The Black Christ of Esquipulas is a wooden image of Christ now housed in the Cathedral Basilica of Esquipulas in Esquipulas, Guatemala. A lovely Baroque structure painted a gleaming white, the basilica dominates the town’s skyline. Remarkably, it has survived many earthquakes over the centuries with little damage.
The image is known as “black” because over more than 400 years of veneration its wood has acquired a darker hue, although such a name is relatively recent – in the 17th century it was also known as the “Miraculous Lord of Esquipulas” or the “Miraculous Crucifix venerated in the town called Esquipulas”.
The Black Christ is housed in a glass case on the altar at the east end of the basilica. A large statue that depicts Christ suffering on the cross, it is part of a Crucifixion group with Mary Magdalene and St. John.
Pilgrims stand in line along the west side of the church to see El Cristo Negro up close, sometimes waiting for over an hour. After viewing the statue and saying their prayers, pilgrims back away from it on the other side, believing it an offense to turn their back on the holy image.
Tens of thousands of devout Catholics cram into Esquipulas during the annual celebration of the Black Christ which happens on January 15th. They come to pray and ask for help in front of a religious icon which has been credited with miraculously curing Pedro Pardo de Figueroa, the Archbishop of Guatemala, from a serious illness in 1737.
The largest number of pilgrims come from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and other Central American countries. The January 15th festival is also marked in the United States of America in cities such as Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York with a high Central American population.
Special processions and services are also held on July 21-27, and during Holy Week each year.
History of Esquipulas Basilica
The statue of the Black Christ (El Cristo Negro) was comissioned by Spanish conquistadors for a church in Esquipulas. It was carved in 1594 by Quirio Cataño in Antigua and installed in the church in 1595. By 1603, a miracle had already been attributed to the icon, and it attracted increasing numbers of pilgrims over the years.
The history of the Basilica begins in 1735, when a priest named Father Pedro Pardo de Figueroa experienced a miraculous cure after praying before the statue. When he became Archbishop of Guatemala, he commissioned a beautiful basilica to properly shelter the beloved statue. The church was completed in 1759.
Perhaps an even more impressive miracle is the fact that Esquipulas was the site of a Central American peace summit which laid the groundwork for what became the Guatemalan Peace Accords of 1996 which ended the country’s ghastly 36 year civil war.
The Basilica de Esquipulas is such a major religious site that Pope John Paul II paid a visit in 1996 to mark the 400th anniversary of the church which the Pope is said to have called “the spiritual center of Central America.” In 2009, celebrations were held to mark 250 years since the basilica’s construction.
Thorrablot (Þorrablót) was a sacrificial midwinter festival offered to the gods in pagan Iceland of the past. It was abolished during the Christianization of Iceland, but resurrected in the 19th century as a midwinter celebration that continues to be celebrated to this day. The timing for the festival coincides with the month of Thorri, according to the old Icelandic calendar, which begins on the first Friday after January 19th (the 13th week of winter). Or, on the 19th when it falls on a Friday.
Origins of the name “Thorri” are unclear but it is most likely derived from Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson, or Thor the God of Thunder in the old Nordic religion.
Today Thorrablot are common events among Icelanders everywhere and can be anything from an informal dinner with friends and family to large organised events with stage performances and an after-dinner dance. These large Thorrablot celebrations are usually arranged by membership associations, associations of Icelanders living abroad, and as regional festivals in the countryside.
On this occasion, locals come together to eat, drink and be merry. Customary, the menu consists of unusual culinary delicacies, known as traditional Icelandic food, which consist of different versions of animal parts, either fermented in lactic acid, rotten, salted or soured. These include rotten shark’s meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head, (svið) and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach (blóðmör)! This is traditionally washed down with some Brennivin – also known as Black Death – a potent schnapps made from potato and caraway.
Even though most Icelanders do indulge in the traditional foods at least once a year, not many foreigners, nor the younger generation of Icelanders like the food.
After the Thorrablot dinner traditional songs, games and story telling are accompanied by dancing and in true Icelandic style continue until the early hours of the morning! If you fail to receive a personal invitation to a family feast, local restaurants will often add Thorrablot color and taste to their menus.
Makar Sankranti (also known as Makara Sankranthi or Maghi) refers both to a specific solar day in the Hindu calendar and a Hindu festival in reference to deity Surya (sun) that is observed in January every year. It marks the first day of sun’s transit into the Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.
- Significance: Festival of Harvest, welcome longer days, sun worship
- Celebrations: Kite flying, bonfires, fairs, surya puja in river, feast, arts, dance, socialization
Makar Sankranti is one of the few ancient Hindu festivals that has been observed according to solar cycles, while most festivals are set by the lunar cycle.
