• They Call this Christmas were I'm From.

    There are many winter celebrations that antedate our placement of Christmas on December 25.

    Many outside traditions are often adopted by neighboring or invading cultures. Some historians will often assert that many traditions are directly derived from previous ones rooting all the way back to those begun in the cradle of civilization or beyond, much in a way that correlates to speculations on the origins of languages.

    Even in modern cultures these gatherings are still valued for emotional comfort, having something to look forward to at the darkest time of the year. This is especially the case for populations in the near polar regions of the hemisphere. The depressive psychological effects of winter on individuals and societies are experienced as coldness, tiredness, malaise, and inactivity. This is known as seasonal affective disorder. Insufficient sunlight in the short winter days increases the secretion of melatonin in the body, throwing off the circadian rhythm with longer sleep. Exercise, light therapy, increased negative ion exposure (which can be attained from plants and well ventilated flames, burning wood or beeswax) can reinvigorate the body from its seasonal lull and relieve winter blues by decreasing melatonin secretions, increasing serotonin and temporarily creating a more even sleeping pattern.
    Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year, often calling for evergreens, bright illumination, large ongoing fires, feasting, communion with close ones, and evening physical exertion by dancing and singing are examples of cultural winter therapies that have evolved as traditions since the beginnings of civilization.
    So regardless of your Faith Party those blues away by gathering with family and friends to Eat drink and be merry.
    During the winter solstice, the sun is closer to the horizon at midday than at any other time in the year.
    Winter Solstice 2012 is Friday, December 21 6:12 AM (EST)
    The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north (Arctic Polar Circle) are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south (Antarctic Polar Circle) receive 24 hours of daylight.

    The sun is directly overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere during the December solstice. It also marks the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours for those living south of the equator. Those living or travelling south from the Antarctic Circle towards the South Pole will see the midnight sun during this time of the year.

    Solstice Celebrations are Modern and Ancient Festivals of Light

    Historically, the winter solstice appears to have had significance is many cultures, with some evidence dating back as far as the Neolithic era, specifically the Goseck Circle in Germany, which is a set of concentric ditches carved into the earth with opening “gates” that line up with where the sun rises and sets on the solstice. Pottery fragments and other artifacts found at the site date it circa 4900 BCE.

    People will be gathered at Stonehenge to mark the winter solstice.

    WINTER SOLSTICE AT STONEHENGE visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely.

    Others also will gather at Avebury at Friday to watch the sunrise on the shortest day of the year.

    On Thursday night, a white horse on a hillside at Alton Barnes, near Devizes, will be lit up to mark the solstice.

    People walk up the Wiltshire hill for sunset and placed candles around the horse.

    "That's the custom of Christmas in fact, lighting up your house, lighting your inside and outside and bringing vegetation inside the house."

    Christ Mass
    In modern times Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, which falls on December 25. However, it is believed that this date was chosen to offset pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Some believe that celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was set in synchronization with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight in the northern hemisphere. Emperor Constantine saw the Church as a potential unifying force in the Vast Roman Empire. Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.

    The celebration of lights, the rebirth of the sun on winter soltice is the oldest holiday known.

    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. It was held to honor Saturn, the father of the gods and was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Wars were interrupted or postponed, 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. Masquerades often occurred during this time. 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. It was traditional to offer gifts of imitation fruit (a symbol of fertility), dolls (symbolic of the custom of human sacrifice), and candles (reminiscent of the bonfires traditionally associated with pagan solstice celebrations). A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated There is no standard appearance of Kallikantzaroi, there are regional differences on their appearance. Some Greeks have imagined them with some animal parts, like hairy bodies, horse legs, or boar tusks, sometimes enormous, other times diminutive. Others see them as humans of small size smelling horribly. They are predominatly male, often with protruding sex characteristics.that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. 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.The Saturnalia eventually degenerated into a week-long spree of debauchery and crime giving rise to the modern use of the tern saturnalia, meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry.

