I’ll leave Linus to explain Christmas, for right now.
Category Archives: Holidays
This is the time of year that various cultures have holidays and celebrations to honor and remember the dearly departed. Two days ago, it was All Hallow’s Eve (a.k.a. Halloween), yesterday was All Saints’ Day, today is All Souls’ Day. I celebrated Día de los Muertos, known to English speakers as Day of the Dead, today and yesterday. The traditionally Mexican holiday begins on November 1 and ends on November 2, combining All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
In most regions of Mexico, November 1st is to honor deceased infants and children, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd. The former is known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). The latter is referred to as Día de los Muertos and Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead).
This holiday finds its roots in paganism. The Catholic Church created All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day near Samhain as one way to convert pagans. There is also pagan ancestry from Mexico itself. Rituals honoring deceased ancestors have been observed by the indigenous pagan cultures in present-day Mexico for as long as 3,000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
On the Aztec calendar, the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month (about the beginning of August). It was celebrated for the entire month. The Lady of the Dead, a goddess, was the one who the festivities were dedicated to.
The skull, specifically sugar skull, is the common symbol of this holiday. In Spanish, skull is calavera. People wear skull masks, called calacas. Some of the holiday’s traditional food are sugar or chocolate skulls (for both the living and the dead) and pan de muerto. Pan de muerto is a sweet egg bread made in various shapes.
People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.
Families will offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the spiritual essence of the ofrendas food, so though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site too.
Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes. They usually have crucifixes, statues or pictures of the Virgin Mary, pictures of the dead loved ones, candles and ofrendas. Families tend to spend time at these altars or shrines praying and telling stories about the dead.
Have a blessed Dia de los Muertos! May all of your ancestors and friends rest in peace!
Happy Lughnasadh, everybody! Lughnasadh falls c. August 1 in the Northern Hemisphere and c. February 1 in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also known as Lammas.
This is a harvest festival in Gaelic culture. In Irish mythology, this festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh (who the festival is named after). It begun as a funeral feast and sporting competition in commemoration of his foster mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.
As the autumn begins, the Celtic Sun God enters old age, but is not yet dead. He symbolically loses some of his strength as the sun rises farther in the South; each day grows shorter and each night grows longer.
There are some historical customs for this holiday. Celebrations were commonly held on the hilltops. People would also gather bilberries. Since this is sabbat, it was common for there to be bonfires for this holiday. The ashes from the bonfires were used to bless fields, cattle and people. People would also visit holy wells. Visitors to these wells would pray for health while walking clockwise (in the Northern Hemisphere) around the well. They would then leave offerings. Typical offerings included: coins or clooties (a strip or piece of cloth, a rag or item of clothing). In Gaelic Ireland, this was also a favored time for handfastings.
Some people in modern times have come to celebrate this holiday. A common custom is baking loaf of bread for today. Neopaganism has brought this holiday back, but it varies widely in how and when it is celebrated. This is in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year as one of the eight sabbats. It’s the first of three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being Mabon (Autumn Equinox) and Samhain. Celtic Reconstructionism emphasizes historical accuracy in celebrating this holiday.
Enjoy this time. Happy Lughnasadh/Lammas! Blessed be!
Happy Ramadan to those of you who celebrate it! Today, July 20, is the first day of Ramadan. It will last until August 18, 2012 (30 days). Muslims will fast for the entire month. This means they will not eat, drink, or have sexual relations from dawn until sunset. To learn a little more about this, check out my post: Sawm. Also check out BBC’s page about Ramadan. Happy Ramadan!
Today, June 24, 2012, is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. This is celebrated as the birthday, or nativity, of John the Baptist. We have no evidence that this is his actual birthday, but it’s like celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas. This day is generally observed by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches.