Being a festival that celebrates the solar cycle, it almost always falls on the same Gregorian date every year (January 14), except in rare years when the date shifts by a day for that year, because of the complexity of earth-sun relative movement.
Makar Sankranti is observed with social festivities such as colorful decorations, rural children going house to house, singing and asking for treats (or pocket money), fairs, dances, kite flying, bonfires and feasts.
The Magha Mela is mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, thus placing this festival to be around 2,000 years old.
Makar Sankranti is regarded as important for spiritual practices and many people take a holy dip in sacred rivers or lakes, especially Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. The bathing is believed to result in merit or absolution of past sins.
Every twelve years, the Hindus observe Makar Sankranti with one of the world’s largest mass pilgrimage, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event. At this event, they say a prayer to the sun and bathe at the Prayaga confluence of the River Ganga and River Yamuna at the Kumbh Mela.
Because the festival is dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya, people also pray to the sun and thank for their successes and prosperity. The traditional prayer to the sun is the Gayatri Mantra.
The Gayatri Mantra
The mantra is a hymn to the sun which represents both the physical sun and the Divine in all things. Here it is:
Om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.
The eternal, earth, air, heaven
That glory, that resplendence of the sun
May we contemplate the brilliance of that light
May the sun inspire our minds.
Chanting the mantra serves three purposes.
- The first is to give back to the sun. The sun gives but never receives. The mantra is a gift back to the sun, an offering of gratitude to refuel the sun’s gracious offering.
- The second purpose is to seek wisdom and enlightenment. The mantra is a request to the sun: May we meditate upon your form and be illumined by who you are? (Consider that the sun offers its gift of illumination and energy to all beings, without judgment and without attachment to the outcome of the gift.)
- Finally, the mantra is an expression of gratitude, to both the life-giving sun and the Divine. The sensibility it evokes is more important than the literal meaning. It’s an offering, a way to open to grace, to inspire oneself to connect to the ancient vision of India.
An Auspicious Period
Makar Sankranti is regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase or the holy phase of transition. It also marks the end of an inauspicious phase which begins around mid-December. Further it is also believed that any sacred ritual can be performed from this day onwards. The auspicious day of Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of warmer and longer days as compared to nights.
Makar Sankranti is all about forgetting bitter and sad moments which happened in the past and welcoming the new phase of life which is full of purity, knowledge and wisdom.
The Significance of Makar Sankranti
The significance of the Makar Sankranti festival is that it marks the day where there is a significant movement in the zodiac ~ the arrangement of the earth’s dial around the sun ~ and this movement brings about a new change in the way we experience the planet itself.
There are many sankrantis through the year; the two significant ones being Makar Sankranti, and right opposite, after summer solstice is Karka Sankranti. In between, there are many Sankrantis ~ every time the zodiac sign changes, it is called a Sankranti to suggest the movement of the planet, to understand that our life is sustained and nourished by this movement. If this movement ceases, everything about us will cease.
On the 22nd of December, the solstice happened, that means in relation to the sun, the movement or the tilt of the planet reaches its maximum. Now, from this day on, the northern movement is strong. Things really start changing upon the earth. From Makar Sankranti onwards, winter is being relieved step by step.
This movement is also a significant aspect in the way we reap from this planet. There was a time when human beings could eat only what the earth offered. Then we learned how to get what we wanted from the earth; this is called agriculture. When we were hunting and gathering, we only picked up what was there.
It is like when you were an infant, you ate or swallowed whatever your mother gave you. When you became a child, you asked for what you wanted. So we grew up a bit and started demanding and getting what we wanted, but still, you can only get what you want to a point that She is willing. If you stretch it beyond that, you will not only not get it, you will get something else. That is called industrialization.
Agriculture is coaxing the Mother to give what you want. Industrialization is ripping her apart. I am not speaking against something. I want you to understand the way our minds are transiting, the way human activity is transiting from one level to another.
So this is a day when we remind ourselves that everything that we are is what we take from this planet. I see everywhere in the world, people are talking about giving. I don’t know from where they give. You can only take ~ either you take gently or you grab. Did you come with your own property from somewhere? What is there to give? You can only take. Everything is offered. Take sensibly, that is all there is.
Some Thoughts About Movement
Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a very important festival in India. Sankranti literally means “movement.” Everything that we recognize as life is movement. Fortunately, people who came before us have moved on, and people who come after us are waiting for us to move on ~ don’t have any doubts about this.
The planet is moving and that is why it churns up life. If it were still, it wouldn’t be capable of life. So there is something called movement in which every creature is involved, but if there has to be movement, this movement has to be housed ~ this movement can only happen in the lap of stillness. One who does not touch the stillness of his life, one who does not touch the stillness of his being, one who does not know or has not tasted the stillness within and without, will invariably get lost in the movement.
