On Helya’s Night, just as the children had once
been committed to the protection of a goddess,
ancestor, or the female deities known as the
Disir, the ceremony became Christianised and the
“mother” was naturally equated with the Virgin
Mary, Christ’s mother.
But what was the ceremony?
An account written in the 19th century recounts
the experience of one woman who remembered
her grandmother carrying out the ritual. She
explained that, once the children were in bed,
the old woman rose from her place by the peat
fire and made her way over to the cradle where
the youngest lay.
Raising her hands over the slumbering infant, she
"Mary Midder had de haund
Ower aboot for sleepin-baund
Had da lass an' had da wife,
Had da bairn a' its life.
Mary Midder had de haund.
Roond da infants o' wur land."
This procedure was repeated over all the
children, while the grandfather sat raking the
peats in the hearth. The old man was also thought
to have been reciting something but,
unfortunately, his softly spoken words were
As to the name, Helya strikes me as a corruption
of the Old Norse heilagr, meaning holy - Holy
Night being an obvious later name for Christmas