Celtic Winter Holiday Traditions Dec 22, 2015 14:25:46 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Dec 22, 2015 14:25:46 GMT -5
Celtic Winter Holiday Traditions
Is there a moment quite as keen
or memory as bright
as light and fire and music sweet
To Warm the Winter’s Night?
The journey of winter is upon us and traveling through the countries, through Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and England, where Yule, New Year, Hogmagog, Christmas and the Winter Solstice have uniquely intertwined over time, each finding its own way to stand on the edge of nature while she sleeps. And so, during the coldest of seasons, her peoples have sought to connect the old and the new through song and dance, the death and rebirth of a new year! Here are some winter traditions that have come down to us:
Winter Solstice. While the solstices were not as important to the ancient Irish as the major fire festivals: Imbolc (February 1- Bridgit), Beltane (May Day, May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1) and Samhain (November 1, Halloween), they were nonetheless celebrated. Of the solstices and equinoxes, the winter solstice was the most important because it marked the rebirth of the sun following the shortest day. Many cultures celebrated this time to commemorate the birth of various gods. The winter solstice falls between two major fire festivals Samhain, or Halloween, and Imbolc. In Newgrange, County Meath, there is an ancient tomb covered with beautiful carvings, which remains in darkness for much of the year. The double spiral on this site is one of the symbols which can be seen at the Newgrange site. Once a year, on the winter solstice, the tomb fills with light to reveal the beautiful artwork on the walls. While it seems best to leave its origins to the historians, there is no doubt the ancient Irish considered this day important. It also marked “The Shortest Day” or “The Darkest Midnight” and was cause for celebration, since – once the shortest day has passed, it meant the journey toward spring could begin.
Going Door-to-Door. While the tradition of “caroling” and going door-to-door to sing for one’s neighbors is only done during the Holiday Season in recent years. In times gone by, it was common to carol from door to door for many of the major festivals. It is thought certain tunes were found particularly useful for this tradition. A dance called the “Horn Dance” was performed from All Souls Day to Twelfth Night in hopes of bringing luck for the New Year! In many Celtic cultures, the tradition of going door-to-door and caroling, or the idea of procession, was common. All Souls Night, or Samhain, has come down to us as Halloween, wherein going door-to-door is still part of our culture. The Horn Dance comes from Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire (England). Eight men dance through the village with antler horns on their heads in order to “bring in the luck” for the New Year. The tradition still continues in Abbots Bromley. This dance is thought to have its origins in pre-Christian fertility rites.
The Kylemore Carols. The Kylemore carols are a beautiful collection of Christmas carols from the village of Kylemore (County Galway, Ireland). In the depths of harsh winter, a reminder of sacred celebration invests these haunting old melodies, many of which are sung to this day in Kylemore and elsewhere.
Yule and the Yule Log. Yule marks the rebirth of the sun’s power, yet another symbol of death and rebirth – going from the darkness into the light. For many, Yule runs from before the Solstice until New Year’s Day. Many associate Yule with the “Yule Log,” a piece of wood decorated with evergreens, mostly holly and candles. Holly is another ancient symbol of the Irish which was believed to hold special properties, since it was “neither tree nor bush.”
Little Christmas. Traditionally Yule ended January 6. The Christian calendar celebrates “Little Christmas” January 6 also. In many cultures, this was the day decorations were taken down and another turkey was cooked to mark the end of the season.
December and the Sun Gods. December marks the celebration of many solar “saviors” and gods, usually around December 25. Many of them have the word “light” in their titles. They include, Baal, Dionysus and of course, Jesus Christ.
The Mummers. While the origin of the mummers remains unclear, they were a vital part of Irish tradition up to the present century. The “Straw Boys” or “Mummers” disguised themselves, often using straw to cover their faces and went from door-to-door. They usually requested and received food or money or some token of gratitude for their “performance.” This tradition was particularly strong in the north of Ireland. County Armagh has long been associated with mummers.
Hunting the Wren. The tradition of “Hunting the Wren” was originally associated with pagan ritual. Historically, a wren was captured to bring luck for the new year. In modern times, the tradition of Hunting the Wren involves musicians who go from gathering to gathering playing music on “St. Stephen’s Day” (December 26) and “passing the hat.”
Source: Aine Minogue.