Movement is pleasant only to a point. The planet earth is moving gently in such a beautiful manner ~ it is only changing seasons. Tomorrow, if it just speeds up, throttles up a little bit, then all our seemingly balanced minds will become imbalanced, everything will spin out of control. So movement is beautiful only to a certain point. Once it crosses that point, movement becomes torture.
So Makar Sankranti is a festival to recognize the movement, movement being celebration, movement being life, movement being the process of life and the beginning and the end of life. At the same time, the word ‘shankara’ is used to remind you that the one behind this, Shiva, is a still one; stillness is the basis of movement.
Though all the other planets are moving, the most important one is not moving. If the sun also takes a walk, then we are in trouble. He hangs there not moving. That is why everybody else’s movement is okay. But his stillness is relative because the whole solar system may be moving; the whole galaxy may be moving. So beyond that, the space which holds all this is absolute stillness.
When a human being makes the necessary effort to touch the stillness within himself, only then he knows the joy of movement. Otherwise, people are bewildered by the movement of life. Every change that happens in their life they suffer.
These days, the so-called modern life is like this ~ any change means you must suffer. Childhood is tension, puberty is great suffering, middle age is unbearable, old age is abhorred and feared, and death is celebration ~no that is pure terror.
Every stage of life is a problem because people have a problem with movement, not understanding that the very nature of life is movement. You can only enjoy and celebrate movement if you have one leg stuck in stillness. If you know what stillness is then movement would be a pleasure. If you do not know what stillness is, if you have no contact with stillness, movement is bewildering.
People are trying to track the movement. Looking at the stars, looking at lines in their hands and looking at all kinds of signs including the tea leaves. People want to read the movement of their lives somehow. This struggle with movement, this paranoia about movement, is happening because there is no taste of stillness.
If there was a taste of stillness in you, movement would not disturb you. It is something which sets a certain rhythm. Every rhythm has a beginning and an end; every movement has a beginning and an end. Movement means that which is in transition. Stillness means that which always is. Movement means compulsiveness, stillness means consciousness.
The significance of Makar Sankranti is that it is the time to remind yourself that celebrating movement is possible only when there is a taste of stillness within you.
Because the festival is celebrated in winter, people start preparing food which can give them give them energy and also keep their body warm. Tilguls ~ Laddu of Til (Sesame) is made up of Jaggery and devotees also pay respect to Goddess Saraswati.
This type of sweet is a symbolism for being together in peace and joyfulness, despite the uniqueness and differences between individuals.
People greet each other Happy Sankranti by saying Tilgul Ghya Aani God God Bola.
For most parts of India, this period is a part of early stages of the Rabi crop and agricultural cycle, where crops have been sown and the hard work in the fields is mostly over. The time thus signifies a period of socializing and families enjoying each other’s company, taking care of the cattle, and celebrating around bonfires.
The Makar Sankranti festival is also known and referred to as the harvest festival because this is the time when harvesting is complete and there are big celebrations. This is the day we acknowledge all those who assisted in making the harvest. The farm animals play a huge role in harvesting, so the following day is for them and is called Mattu Pongal.
The first day is for the earth, the second is for us and the third is for the animals and livestock. See, they are placed a little higher than us because we exist because of them, they do not exist because of us. If we were not here, they would all be free and happy. But if they were not here, we couldn’t live.
These festivals are a reminder that we need to craft our present and our future in a conscious manner.
Also, on this day there are several Melas or fairs which are been held and one of the most famous among all melas is Kumbh Mela. It is been held every 12 years at one of four holy locations namely Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nashik.
The Magh Mela which is the mini mela is held annually at Prayag, the Gangasagar Mela held at the Ganges River, Tusu Mela in parts of Jharkhand and West Bengal and many more such fairs are been held on this auspicious day.
Known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the region, Makara or Makar Sankranti is an important pan-Indian solar festival observed on the same date, sometimes for multiple dates.
It is known as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Pedda Panduga in Andhra Pradesh, Biku in Assam, Magha Mela in parts of central and north India, as Makar Sankranti in the west, and by other names. The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names such as Lohri by north Indian Hindus and Sikhs, Sukarat in central India, Bhogali Bihu by Assamese Hindus, and Pongal by Tamil and other south Indian Hindus.
Wikipedia gives us this list:
- Suggi Habba, Makar Sankramana , Makara Sankranthi: Karnataka
- Makar Sankranthi: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala
- Makar Sankranti: Chhattisgarh, Goa, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Jammu
- Thai Pongal, Uzhavar Thirunal: Tamil Nadu
- Uttarayan: Gujarat
- Maghi: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
- Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu: Assam
- Shishur Saenkraat: Kashmir Valley
- Khichdi: Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar
- Poush Sangkranti: West Bengal
- Tila Sakrait: Mithila
In other countries too the day is celebrated by Hindus, but under different names and in different ways.
