I don’t know what to celebrate today and tomorrow.
The lunar calendar is a calendar based upon the monthly cycles of the Moon’s phases (synodic months), rather than the solar calendars that most Westerners are familiar with and use daily. The Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar and is the most common calendar system, originally evolved out of a lunar calendar system.
Today, that lunar calendar makes this the New Year that is most known as the “Chinese New Year.” This year is the Year of the Tiger. I made the mistake last year of ordering Chinese takeout on this day. Wow, was that a long, long wait for delivery!
But the Lunar New Year is celebrated by all those who follow the lunisolar calendar, including countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia and Indonesia, as well as diaspora communities all over the world. Similarly, Tibet, Thailand, India and other South and Southeast Asian cultures celebrate the new year based on local calendars.
But I could celebrate the ancient Imbolc, a word that comes from the Old Irish imbolg, which means “in the belly.” That needs some explanation.
It probably comes from early February being the time when ewes became pregnant and will produce spring lambs.
Christians took this pagan holiday and repurposed it as tomorrow’s Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy). Imbolc became associated with Saint Brigid who was thought to bring the healing power of the Sun back to the world.
But Candlemas is meant to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth. Any church ceremony will include bringing candles (the return of light) and Brigid’s crosses to church to be blessed.
Of course, tomorrow Groundhog Day takes most of the attention in America. What can I say about that silly holiday that has some origins in nature that I haven’t already written about on this site?
The 12 Days of Christmas is yet another aspect of Christmas that was a part of Christian theology but might be better known as a rather silly and secular holiday song. In Christianity, the 12 days mark the span between the birth of Christ (December 25) and January 5, the night before the coming of the three wise men (Magi) on January 6. That ending date is the Epiphany, sometimes called Three Kings’ Day or Little Christmas. Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of January 5th, the day before Epiphany, which traditionally marks the end of Christmas celebrations”
The total costs of everything this year would be more than $41,000. That’s up $2,000 from 2019. I guess this is about inflation.
One thing that didn’t get hit by inflation though is the eight maids a-milking. How come? The federal minimum wage stayed the same.
Why compare to 2019 data? PNC says that is a better gauge of the impacts of inflation before the pandemic’s effects took hold of the global economy.
Two turtle doves will set you back $450.00. That’s up 50%. Apparently great volatility in the bird markets in 2021. So, no big surprise that 3 French Hens went up 40%. I should have invested in birds this year.
But it’s a bit confusing that 4 Four Calling Birds (Are those like cardinals?) is still $599.96 – no change from 2019. Why are we downgrading calling birds? Still, not cheap.
I don’t think I was fully conscious of how many winged things are in this song. 6 geese and 7 swans too? Is this really what your true love would want? Not my true love, who said she’d take the 5 gold rings. Not bad at $895. Only up 8.5% because of slight gold commodity and retail price increases.
To add some music – though just pipes and drums – will see you back $2,943.93 (+7.1%) for 11 pipers and $3,183.17 for 12 drummers. Or you could just use Spotify and play some love songs.
December 26 has a number of holidays attached to it. Did you give your true love two turtle doves? Probably not, but there might be wren involved, or a box, or the start of a harvest festival, or a day to honor a saint.
The newest holiday for this day is Kwanzaa , a celebration of African-American heritage. And what are its origin and etymology?
St. Stephen’s Day is the oldest celebration of the 26th of December I found. It honors of the first Christian martyr. He was a Christian deacon in Jerusalem who was known for his service to the poor, and is the first Christian martyr. For his beliefs in Christianity, he was stoned to death in AD 36.
In the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas,” we hear:
Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen When the snow lay round about Deep and crisp and even
For me, the oddest of celebrations today is Wren Day. In some countries, “wren-boys” go from house to house, carrying a holly bush adorned with ribbons and figures of birds. They sing:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family’s great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.
If you haven’t a penny a halfpenny will do.
If you haven’t a halfpenny
God bless you.”
Dickens wrote the novella in a time when the British were re-evaluating past Christmas traditions such as carols. The holiday was becoming more secular and newer customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees were becoming part of what was being seen as a family holiday.
A year earlier, he had visited Cornwall to see for himself the horrible conditions of child workers in the mines there. He also visited the Field Lane Ragged School which was a place for London’s many homeless “street children.” It made him so angry that he decided to write a book exposing the terrible situation of children in poverty, and publish it at his own expense.
His previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit had been a flop, and he was strapped for cash. Since the last book had been satirical and pessimistic, he ultimately decided to go for a heartwarming tale with a holiday theme. The book didn’t cause great social change in England but it is actually quite dark for most of its pages. What it did change was the way the Christmas season would be celebrated.
The story skirts the edges of being a religious story in a number of ways. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself certainly touches on many religions. The reconsideration of carols (a religious folk song or popular hymn, particularly one associated with Christmas) probably played a part in the book’s title, but Dickens treats Scrooge’s transformation without religious connotations. The book has long been seen as both a secular story and a Christian allegory.
Many people know the story even if they never read the book from the many film and TV versions. Ebenezer Scrooge is an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and three spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. These experiences all take place on Christmas Eve and change him into a kinder, gentler man.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
As a child, I saw the classic 1951 film version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. I was still a Santa believer and I know the ghosts scared me in the same way that the witches scared me in The Wizard of Oz. Now, that film version and some of the more contemporary ones seem to me to be almost film noir. I find it interesting that many holiday films, even fluffy ones such as A Christmas Story, Elf or Home Alone, but also classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, have dark elements. As someone who has very mixed memories of Christmas seasons in my past both happy and sad, that seems right.