    Yule, Jul, Jól, Joul, Joulu, Jõulud, Géol, Geul (Viking Age, Northern Europe, and Germanic cultures)

    Originally the name Giuli signified a 60 day tide beginning at the lunar midwinter of the late Scandinavian Norse and Germanic tribes. The arrival of Juletid thus came to refer to the midwinter celebrations. By the late Viking Age, the Yule celebrations came to specify a great solstitial Midwinter festival that amalgamated the traditions of various midwinter celebrations across Europe, like Mitwinternacht, Modrasnach, Midvinterblot, and the Teutonic solstice celebration, Feast of the Dead. A documented example of this is in 960, when King Håkon of Norway signed into law that Jul was to be celebrated on the night leading into December 25, to align it with the Christian celebrations. For some Norse sects, Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder. An Icelandic manuscript depicts Odin who slew the frost giant, Ymir. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, three or as many as twelve days. The indigenous lore of the Icelandic Jól continued beyond the Middle Ages, but was condemned when the Reformation arrived. The celebration continues today throughout Northern Europe and elsewhere in name and traditions, for Christians as representative of the nativity of Jesus on the night of December 24, and for others as a cultural winter celebration on the 24th or for some, the date of the solstice. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine. French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning.

    Jul (Germanic Neopaganism)

    The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the feast of Juul. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. In Germanic Neopagan sects, Yule is celebrated with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. Further attempts at reconstruction of surviving accounts of historical celebrations are often made, a hallmark being variations of the traditional. However it has been pointed out that this is not really reconstruction as these traditions never died out – they have merely removed the Christian elements from the celebration and replaced the event at the solstice.
    The Icelandic Ásatrú and the Asatru Folk Assembly in the US recognize Jól or Yule as lasting for 12 days, beginning on the date of the winter solstice.

    Yule (Wiccan)

    Derived from the Norse word jól, Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. To our pagan ancestors living in the frozen north of Europe and Scandinavia, the dark days of winter were a frightening time. The darkness was the domain of demons and malicious spirits. On top of that, Odin, chief among the Norse gods, flew through the sky on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, looking down at the world with his furious one-eyed gaze, deciding who should prosper and who perish in the year ahead.

    The sensible choice was to stay inside at this time of year, safe from the darkness and the horrors it held. To help keep the darkness at bay, on or around the 21 December, the time of the winter solstice, fathers and sons would go out into the forests and bring back to hearth and home the largest log they could find. This massive piece of timber was then put on the fire and left to burn for the entirety of the season of Yule twelve days altogether. In Wicca, a form of the holiday is observed as one of the eight solar holidays, or Sabbat. In most Wiccan groups, or covens, this holiday is celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. Although the name Yule has been appropriated from Germanic and Norsk paganism, elements of the celebration itself are of modern origin.


    Hanukkah 2012 begins in the evening of Saturday, December 8 and ends in the evening of Sunday, December 16
    Hanukkah, literally, dedication, Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple read the whole story here A summery is the Chanukah story begins with the Syrian-Greek occupation of the Holy Land. At the start, Greek rule was fairly benign Antiochus III, the King of Syria, who reigned from 3538 to 3574 (222-186 B.C.E.). He had waged war with King Ptolemy of Egypt over the possession of the Land of Israel. Antiochus III was victorious and the Land of Israel was annexed to his empire. He Died his son Seleucus was a twat Who Robbed the temple treasury to pay the Roman tribute He was killed and his brother Antiochus IV began to reign over Syria (in 3586 - 174 B.C.E.) his brother was a madman Desiring to unify his kingdom through the medium of a common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing all the Jewish Laws. This escalated to full out persecution. an Old rabbi Mattityahu stood up and inspired the Jews Kicked his ass. Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of G d’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise. In waging warfare, he said, their leader should be Judah the Strong. Judah was called "Maccabee," The people assembled in Mitzpah, where Samuel, the prophet of old, had offered prayers to G-d. After a series of battles the war was won. After Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 3622. Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of G-d, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. That miracle proved that G-d had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days for annual thanksgiving and for lighting candles. In commemoration of this event a menorah, a 9-branched candlestick, is lit each of 8 nights (using the ninth candle), amid singing and blessings. This commemoration is Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukah or Channuka / Chanukkah). “Channuka was originally Chag Haurim - the festival of light. This leads to the suspicion that it, too, was a solstice holiday that existed before the victory of the Maccabees, which was welded unto it.”

    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 Dzon'ku 'Nu (Witch-doctor) of the West African Papaws, an Ewe people. 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. Posibly the orgin of KWANZAA week long celebration honoring universal African American heritage and culture, observed from December 26 to January 1 each year. It features activities such as lighting candles in a candle holder with seven candles and culminates in a feast and giving of gifts. It was first celebrated in 1966–1967

    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 England, 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.

