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December Spells and Rituals - December Lore - December Calendar  -  Christmas Magic
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Mother Night

Mother Night is an old Norse holy day, which in years past fell on the eve of the Winter Solstice or Yule. It has since moved around on the calendar. In some traditions it falls on Christmas Eve, and in others it is the third day of Christmas and falls on Dec 27.
This was the night that saw the children of each household committed into the protection of "Midder Mary", or Mother Mary.

On first glance, although this looks like a purely Christian ritual, the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a later addition to a pagan tradition.

Helya’s night is undoubtedly the same as "Mother's Night" - a night that, wrote the 8th century monk Bede, coincided with Christmas Eve.

In his account of the pagan calendar in 725 AD, the Venerable Bede wrote:

"And the very night that is sacrosanct to us, these people call modranect, that is, the mothers' night, a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies which they performed while watching this night through."

The “mother” connection and the “watching” ceremonies of Mother’s Night seem to indicate that Helya’s Night was the same event, although overlaid with a Christian veneer.
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
spoke aloud:

"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

Back to The Twelve Days of Christmas