When winter rolls around, the air gets colder, the sky is darker for longer periods, and things seem a little bleak. Especially if you live in colder climates and are bombarded with snow. I now live in a wet climate and don't see snow as often during the winter. Not that I miss it mind you...but it does remind me that during this time of year people are feasting, celebrating and basically doing all they can to try and ignore winter knocking on their door, threatening to kill them.
In ancient times, they sure knew how to party in honor of winter. Where do you think Christmas actually came from? It came from some ancient celebrations that were held to either ward off winter, celebrate it, or to honor some god(s) and get shit-faced drunk. Christmas is a thief, and has stolen from many traditions, not just Yule. And while partying is always a fun and awesome thing to do, I am really curious about the darker traditions that happened in ancient times during the holiday season.
So come with me on a little journey back into the Past. Pretend I am your Gothic Time Lord (now wouldn't that be a treat huh? A Goth Time Lord!) and that I am taking you into the past to explore the darker side of some of Winter's Holiday Rites...
*shoo's everyone into her Tardis, and starts pushing some shiny red buttons, smiling like a maniac.*
Let's first stop in Ancient Rome. Ah the Romans! They knew how to party didn't they? From December 17 to roughly the 23, Romans everywhere celebrated Saturnalia. Saturn had a huge party in his honor, including food, wine, naked people and even gladiatorial sacrifices! That's right, a bunch of warriors were thrown into a coliseum in Saturn's honor and told to fight to the death. The fallen were believed to be sent to Saturn's embrace and thus Rome would have Saturn's favor for a year! Those Romans were a gory sort.
Okay, stop checking out the naked people and get back in the Police box! Come along now!
*waves people into the Tardis*
It's time to visit some of my favorite people: THE NORSEMEN! Ah the Norse! they have taught us so much haven't they? It's because of them we have the word kiosk! But also, the Norse celebrated Yule! And yes, Yule isn't a completely dark and morbid holiday, but did you know they practiced some interesting rites during this holiday? For example, they would preform what is known as a blót and during that time they would feast, honor the gods, drink loads of mead and sacrifice animals! It was considered honorable to do such things then! Honor was important to the Norse.
*Plays with something that whirs and buzzes before the whole contraption shakes and slams to the ground. Kweeny acts like that they are the most natural sounds in the world and opens the door to the new location*
Now it's time to go visit some Pagan Ango-Saxons and learn about where Christmas Eve came from! Did you know Christmas Eve is based on a holiday rite called Mōdraniht? It's true. Mōdraniht (Otherwise known as Night of the Mothers/Mother's Night) is a rather dark and important rite for women, where many sacrifices were made. There is some theories that Mōdraniht is connected to Germanic people as well, and Matron cults that sprung up around this period.
What's that? These aren't dark enough for you? Well, I guess I better bring out the big guns. Come along, everyone back in the Tardis...
*Whirring noises ensue and Kweeny pulls some levers and knobs*
Homanay is a word used to describe the last day of the year. And while they celebrate this crazy rite on Jan 1st, it is known to last right on through January. This celebration is as old as the Norse Yule, and there are some theories the two are connected. However, Hogmanay has it's own, unique traditions.
*hands you a torch*
You like fire? GOOD. We are gonna see a lot of it.
Each place in Scotland has it's own ritual and ways of celebrating Hogmanay. In North-east Scotland people wander down the streets swinging balls of fire. To do so correctly you create "balls" of chicken wire filled with old newspaper, sticks, rags, whatever is flammable and attach this ball to a length of chain or rope. Add fire, then start swinging! Kinda freaky and awesome huh? But wait, there's more fire play coming...
In a town called Burghead in Moray, they have this big fire ritual where they do The Burning of the Clavie. They build a big bonfire of casks split in two, and light it up on the 11th of Jan. (The 11th is the first day of the Julian Calendar, in case you were curious.) They nail the two casks together, fill it with tar, light the sucker, then carry it around the town. After they reach their destination it is left on a ruins of an old altar called the Douro, where it is tended until the proper time to put it out. Neat huh?
Other places in Scotland have more tamer rituals, like making pies and cakes, posting sentries to greet you at your door and ask "Who goes there...?" You of course answer, "The New Year, all is Well." and a strange ritual of decorating a herring... But there is one more Scottish Hogmanay ritual that fascinates me very much!
There is an old Highlands custom called The Saining, in which on New years morning, people take water from a nearby river ford that is known to be used by both the living and the dead, and they drink and sprinkle the water to bless and protect their homes and livestock. After the "sprinkling" is finished they lock everything up and put juniper in the fire, so the smoke can fill the rooms and cause everyone to choke and cough! Once that happens, you can open the doors and windows again and let the New Year's air in...
If that isn't creepy, I don't know what is.
And there you have it! Some of my favorite, quirky, and morbidly neat holiday rituals!
*kicks the Tardis*
I think we might be stuck in Scotland for a while though. Time travelling isn't one of my strongest suits. Hey, at least I didn't go on about Humbug Day! I mean, who wants to be a grouchy Scrooge when you could be throwing fire, and drinking water of the dead! Sign me up!