    Birth of Mithras
    Mithras celebrated the dies natalis solis invicti 'birthday of the invincible sun'. In a Roman context, Mithras was asungod (called sol invictus, "the invincible sun"), a "bull-slayer," "cattle-thief" and the savior of initiates of his cult
    Mithraism arose in the Mediterranean world at the same time as Christianity, either imported from Iran, or as a new religion which borrowed the name Mithras from the Persians. Zoroastrianism the ancient, pre-Islamic religion of Persia (modern Iran) Founded by the Iranian prophet and reformer Zoroaster in the 6th century BC, Zoroastrianism contains both monotheistic and dualistic features. Its concepts of one God, judgment, heaven and hell likely influenced the major Western religons of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Persian Deygan Festival is dedicated to Ahura Mazda, and Mithra Maidyarem is celebrated in Dey, the tenth month of the Zoroastrian calendar, from the sixteenth (Mihr) to the twentieth (Bahram) day Maidyarem is associated with Vahman, the Amesha Spenta (or Holy Immortal) who created the primal bull, and all cattle.
    Bull worship and sacrifice is undoubtedly much older and may go back several thousands of years to late Neolithic hunter-gatherers and probably was present in the earliest Neolithic communities such as Catal Hoyuk. The Mithraic adoption of bull symbolism was in all likelihood an homage of sorts to the distant past.
    Zoroastrian Persian immigrants are known as Parsis, or Parsees. In India the religion is called Parsiism where there is evidence of its practice from 1400 B.C. Mitra was part of the Hindu pantheon and Mithra was, perhaps, a minor Zoroastrian deity the god of the airy light between heaven and earth. He was also said to have been a military general in Chinese mythology.

    "The soldiers god" Mithras, even in Rome demanded a high standard of behavior, "temperance, self-control, and compassion -- even in victory". Such virtues were sought by Christian, too.The comparison of Mithraists and Christians is not coincidental. December 25 was Mithras' birthday (or festival [Survivals of Roman Religions) before it was Jesus'. The Online Mithraic Faith Newsletter [no longer available] says:

    "Since earliest history, the Sun has been celebrated with rituals by many cultures when it began it's journey into dominance after it's apparent weakness during winter. The origin of these rites, Mithrasists believe, is this proclamation at the dawn of human history by Mithras commanding His followers to observe such rites on that day to celebrate the birth of Mithras, the Invincible Sun."
    Mithraism, like Christianity, offers salvation to its adherents. Mithras was born into the world to save humanity from evil. Both figures ascended in human form, Mithras to wield the sun chariot, Christ to Heaven. The following summarizes the aspects of Mithraism that are also found in Christianity.

    "Mithras, the sun-god, was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. He was a savior-god who rivaled Jesus in popularity. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil."

    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 Persian 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 Persia, 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.

    Şeva Zistanê (Kurdish)

    The Night of Winter (Kurdish: Şeva Zistanê) is an unofficial holiday celebrated by communities throughout the Kurdistan region in the Middle East. The night is considered one of the oldest holidays still observed by modern Kurds and was celebrated by ancient tribes in the region as a holy day. The holiday falls every year on the winter solstice. 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.

    Dōngzhì Festival (East Asian Cultural Sphere and Mahayana Buddhist)

    The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter 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. Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers is the making and eating of balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice are prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean Called 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 Africa and Assam northeastern India)