- Nepal: Maghe Sankranti or Maghi- /Khichdi Sankranti
- Bangladesh: Shakrain/ Poush Sangkranti
- Pakistan: (Sindh): Tirmoori
The Goddess Carmenta is celebrated on two dates of the Roman calendar, (January 11 and 15), each day called Carmentalia. These dates should be considered as two separate festivals, rather than one festival extending over this period, yet it is not clear to us today, any more than it was during the Late Republic, why two such holidays should be in such close proximity in one month.
The festival, chiefly observed by women, celebrates Carmenta, who is the Goddess of women’s health, birthing, and prophecy. She is the inventor of letters, as Minerva is the inventor of numbers. She tells the future through Her sister Porrima and reveals the past through Her sister Postvorta, while Carmenta knows all that happens in the present.
Together the three Carmenae sisters are the Good Fates, the Three Mothers, and the Muses. The very name of Carmenta was given to song (carmen) and Latin terms for poetry, charms, and speaking-in-tongues. With Her songs she would soothe the ill and taught women how to care for themselves and their children. Her sanctuaries thus became places for women and children to receive traditional medical treatments using herbs and music.
Carmenta takes us back to a very early period, a time well before the beginnings of Rome around three thousand years ago, back into the Italian Bronze Age. She takes us back to the ecstatic tradition of the female priestesses called vates in which Latin religion began and in which the Religio Romana was first founded.
The sacred grove of Carmenta, the most ancient sanctuary in all of Rome, was located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. It is still visited today where people gather waters from Her sacred spring. It was in this very grove that Carmenta appeared to Numa Pompilius in his dreams as the nymph Egeria. She instructed Numa on how to commune with the Gods.
With Egeria’s instruction, Numa Pompilius then established rituals for the Gods, festivals, and a calendar by which the Romans could attend these. Numa set out sanctuaries for Gods and Goddesses and he created colleges of priests and priestesses to serve the Gods and Goddesses. Egeria taught Numa the laws which he handed down to the Romans and which still govern our sacramental rituals today.
One of the laws of Numa states:
“The Gods are not to be represented in the form of man or beast, nor are there to be any painted or graven image of a deity admitted (to your rites).”
As one of the oldest Goddesses of Rome, whose worship was established by Numa, Carmenta was never represented by an image. It was sufficient to feel Her presence in the sacred grove below the Capitoline. In the same way, Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth, is never represented by an image but only by living fire.
Another law of Numa holds that:
“Sacrifices are not to be celebrated with an effusion of blood, but consist of flour, wine, and the least costly of offerings.”
The restriction against the use of blood sacrifices was so strong in the worship of Carmenta that no one was allowed to enter Her sacred grove wearing anything made of leather or animal hide. It is not right to take the life of another creature in worshiping the Goddess who helps birth life into the world. And thus it follows that today we offer Carmenta bay leaves as incense, a libation of milk, and popana cakes made of soft cheese and flower.
Invocation to Carmenta
Goddess of Women’s Health
Come, be present, Carmenta.
May Your sisters Porrima and Postvorta attend You.
With joyful mind come, Mother Carmenta, on You I call,
Come, stand by me, stay, and listen to my pleas.
Speak to me once more, in Your own words, as You did before.
In Your sacred grove where Egeria counseled King Numa,
bear forth now Your soothing songs to dispel our sorrows.
Come forth! I call to You, Good Goddess,
Great Goddess of charms.
Give voice, happy Voice of song,
With soothing songs as will cure our ills, or whatever else we fear.
Spare our daughters heavy with child, spare our wives in their pangs of labor,
Care for the mothers who worry over their children.
With pious rite I call out, I summon,
I entice with songs that You come forth, Carmenta,
And look favorably upon the matrons of our families.
In You, dearest Mother, in Your hands we place our safekeeping.
In offering to You this cake of cheese I pray good prayers
in order that, pleased with this offering of popana,
May You be favorable towards our children and to us,
Towards our homes and our households.
More About The Festivals:
According to legend, the cult of Carmenta predated Rome itself. In some accounts She was known as Nicostrate, the mother of Evander, who was fathered by Mercurius. Evander was the legendary founder of Paletum, a village that gave its name to the Palatine Hill. Her sacred grove, therefore, may have originally lain beneath the Palatine Hill as some ascribe it.
Indeed, it may be that it was in Her sacred grove beneath the Palatine that Romulus and Remus were said to have been discovered being suckled by a she-wolf, since Carmentis was so closely associated with the care of infants.
It was said that later Numa Pompilius founded a sacred grove for Her beneath the Capitoline Hill. The dedication of two groves to Carmentis is one possible reason why there were two days celebrated as Carmentalia in the month of January.
