissenting views. Being confident means you aren’t worried about things. You know you are right and are comfortable in that knowledge.

These Christians who cry foul when someone dares to question their beliefs show all the hallmarks of insecurity. When someone is insecure, they tend to get defensive. Why the insecurity? I believe it has to do with cognitive dissonance. These people are holding these beliefs in their heads, but the reality of the world they live in contradict their beliefs. They must either abandon their beliefs in light of the overwhelming evidence against them, or find ways to rationalize and justify their beliefs. The greater the dissonance, the more hysterical their defense of their beliefs becomes. This leads to seeing enemies in the slights criticism, paranoia and a persecution complex. Of course, I’m not a psychologist so I can’t say that this is exactly what is happening, but it seems to fit pretty well with what I know of cognitive dissonance theory.

I’m glad that Christmas is over. That’s not going the be the end to this pseudo-Christian-percecution-complex that we have been seeing, though. It will manifest itself in other ways, I’m sure and I’ll be reporting on it as it keeps rearing its ugly head.

Merry Giftmas!

It’s Giftmas Christmas! I hope you are all having a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, day off, etc.

The Walker household had a rather laid back Christmas. The kids got most of their presents before Christmas because I took them each out shopping and let them spend a pre-determined amount and pick out whatever they wanted. They are both teenagers now (well, my daughter will be 13 in a month and a half) and it was what they both asked for, so why not. It made them happy and they got exactly what they wanted. I did wrap a present for each of them, as a surprise, and put it under the tree this morning. We had warm brownies with vanilla ice cream for breakfast and vanilla coffee. We even wrapped three doggy bones for Bailey, who seemed to really enjoy opening his gift and eating them!

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Yummy!

I hope you all have a wonderful <insert your celebration of choice here>!

How A Non-believer Can Love Christmas And Other Religious Things

I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I was up until 3:00am working, and not work as in writing or photography which I love, but work as in, they-sign-my-paycheck-so-I-have-to-do-this kind of work. Also, today I’v got the beginnings of a sore throat, which doesn’t bode well since both my kinds either just got over, or currently have, a nasty sore throaty virus. Things aren’t helped by the fact that my dog, who is lying so cutely asleep beside me, is fouling the air with dog farts. I really wish I had the stuffy nosey virus instead of the sore throaty virus right now!

I’m sitting here listening to Christmas In The Heart, by Bob Dylan. I love Christmas carols and Christmas music. But Jay, you say, you are an atheist! How can you justify listening to Christmas music?

Fist off all I will ask you to, read my last post about the real history of Christmas in America as an explanation Secondly, I want to talk briefly about how we can appreciate art, literature and music that may have religious origins. Just because an artist was inspire by their religious beliefs to create a great work of art doesn’t, and shouldn’t, take away from the intrinsic beauty and majesty of the art work itself. Is Handel’s Messiah any less beautiful just because it was written to celebrate the Christian ideal of a messiah? Are the great cathedrals of Europe any less magnificent because they were built to glorify the Christian God?

Anyone who has ever had the privilege to visit any of these beautiful edifices can’t help have been rendered almost speechless and struck with a profound sense of awe while walking within them. But this is exactly the emotional response that the mortal men who designed them intended them to have. Just as Handel, who was only a man, after all, intended his opus to inspire and fill us with joy.

The intense emotions that art engenders in us are distinctly human emotions, inspired by the creative geniuses of other humans who were in turn inspired by, not religion itself, but by the inexplicable wonder of the universe we live in. It is this wonder and awe of our existence that religion tries (feebly I believe) to explain, and which art is able to come closer than anything else humans can ever invent to express.

We only punish ourselves by refusing to let ourselves appreciate the expansive beauty that is art just because it may have been inspired by a thought or philosophy we don’t agree with. Life is too short not to appreciate beauty where ever we may find it. By doing so, we only diminish our own existence, to our own detriment.

The Holiday (oops! I mean Christmas!) That Keeps On Giving (me a headache)

I thought I was done talking about “The War on Christmas” but the crazy just keeps on coming. PZ Myers posted a nice little entry about the new level of insanity in the “War on Christmas”. It seems that Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is all up in arms because a YMCA in New York replaced Santa Claus with Frosty The Snowman.

Bill had this to say about this outrage against Christmas:

        “Christmas is not about Jack Frost; it’s not about snowmen,” fumed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

        ”We’re not talking about some secular organization that has no religious roots. If they can’t celebrate Christmas, then they should check         out. What a bunch of cowards.””