    Goru is the winter solstice ceremony of the Pays Dogon of Mali.The celebration is once a year and consists of offering boiled millet on the conical altar of Amma, colouring it white. All other cults are directed to the god Amma 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" Dogons worship one Creator, called Amma, to whom they pray with arms outstretched towards the heavens. They claim to be a Malinké population that emigrated away from the Niger River Valley some five hundred years ago, in order to avoid Islam.( French anthropologists Marcel Griaule claimed The Dogon an African tribe living in the Mali republic in the sub-Sahara, Had advanced knowlege of Sirius's companion star cycle of 50 years. Unknown till 1844 when the German astronomer Friedrich Bessel deduced from changes in the proper motion of Sirius that it had an unseen companion.It was not even seen till Nearly two decades later, on January 31, 1862, when American telescope-maker and astronomer Alvan Graham Clark first observed the faint companion, which is now called Sirius B, or affectionately "the Pup"They knew that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy of stars, and that the planets move in elliptical orbits around the Sun.The Dogon claim that this ‘sacred knowledge’ was given them by a race of god-like extra-terrestrials amphibious beings called Nommu that came to earth from the Sirius system itself some 3,000 years ago Every 60 years a ceremony called the sigui, occurs when the star Sirius appears between two mountain peaks. They have a long religious tradition, dating back to their Egyptian roots, then imparted through Greek migratory patterns. This tradition did indeed describe Sirius and this elliptical binary star system, but the Dogon were already separated from mainstream civilisation during the the 1st century AD. They, like the Middle Eastern world, watched the heliacal setting and rising of Sirius each year, in the hope of seeing the appearance of the binary dark star, Nibiru. During the first century AD, it appeared, as promised They watched the red star appear near Sirius, and possibly watched some of its motion through the constellation of Canis Major. To the Dogon, the ‘Nommo star’ must have appeared to move along its elliptical orbit, brightening whilst coming towards us, and than receding back to Sirius. The tradition of the Sirius system as being the home of the gods would have been visibly played out in the heavens for the Dogon observers. )
    8000 miles away The goru bihu or cattle worship rites are observed on the last day of the year. The cattle are washed, smeared with ground turmeric and other pastes, struck with sprigs of dighalati and makhiyati and endeared to be healthy and productive (lao kha, bengena kha, bosore bosore barhi ja/maar xoru, baper xoru, toi hobi bor bor goru—eat gourd, eat brinjal, grow from year to year/your mother is small, your father is small, but you be a large one). The old cattle ropes are cast away through the legs and new ropes are tied to them, and they are allowed to roam anywhere they wished for the entire day. It is the last harvest ritual of three different cultural festivals of Assam and celebrated by the Assamese diaspora around the world and celebrates
    Their supreme god is Brai Shibrai or Father Shibrai. The crops of the season are offered to Brai Shibrai while wishing for peace and prosperity "Bi" means "to ask" and "Hu" means "to give" and so came BIHU The Dimasa people (or Dima-basa, and also called Dimasa-Kachari) are a group of people in Assam, in northeastern India. Dimasa mythology says they are the children of Bangla Raja and the great divine bird Arikhidima. Bangla Raja's six sons—Sibrai, Doo Raja, Naikhu Raja, Waa Raja, Gunyung Brai Yung, and Hamyadao—and Arikhidima are their ancestors, and in Dimasa belief, are ancestral Gods. They are called Madai in Dimasa. Evil spirits born of the seven eggs of Arikhidima are responsible for disease, suffering and natural calamities.

    Wigilia and Gody
    In Poland the ancient December solstice observance prior to Christianity involved people showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was a tradition that can still be seen in what is known as Gody. Wigilia or Wilia, from the Latin word vigilare — to watch, Czuwac in Polish, is reverently close to the heart of a Pole. It is greeted with such mystical symbolism, that it is considered by many to be a greater holiday than Christmas itself. The very word Wigilia, which in Poland was formerly known as the day before a feast day is now used only as the day before Christ's birth. The Wigilia supper is so special there is no other like it throughout the year. The day itself had significance many centuries before Christ's birth. Since it followed the longest night and the shortest day it was considered the last day of the year and the mystical symbolism associated with it was closely tied to the solar system. The severe cold weather and deep snows made family hold their festivities near the hearth within family groups. This day became known for generations to come as the holiday which strengthened family ties. A belief that spirits pervaded the home on this day and everything was to be made as comfortable as possible for them. This last day of the year would prophesize everything that was to happen in the coming year.
    The first preparation began very early, right after midnight. One of the young girls of the family went to the nearest stream and brought back pails of water. The water was used to sprinkle the cows in barn and also sprinkled on the family, awakening them in this manner. It was believed that water on this day had the power to heal and prevent illness. The entire family washed themselves in this water in order to assure plenty of money for the rest of their lives. It was the responsibility of the males to go into the forest and bring back boughs of fir and spruce to decorate the house. The top of the spruce or pine was hung from a beam in the ceiling, with the tip facing down over the table where the Wigilia was to be held. The table was first covered with straw or hay, and then with a white tablecloth. On the best plate of the house, the blessed wafer or Oplatek was placed. As the day began to darken and family members began to ready themselves for the evening meal, a child was sent out to look for the first star in the sky. With the appearance of the first star, the Wigilia meal would begin. The belief was that those sitting down to eat must add up to an even number. An odd number foretold that someone would not live to the next Christmas Eve supper. To make up for this, someone was always invited to make up the deficiency, be it honored guest or wandering beggar. Before approaching the Wigilia table, the family knelt down on the floor and prayed together out loud, grateful for all the blessings of the past year. At the conclusion of the prayer, the most important ceremony of the night, sharing of the Oplatek, and the exchange of wishes began. Tradition dictates that this be a meatless dinner, that there should be an uneven number of dishes served. In the more well-to-do-homes this was 11 or 13, with 13 being the preferred number as it represented the number that sat down at the Last Supper. Christmas day was the beginning of the twelve-day period from Christmas which was called "Gody " These twelve days were observed very carefully, for it was believed among the Polish people that Christmas Day and each of the following eleven days foretold the weather for the equivalent month of the year