It was proposed by Huschke that the two festival days represented the Latins of Romulus and the Sabines of Titus Tatius, just as there were two companies of Luperci and two companies of Salii. Were that the case we might expect that She once had a sacred grove on the Esquiline Hill, and that Numa’s dedication beneath the Capitoline represented a union of the two culti Carmentalis.
The fasti Praeneste suggests that the second date was added by a victorious Roman general who had left the City by the Porta Carmentalis for his campaign against Fidenae. The gate received its name from its proximity to the sacred grove of Carmentis.
Yet another story was told by Ovid, linking the two dates to a protest by the matrons of Rome in 195 BCE. During the fourth century the Roman Senate had granted patrician matrons the privilege of riding in two- wheeled carriages in reward for their contribution in gold to fulfilling a vow to Apollo made by Camillus. The privilege was later to be temporarily revoked during the Second Punic War (215 BCE) along with sumptuary laws that limited the use of colored cloth and gold that women could wear, in order to save on private expenses and war materials (horses) and thus help in the war effort.
But the Senate did not at first renew the privileges at war’s end. In 195 Tribunes Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius finally called for the repeal of this lex Oppia, but they were opposed by the brothers Marcus and Publius Junius Brutus.
Supporters for repealing the lex Oppia, and those who supported its remaining in effect, gathered daily on the Capitoline to argue over the matter. Soon women began to join in the disputes, their numbers increasing daily, even so much as women from the countryside entered into the City to advocate for their rights. The natural place for them to first congregate would have been at the grove of Carmentis. This may be what Ovid indicates by linking the protest to the Carmentalia.
Consul Marcius Porcius Cato spoke out against repealing the lex Oppia. The women then resolved to “refuse to renew their ungrateful husbands’ stock” until their privileges were restored, Ovid referring to the women resorting to abortion as their means of protest.
In a later period the Temple of the Bona Dea would become associated with the use of abortive herbs, and Carmentis associated with the use of the same herbs in birthing. In actuality both Carmentis and the Bona Dea were associated with birthing or prevention of pregnancy, and the difference between the Capitoline and Aventine temples may have been one of class distinction. Eventually the matrons of Rome regained their rights and, according to Ovid, the second Carmentalia was then begun in thanks to the Goddess for Her support. Ovid’s story is the least likely and most fanciful to account for the two Carmentaliae of January.
The notion that there may have earlier been two groves dedicated to Carmentis prior to the known grove beneath the Capitoline is a reasonable speculation, but still would not account for the two festivals. We are left then with the information provided by the Fasti Praeneste, although the inscription is mutilated and uncertain. This source may indicate that while the Carmentalia held on 11 January was dedicated to Carmentis, that of 15 January was intended to honor Janus as guardian of the Porta Carmentalis.
Different aspects of Carmentis related to Janus, and thus it is possible that a festival for Him would include Carmentis in similar fashion as festivals for Ops and Consus. The fact remains that we don’t know today why the month of January has two separate festivals for Carmentis.
This year (2018) is particularly unique in that January and March both contain two full moons while February has no full moon. This means that there are two Blue Moons. What is a Blue Moon?
IN MODERN times, the term “blue moon” is defined as the second full moon occurring within a single month. By a somewhat older definition, it’s the third full moon in a season that has four — instead of the normal three — full moons. Either way, it’s an out-of-the-ordinary phenomenon occurring only once every few years. Hence the phrase, “once in a blue moon.”
This is an especially magickal time, think of it as a lunar bonus round, a chance to ask for special “once in a blue moon” favors, or to work with “once in a lifetime” spells.
Why does this happen?
A full lunar cycle is a little over 28 days long. However, a calendar year is more than that, which means that during some years, you may end up with thirteen full moons instead of twelve, depending on where in the month the lunar cycle falls. This is because during each calendar year, you end up with twelve full 28-day cycles, and a leftover accumulation of eleven or twelve days. Those days accumulate, and so about once every 28 calendar months, you end up with an extra full moon during the month.
Historically, “blue moon” was understood in a more literal way. Once upon a time it denoted a phenomenon even rarer than an extra full moon, one that has occurred perhaps only once or twice in recorded history: the face of moon literally appearing to turn blue in color.
The Blue Moon will likely look no different than any other full Moon. But the Moon can change color in certain conditions.
After forest fires or volcanic eruptions, the Moon can appear to take on a bluish or even lavender hue. Soot and ash particles, deposited high in the Earth’s atmosphere can sometimes make the Moon appear bluish. Smoke from widespread forest fire activity in western Canada created a blue Moon across eastern North America in late September 1950. In the aftermath of the massive eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in June 1991 there were reports of blue moons (and even blue Suns) worldwide.
When all is done, when the twelve days of Christmas are over, we may begin to look forward to the next year. It is time to dismantle your Solstice shrine (if you made one) and time to take down the Christmas tree if you have one. Some things you will want to keep; the more ephemeral components can be returned to nature, to be remade next year.