I thought that Santa Claus, or as he is sometimes known, St. Nick, was seen by most people as a secular Christmas figure. Ok, sure, he does have ‘Saint” in front of his name, but I think most people would agree that he is not a religious figure. So what is Ol’ Bill getting is panties in a knot about here? I would have thought he’d be demanding that the YMCA install a nativity scene instead of Santa Clause.

My good friend Maria and I were chatting last night about this issue and she brought up a good point. Are people like Bill Donahue so insecure in their faith that they can’t stand to hear the slightest criticism of their beliefs? It certainly seems that way. What is going on in their heads that cause them to go practically insane about something as simple as substituting Frosty The Snowman for Santa?

Personally, I think it has a lot to do with cognitive dissonance. People like Bill Donahue have a hard time when their beliefs are questioned because part of their mind can see that the evidence is against them, but they have so much of their personal identity wrapped up in their religious beliefs that this causes them emotional pain, and a common reaction to pain is to lash out.

Of course, I’m no psychologist so I could be completely wrong, but what I do know of cognitive dissonance would indicate that I’m at least on the right track.

I’m sure this isn’t the last I’ll be writing about “The War on Christmas”. Stay tuned over the next few weeks. Lets see if the crazies can continue to top each other in their lunacy.

BTW – I put “The War on Christmas” in quotes because I feel that it is a term invented by the Christian leaning media to sensationalize a non-story. Christians, like Republicans (aren’t they the same thing? LOL), are very good at propaganda and love nothing better than to find victims to vilify in order to keep their misplaced sense of privilege intact.

It’s That Time of Year Again for Christian Hubris and Wanton Douchebagery

I have already posted about how billboards can be used to communicate religions as well as atheistic messages here and here. What I want to talk about today is Christian hypocrisy as regards these billboards in particular and general criticism of Christianity in general.

There have been plenty of attacks by Christians against atheists because they dared to actually speak their mind and offer up an alternative to belief in god on one billboard in New York City. The same is true in the supposed “War on Christmas”, where Christians claim that Christmas is under attack and in grave danger from the godless mobs. Both issues contain the same basic hysteria and hypocrites.

Christians claim that atheists are trying to ruin Christmas just because they ask people to consider that maybe the events surrounding Christmas as taught in the bible might not have happened. The atheists aren’t insisting that Christmas be banned, they aren’t trying to outlaw Christianity or any other religion, but from the vicious and hysterical reaction of many Christian, you would have trouble believing that this wasn’t actually the case.

Even crazier is that many prominent Christians in the media are claiming that they are actually being persecuted! I’d like to suggest that these people look up the word “persecuted” and tell me if the reality really fits the definition.

The fact is, the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Christians are able to proclaim their religious beliefs publicly and, in cases of politicians, they are virtually required to do so if they want to get elected. Christians can, and do, invoke their god and his blessings (or warn of his wrath) on T.V. shows, the radio, in the media and even in popular song, and hardly a person ever seems raises any objections. Christians have the privileged of having their religion’s prays said at the beginning of sporting events, the opening of state legislatures, and other such events. They put up messages from their god on billboards numbering in the hundreds across the country and nary a person complains.

But, if other Americans try to express their non-belief in god in public, suddenly they are called spoilers, heathens, miscreants and evil. They are demonized and vilified simply for taking a contradicting view from that of the Christian mainstream. It is virtually impossible for an atheists to get elected to public office in this country. Many atheists feel the need to keep their views to themselves for fear of, not offending, but of being criticized and ostracized. Some have even lost their jobs once their views have become known.

For American Christians to say that they are being persecuted is hubris of the highest order and is an affront and insult to groups around the world who really are being persecuted. Maybe they should go to the Middle East and explain to the Christians there how terrible they have it here in the U.S. I have a feeling that those Middle Eastern Christians, people who have laws keeping them from many professions, and who have been physically attacked, had their churches and homes burned and, in extreme cases, been killed, won’t be particularly sympathetic.

Christians in the country have more power, money and political clout than any single other group. For them to claim any kind of injury, beyond hurt feelings at being criticized, is ridiculous and absurd. It makes them look like a bunch of whining little children who didn’t get their way. So, not everyone believes in your magical sky man or his Jewish zombie son. Waah! Get over it and move on with your safe, privileged lives and let the rest of us get on with ours.