    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 strolling, singing, and sifting grain that denotes the best wishes and receiving candy and small money in return, a tradition called Kolyadovanie, much like the old wassailing or mummers Tradition. Some suppose the word was borrowed the word from the Latin calendae ; compare "Kalends". Others believe it derived from Kolo, "wheel". Another speculation is that it derived from the Bulgarian/Macedonian word "коля/колам" (kolia/kolam), which means "to rip, to kill (a man), to cut animal for eating", or from the Serbo-Croatian "коло, колодар" (kolo, kolodar). Some claim it was named after Kolyada, the Slavic god of winter or Koliada, the goddess who brings up a new sun every day. This ancient celebration of Velja noc (Great Night) still persists in folk customs of Koleda, which can happen anywhere from Christmas up to end of February. In pre-Christian Croatia,"koleda" was a celebration of death and rebirth at the end of December in honour of the sun and god - Dažbog, whose power once more begins to increase in those days. Krijes, meaning bonfire in Croatian, is another festival honouring the sun, during the summer at the time of his greatest strength; a celebration for good harvest.

    Rozhanitsa Feast (12th century Eastern Slavic Russian)

    In twelfth 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

    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.

    Boxing Day

    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.

    Lá an Dreoilín, Wren day , St. Stephen's 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 in remembrance of the festival that was celebrated by the Druids. The “straw boys” in the picture wandered about thumping their clubs in unison, chanting menacingly for the wren. Another group dressed in sackcloth, the “Wren boys,” carried a metre-long carved wren through the crowd, hiding it from the straw boys.Previously the practice involved the killing of a wren, and singing songs from pub to pub, collecting money or offerings of food. On a bush decorated with ribbons (preferably a holly bush), they hung the wren or wrens that had been hunted and killed earlier that day reciting a rhyme that began:
    The wran, the wran
    the king of all birds
    On Stephen's Day
    was caught in the furze

    If no offerings were forthcoming at a house, there was a danger that the wren would be buried outside the hall-door, which was taken to bring bad luck for the next 12 months. More commonly, the wren was buried with a penny at the end of the day's festivities (the rest of the money collected went to buying drink). The little wren was the selected victim because of a belief that this bird betrayed a group of Irish soldiers by perching and tapping on their drums as they approached part of Cromwell's army. Alerted to their presence, Cromwell's men massacred them all. For this, the bird is to be punished ever after. Thankfully, nowadays an immitation is used in place of a real bird.

    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 (England celebrated the new year on March 25). 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 festival is still referred to as the Yules by the Scots of the Shetland Islands who start the festival on December 18 and hold the last tradition (a Troll chasing ritual) on January 18. The most widespread Scottish custom is the practice of first-footing which starts immediately after midnight on New Years. This involves being the first person (usually tall and dark haired) to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor 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.

    Choimus, Chaomos (Kalash of Pakistan)

    In the ancient traditions of the Kalash Kafir people of Pakistan,who live in valleys in the northwestern corner of Pakistan, about 20 miles north of Chitral. During winter solstice, Balomain a demigod who once lived among the Kalasha and did heroic deeds. returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao the Creator god who lives in Tsiam, the mythical land where the Kalasha originated, "During this celebrations women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold old loaves of bread cooked by the men. 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". Kalash means "black," and the people (thought to have descended from Alexander the Great) are called that because of the women's black robes. The Kalasha are among the people who live in Afghanistan in the area called Nuristan ("land of light"). This entire region was once known to the Muslims as Kafiristan ("land of infidels"), but in 1896 the Afghan Kafirs were forcibly converted to Islam. The Kalasha still maintain their old religion, a mixture of ancestor and fire worship. Their pantheon of gods, besides Dezao, includes Sajigor, the "great" god, Mahandeu, the "wise" god, and Surisan, who protects cattle.