As you put things away in a box for another year, give thanks to every single one of the gifts of the Solstice.
Here’s an a poem from an old French Epiphany carol:
Noel is leaving us, Sad to say,
But he will come again, Adieu Noel.
His wife and his children Weep as they go;
On a grey horse They ride through the snow.
The Kings ride away In the snow and the rain;
But after 12 months We shall see them again.
The Winter Solstice or Yule is one of the Lesser Wiccan Sabbats, and it is also the shortest day of the year, and hence – the longest night. This usually takes place on December 20th or 21st, although it does sometimes occur on the 22nd or 23rd (check your calendar as it changes from year to year).
Other than the most common name of Yule, various other names for the Winter Solstice include:
- Yuletide (the Teutonic version)
- Alban Arthan (Caledonii Tradition, or the Druids)
- Feill Fionnain (Pecti-Wita Tradition, which falls on December 22nd).
Yuletide lasts from December 20th through December 31st. It begins on “Mother Night” and ends twelve days later, on “Yule Night”, hence the “Twelve Days of Christmas” tradition. Alban Arthan, unlike all the others, is not considered a fire festival.
Some other names for this Sabbat that are used less commonly are: Sun Return, Pagan New Year, Saturnalia (Roman), Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Sol.
Yule is a time of the Goddess of the Cold Darkness and the birth of the Divine Child, the reborn Sun God. It is a time of renewal and rebirth during Winter, and the turning of the Earth force tides. A time when the waxing Sun overcomes the waning Sun. In some traditions, this is symbolized by the struggle between the Oak King and the Holly King.
The Holly King, represents the Death aspect of the God at this time of year; and the Oak King, represents the opposite aspect of Rebirth (these roles are reversed at Midsummer). This can be likened to the Divine Child’s birth. The myth of the Holly King/Oak King probably originated from the Druids to whom these two trees were highly sacred. The Oak King (God of the Waxing Year) kills the Holly King (God of the Waning Year) at Yule (the Winter Solstice). The Oak King then reigns supreme until Litha (the Summer Solstice) when the two battle again, this time with the Holly King victorious.
Examples of the Holly King’s image can be seen in our modern Santa Claus. He dons a sprig of holly in his hat, wears red clothing, and drives a team of eight (total number of Solar Sabbats) reindeer, an animal sacred to the Celtic Gods (deer). Mistletoe and holly came into modern Christmas celebrations through the memorializing of this battle. The holly with berries are hung in honor of the Holly King and mistletoe in honor of the Oak King. Although the Holly King and Oak King are mortal enemies at the two Solstices – Yule and Litha – it should be remembered that they are actually two sides of one whole, and neither would exist without the other.
Since this is a Solar Festival, it is celebrated by fire and the use of many candles orthe Yule Log. The colors of the season – red and green – are of original Pagan descent. Symbols representing Yule include an eight-spoked wheel symbol, evergreens, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, Yule Trees (very similar to the familiar “Christmas Trees”), or a small potted tree, and Yule Logs.
The act of decorating the Yule Tree, wreaths of holly, and the exchange of gifts are also Pagan derivatives. The Yule Tree can be a living, potted tree which can later be planted in the ground, a cut one, or even an artificial one. The choice is yours.
Appropriate Wiccan decorations range from strings of dried rosebuds, cinnamon sticks, popcorn or cranberries for garlands to bags of fragrant spices hung from boughs. Quartz crystals can be wrapped with shiny wire and suspended from sturdy branches to resemble icicles. Apples, oranges, lemons, nuts of all kinds and cookies hanging from boughs and branches are strikingly beautiful; and can be real or artificial, depending on your taste. These natural decorations were customary in ancient times. The reindeer stag is also a reminder of the Horned God. You will find that many traditional Christmas decorations have some type of Pagan ancestry or significance that can be added to your Yule holiday.
Deities to honor at this time of year include all Newborn Gods and Sun Gods, and all Mother Goddesses and Triple Goddesses. Appropriate Yule Gods include Apollo (Greek), Ra, Osiris, Horus, (all three are Egyptian), Lugh (Irish-Celtic), Odin (Norse), Father Sun (Native American), and Jesus (Christian-Gnostic), to name a few. Goddesses might include the Morrigan, Brigit (both Celtic), Isis (Egyptian), Demeter, Gaea, Pandora, Selene, and Artemis (all five are Greek), Juno and Diana (both Roman), Astarte (Middle Eastern), Spinning Woman (Native American) and the Virgin Mary (Christian-Gnostic).