Life and Death of John
Many Christians interpret that John the Baptist was born to be a preparation for the coming of Jesus. The circumstances of his birth were miraculous, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:5-25). John’s parents, Zecharias (a.k.a. Zechariah) and Elisabeth (a.k.a. Elizabeth), never had children and were beyond the age of being able to have children. Zecharias, a Jewish priest, was chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. While he was doing this, Archangel Gabriel appeared to him. Gabriel told him that Elisabeth will bear him a son, who will be named John. Since Zecharias did not believe Gabriel’s message, he was struck dumb until John’s birth. After nine months, John was born (Luke 1:57-66). The people came to circumcise him. They wanted to name him after his father. Elisabeth told them he would be called John. They told her that there were no Johns in her family, so they asked Zecharias. Zecharias took a tablet and wrote that he shall be called John. At that moment, he was able to speak again. After all of this, Zecharias praised the Lord and was prophesied the future ministry of John (Luke 1:67-80).
At the Anunciation [of Jesus’ birth], Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would be with child. She would name him Jesus. The Archangel also told her that her cousin, Elisabeth, was six months pregnant (Luke 1:36). Mary paid a visit to Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-45). After she gave her salutation to Elisabeth, John leaped in her womb. Elisabeth was then filled with the Holy Ghost and blesses Mary. This can be interpreted as John’s first act of prophecy.
Later in life, John the Baptist started baptizing people in the name of the Lord. He eventually baptized his cousin, Jesus. Heaven opens when Jesus rises out of the water and God gives his blessing to the Son of God. See Matthew 3; Mark 1:4-11; Luke 3:1-22; and John 1:6-34. He was eventually beheaded thanks to Herod.
History of Celebration
This is another holiday that Christianized the pagan festivals of the newly converted Christians (former pagans). The specific holiday that it Christianized was the Summer Solstice.
Have a great day! Have a good feast for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist! Happy Birthday to him!
Today is the first day of Summer! Other names for today are: Summer Solstice, Litha, Alban Heflin, All-Couples Day, Feast of Epona, Feast of St. John the Baptist, Midsummer, Vestalia, etc. For the rest of this, we will assume the reader is in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Soltice” is derived from two Latin words: sol (meaning sun) and sistere (meaning to cause to stand still). As the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky each day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the previous day. This made it appear to “stand still.” This is also the longest day of the year and the shortest night of the year.
The reason we have a change of seasons is the tilt of the Earth’s axis (23.5°). The North Pole is fixed in a set place. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the North Pole will point either towards or away from the Sun. Since this is summer, the North Pole is pointing directly at the Sun.
Let’s explore some of the celebrations (ancient and modern) around this time of year:
- Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore“). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth“) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water“). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…“
- Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.
- Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
- Ancient Germanic, Slavic and Celtic Tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames…” It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.” Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
- Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from JUN-7 to JUN-15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
- Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
- Christian Countries: After the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as JUN-24. It “is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint.” 16 Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other Christian saints’ days are observed on the anniversary of their death. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb…[thus his] birth…should be signalized as a day of triumph.” 16 His feast day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is fixed a few days after the winter solstice.
- Essenes: This was a Jewish religious group active in Palestine during the 1st century CE. It was one of about 24 Jewish groups in the country — the only one that used a solar calendar. Other Jewish groups at the time included the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, followers of John, and followers of Yeshua (Jesus). Archaeologists have found that the largest room of the ruins at Qumran (location of the Dead Sea Scrolls) appears to be a sun temple. The room had been considered a dining room by earlier investigators, in spite of the presence of two altars at its eastern end. At the time of the summer solstice, the rays of the setting sun shine at 286 degrees along the building’s longitudinal axis, and illuminate the eastern wall. The room is oriented at exactly the same angle as the Egyptian shrines dedicated to the sun. Two ancient authorities — the historian Josephus and the philosopher Filon of Alexandria — had written that the Essenes were sun worshipers. Until recently, their opinion had been rejected by modern historians.
Very interesting and powerful. Summer has always been important to us (Robinson). Enjoy this time. Have a happy solstice!