    Lenæa Festival of the Wild Women (Ancient and Hellenistic Greece)

    License    Attribution No Derivative Works Some rights reserved by brianfuller6385In 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

    Midvinterblót (Swedish folk religion)

    In Sweden and many surrounding parts of Europe, polytheistic tribes celebrated a Midvinterblot or mid-winter-sacrifice, featuring both animal and human sacrifice. The blót was performed by goði, or priests, at certain cult sites, most of which have churches built upon them now. Midvinterblot paid tribute to the local gods, appealing to them to let go winter's grip. The folk tradition was finally abandoned by 1200, due to missionary persistence.
    Lucia, Feast of St. Lucy (Ancient Swedish, Scandinavian Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox)

    Lucia or Lussi Night happened on December 13, what was supposed to be the longest night of the year. The feast was later appropriated by the Catholic Church in the 16th century as St. Lucy's Day. It was believed in some folklore of Sweden that if people, particularly children, did not carry out their chores, the female demon, the Lussi or Lucia die dunkle would come to punish them.
    Perchta ritual (Germania, Alps)
    Early Germans (c.500–1000) considered the Norse goddess, Hertha or Bertha to be the goddess of light, domesticity and the home. They baked yeast cakes shaped like shoes, which were called Hertha's slippers, and filled with gifts. "During the Winter Solstice houses were decked with fir and evergreens to welcome her coming. When the family and serfs were gathered to dine, a great altar of flat stones was erected and here a fire of fir boughs was laid. Hertha descended through the smoke, guiding those who were wise in saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those persons at the feast". There are also darker versions of Perchta which terrorize children along with Krampus. Many cities had practices of dramatizing the gods as characters roaming the streets. These traditions have continued in the rural regions of the Alps, and various similar traditions, such as Wren day, survived in the Celtic nations until recently. This is commonly used in Holland.

    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 Indians. 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.

    Wayeb (Maya)

    Wayeb' or Uayeb, referencing the unlucky god N, were actually five nameless days leading up to the end of the Haab, the solar Maya calendar. It was thought to be a dangerous time in which there were no divisions between the mortal and immortal worlds, and deities were free to cause disaster if they willed it. To ward off the spirits, the Maya had a variety of customs they practiced during this period. For example, people avoided leaving their houses or grooming their hair. Calendar Round rituals would be held at the end of each 52 year round (coincidence of the three Maya calendars), 4 wayeb to 1 Imix 0 Pop, with all fires extinguished, old pots broken, and a new fire ceremony symbolizing a fresh start. The next Calendar Round will be on the winter solstice of 2012, beginning a new baktun. Haab' observations are still held by Maya communities in the highlands of Guatemala.Polo Voladore, Voladores de Popontla In Guatemala on this day, Mayan Indians honor the sun god Hunab Ku they worshipped long before they became Christians with a dangerous ritual known as the polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”. Three men climb on top of a 50-foot pole. As one of them beats a drum and plays a flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer. The mythological birth of humanity is depicted as a person emerging from the sacred tree. The Mayan/Aztec culture recognised the sacred "T" as the symbol of the tree that produced the human being. Totonaca myth tells of a time when there was a great drought, and food and water grew scarce throughout the land. Five young men decided that they must send a message to Xipe Totec, God of fertility so that the rains would return and nurture the soil, and their crops would again flourish. So they went into the forest and searched for the tallest, straightest tree they could find. When they came upon the perfect tree, they stayed with it overnight, fasting and praying for the tree’s spirit to help them in their quest. The next day they blessed the tree, then felled it and carried it back to their village, never allowing it to touch the ground. Only when they decided upon the perfect location for their ritual, did they set the tree down. The men stripped the tree of its leaves and branches, dug a hole to stand it upright, then blessed the site with ritual offerings. The men adorned their bodies with feathers so that they would appear like birds to Xipe Totec, in hope of attracting the god’s attention to their important request.

    Inti Raymi (Inca: Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador)

    The ancient Incas known as the Children of the SunAttachment 3834 celebrated a special festival to honor the sun god at the time of the December solstice. 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 festival that begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away. Sacsayhuamán on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists.

    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. 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.

    Amaterasu celebration, Requiem of the Dead

    In late seventh 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.

    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 with the meat, thread and sticks, bed into rings with ribbons.

    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.

    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.

    Modranicht, Modresnach (Germanic)

    Mōdraniht was a Germanic feast. It was believed that dreams on this night foretold events in the upcoming year. By 730, it was thought by Bede to have been observed by the Anglo-Saxons on the eve of the winter solstice. After the reemergence of Christmas in Britain Mothers Night was recognized by many as one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

    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.

    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.