Ritually, you may want to light fires within the Circle (in the cauldron, for instance), light candles and carry them around the Circle or bring the Yule log into the Circle and include it in your ceremony. Bayberry candles can be burned to ensure prosperity, growth and happiness throughout the following year. These can be inscribed with runes for health and money, or whatever is desired before lighting. They shall be lit at sunset and allowed to burn until they go out by themselves. An old Germanic poem says “A bayberry candle burned to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.”
Spellwork for balance, beauty, peace, and harmony are great to perform at this time of the Pagan year. Love spells and spells to increase happiness are also appropriate. Key actions to remember for Yule are introspection and meditation.
The most common colors used at this Sabbat are red and green, but gold and white are also quite appropriate. Stones to be used at this celebration include bloodstones, rubies, and garnets. Animals associated with the Yule Sabbat are stags, squirrels, wrens and robins. Mythical creatures associated with Yule are the Phoenix, and trolls. Herbs and plants that can be used include holly, mistletoe, evergreens, poinsettias, bay, pine, ginger, valerian, and myrrh.
The foods of Yule include nuts, fruits such as apples and pears, cookies and cakes of caraway soaked in cider, and (for non-vegetarians) pork are all traditional fare. Fine drinks for the Yule celebration or meals include Wassail (a hot drink made from wine, beer or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples—served in a large bowl), lamb’s wool (ale mixed with sugar, nutmeg and the pulp of roasted apples), hibiscus or ginger tea, and apple cider.
Source: Citadel of The Dragons
The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere this is the June solstice.
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated for millennia by cultures and religions all over the world. Many modern pagan religions are descended in spirit from the ancient pre-Christian religions of Europe and the British Isles, and honor the divine as manifest in nature, the turning of the seasons, and the powerfully cyclical nature of life.
Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied across cultures, but many have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
Most pagan religions are polytheistic, honoring both male and female deities, which are seen by some as two aspects of one non-gendered god, by others as two separate by complementing beings, and by others as entire pantheons of gods and goddesses.
It is common for the male god(s) to be represented in the sun, the stars, in summer grain, and in the wild animals and places of the earth. The stag is a powerful representation of the male god, who is often called “the horned god.”
The Goddess is most often represented in the earth as a planet, the moon, the oceans, and in the domestic animals and the cultivated areas of the earth.
In many pagan traditions the Winter Solstice symbolizes the rebirth of the sun god from his mother, the earth goddess. The Winter Solstice is only one of eight seasonal holidays celebrated by modern pagans.
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food.
Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.
The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). It is significant that at Stonehenge the Great Trilithon was oriented outwards from the middle of the monument, i.e. its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”.
In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.
The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but at the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve. Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings” such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also “reversal” is yet another frequent theme, as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
A Winter Solstice reading:
This is the night of the Solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs, yet gives way and changes into light. The breath of Nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the infant light. We watch for the coming of Dawn, when the great Mother again gives birth to the Divine child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center, which is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the Night. We turn the Wheel to bring the Light. We call the sun from the womb of night.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
At the Winter Solstice we celebrate by bringing warmth, light and cheerfulness into this dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origins as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the pivot point of the year. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
A simple way to celebrate this day is with a small candle lighting ceremony. The purpose being to celebrate this time of renewal in our lives, to give thanksgiving for the past and the present and to offer a blessing for the year to come.
- How to:
Create a small sacred space. Decorate it in a way that feels cheerful, warm, and bright. In the center place a white candle. As the sun sets on this day, light the candle, and say a few words about bringing the light forth in your life, in the lives of your family and loved ones in the coming year. Either allow the candle to burn out of it’s own accord, or relight it every evening until Jan 1st.
From Wikipedia and other sources
The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dōngzhì solar term (winter solstice) on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest.
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”).
To really get a feel for the Dōngzhì Festival, you have to imagine hard, rural living during a gray Han Dynasty winter more than 2,000 years ago.
Now picture a family meal at a table set with hearty, warming foods, raising the hopes for spring’s arrival. That’s the spirit of the Dōngzhì Festival.
The Dōngzhì Festival marries the winter solstice with nature’s harmonious balance of yin and yang energy. From this point forward, dongzhi (i.e. the extreme of winter) and the negative yin qualities of darkness and cold give way to the positive yang qualities of light and warmth. In other words, take heart — spring will come.
Traditionally, the Dōngzhì Festival was a day to regroup with a family get together before tackling the last leg of winter. Today, with survival less of a daily concern and no time off granted, the Dōngzhì Festival is celebrated mostly with a family meal full of warm, hearty foods. 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, or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion.
Tangyuan are made of glutinous rice flour and sometimes brightly colored. Each family member receives at least one large tangyuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl. It is also often served with a mildly alcoholic unfiltered rice wine containing whole grains of glutinous rice (and often also Sweet Osmanthus flowers), called jiuniang.
- Here’s a recipe for Glutinous Rice Balls
In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dōngzhì. It is said to have originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting chilblains.
Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish “qùhán jiāoěr tāng” (祛寒嬌耳湯) or dumpling soup that expels the cold. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the day of Dōngzhì.
- Here’s a recipe for Lamb Dumplings
Old traditions also require people with the same surname or from the same clan to gather at their ancestral temples to worship on this day. There is always a grand reunion dinner following the sacrificial ceremony.
The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is “a year older” right after the Dōngzhì celebration instead of waiting for the Chinese New Year.
To Taiwanese people, the festival in winter also plays a very important role. It is also a tradition for Taiwanese to eat tangyuan on this day. They also use the festive food as an offering dish to worship the ancestors.
In an interesting twist, in accordance with ancient Taiwanese history, many people take some of the tangyuan that have been used as offerings and stick them on the back of the door or on windows and tables and chairs. These “empowered” tangyuan supposedly serve as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to children.
- Here’s a recipe for Nine Layer Cake
These cakes are made using glutinous rice flour in the shape of a chicken, duck, tortoise, pig, cow or sheep, and then steamed in different layers of a pot. These animals all signify auspiciousness in Chinese tradition.
Another interesting custom in Taiwan is that many people take invigorating tonic foods during this particular winter festival. To the Taiwanese, winter is a time when most physical activities should be limited and you should eat well to nourish your body. This practice follows the habits shown by many animals which follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter months to rejuvenate and to preserve life. In order to fight cold temperatures, it is necessary to eat more fatty and meaty foods during winter when your body can better absorb the rich and nutritional foods at this time due to a slower metabolic rate.
Since Dōngzhì is the “Extreme of Winter”, Taiwanese regard it as the best time of the year to take tonic foods. Some of the most widely popular winter tonic foods enjoyed by Taiwanese to fight cold and strengthen the body’s resistance are mutton hot pot and ginger duck hot pot. Other foods like chicken, pork and abalone are also common materials used in making tonic foods with nurturing herbs such as ginseng, deer horn and the fungus cordyceps.
In northern China, people eat lamb dumplings for the Dōngzhì Festival, a tribute to the Han Dynasty physician, Zhang Zhongjing, who served this warming food to poor farmers suffering from frostbite during one particularly cold winter.
Celebrating the Dōngzhì Festival is all about understanding the simple enjoyment of a warm, fortifying meal on a cold winter night in ancient China. It’s that same feeling you had as a child when you came in from a day of playing in the snow to a cup of hot cocoa or a bowl of steaming soup.
Against that backdrop, this lamb dumpling recipe is the perfect match. The rustic taste of lamb, combined with a black vinegar and chili dipping sauce, gives these dumplings a distinctly northern Chinese flavor. A perfect meal to serve during the depths of winter.
In contrast to traditional pork dumplings, which can be fried as potstickers, these lamb dumplings are either steamed or boiled in thin gow gee dumpling wrappers. The boiled dumplings are soft and slippery, while the steamed dumplings are more elastic, but both versions produce a satisfying broth that makes the dumplings feel like xiao long bao.
If your Chinese market is in a predominantly Cantonese neighborhood, you may find that it doesn’t carry lamb. In that case, a halal market will probably be your next best bet. Make sure to pick a relatively fatty ground lamb mix, so that your dumplings produce a rich broth.
Lamb Dumplings Recipe
- 10 ounces Chinese cabbage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- 4 green onions
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 80 gow gee dumpling wrappers
1. Finely mince the cabbage in a food processor. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Add the lamb, ginger, green onion, soy sauce, rice wine and cumin to the food processor. Pulse 5 times until the ingredients are combined well. Set aside.
3. Place the cabbage on a kitchen cloth, twist the top and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add the dry cabbage to your pork mixture and combine in the food processor with another 5 pulses.
4. Spoon 1 rounded teaspoon of the filling mixture in the center of each dumpling wrapper. To wrap a dumpling, dab water along the inside edge of the wrapper, fold in half to form a semicircle enclosing the filling, then seal the edges together to stick. Finally, fold 5-6 small pleats around the top edge of the dumpling. Repeat until all of your dumplings are done.
5. Separate the dumplings you’ll need for your meal and then freeze the rest in a heavy plastic bag for later.
6. There are two easy ways to cook dumplings.
– To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 15 dumplings to the pot and boil for 9 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the dumplings from the heat and drain, repeating with any remaining dumplings.
– To steam: Place a bamboo steamer in a large pot or wok and heat water to a boil. Place 15 dumplings in a single layer in the bamboo steamer, cover and steam for 9 minutes. Remove the dumplings from the heat.
7. Serve immediately with chili sauce, black vinegar or soy sauce for dipping.
Makes: 70-80 Dumplings | Prep Time: 1 Hour | Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Source: Chinese American Family