The final spirit to visit in this ghost story represents the future Yet to Come. It is silent and dark and the scariest of the spirits. Scrooge is concerned about whether or not the future is set or whether it can still be changed for the better. In Dickens’ version of this ghostly time travel, the future is not set.
“No space of regret can make amends
for one life’s opportunity misused”
The happiest spirit to visit represent Christmas Present. It’s ironic to Scrooge because he sees his employee Bob and his family, including the ill son Tim, being very happy on Christmas Eve even though he feels he has almost nothing to be happy about – and he knows he is partially responsible for their poverty.
“Reflect upon your present blessings
– of which every man has many –
not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
As I said, when the book was originally published the way Christmas was represented was somewhat controversial. Puritans in England and America argued that Christmas was a holiday from the days when pagans celebrated the winter solstice and many Christians felt that the extravagance of Christmas was an insult to the story of Christ.
But A Christmas Carol won out and was a huge best-seller in both England and the United States. It certainly set a different tone for modern Christmas that has numerous nods to a Dickens Christmas with figgy pudding.
I am not against seasonal generosity, gifting, feasting, and merriment but it does seem that something important has been lost in the holiday and our celebration. As I wrote last weekend about the Santa aspect of the holiday, the holiday seems much changed even from the Christmas I remember in the 1950s.
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
I forgot to mark the start of Saturnalia this year. This Roman holiday was a time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts, and the decoration of trees. Sound familiar?
Saturnalia was the pagan Roman winter solstice festival and honoring of Saturn who controlled the sowing of the new season’s crops, but Romans also began to spend the holiday gambling, singing, playing music, feasting, socializing and giving each other gifts.
First-century poet Gaius Valerius Catullus described Saturnalia as “the best of times… dress codes were relaxed, small gifts such as dolls, candles and caged birds were exchanged.”
It’s not too late to do some Saturnalia celebrating as the holiday became a weeklong festival.
Saturnalia originated as a farmer’s festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season and to honor Saturn (satus means sowing) and the cult of Saturn survived until the early third century AD in some places. Wax taper candles called cerei were common gifts during Saturnalia, to signify light returning after the solstice.
During the reign of Emperor Augustus, it was a two-day celebration on December 17 and 18. By the time Lucian described the festivities, it was a seven-day event from December 17-25 and included the Winter Solstice. Changes to the Roman calendar moved the climax of Saturnalia to December 25. Is this where Christmas came from?
Christmas owes something to this ancient Roman holiday and pagan festival. As with Christmas, Saturnalia started as a religious holiday, honoring the god Saturn, but evolved (or devolved) into just an excuse for revelry with its religious origins mostly forgotten.
I will note that devout Christians and some Biblical scholars will say that Saturnalia has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. They would say that the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy following the Annunciation on March 25th would produce a December 25th date for the birth of Christ.
As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.
In this month’s writing prompt at my Poets Online e-zine, I noted an old poem (1784), “New Year’s Verses” by Philip Freneau, in which he blesses the calendar maker who came up with the idea of a year.
Blest be the man who early prov’d And first contriv’d to make it clear That Time upon a dial mov’d, And trac’d that circle call’d a year;
Do you bless or curse the coming of winter?
December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. That solstice is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. But you only have to move south of the equator for it to be the start of spring. and winter won’t arrive there until June.
In my brief youthful surfer days, the film The Endless Summer was a cult classic documentary. In 1966, I had that day-glo poster on the wall at the foot of my bed and stared at it every day. The surfers in the film were in search of the “perfect wave” but what interested me more is that their travels showed that you could follow summer around the globe. It could always be summer if you moved from hemisphere to hemisphere.
That was a few years after I had figured out the chords to The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” which in my mind was saying the same thing. I didn’t keep surfing and never really progressed very far on the guitar and never did get to follow the Sun. I suppose it became more of a metaphor than a reality. Follow your bliss. Head for the positive.
Though some of us in the North might be sad to see summer and autumn ending and winter starting since ancient times astronomical winter and the solstice was a joyous celebration. After the solstice, the days get longer building daylight hours until the vernal equinox and the start of spring.
Societies globally have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice which was seen as the day of the Sun’s rebirth. Symbolically, fire or light is often a component. Other symbols include things representing life and death, the rising Sun, and the Moon.
A good example is Yule which was a celebration of the ancient Norsemen of Scandinavia and it ran from the solstice through January. You might know about Large Yule logs which were set on fire at one end. More modern and tamer versions have taper candles inserted into a smaller log and decorated with evergreen clippings, holly, mistletoe, or ivy.
Bonfires also figure into many ceremonies in order to encourage the sun’s return. There is a large fire traditionally burning on Mount Fuji each year.
Hanukkah is another happy celebration that features light via the fire of candles or oil lamps.
In the Hopi tradition of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the role of announcing the setting of the sun, after which an all-night ceremony begins with the kindling of fires and dancing.
The Winter Solstice arrives on the 21st mid-afternoon here in Paradelle. If that isn’t appealing, head south and enjoy summer’s arrival.
The winter solstice (also called the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice) occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. If you are at the North Pole on the 21st, you’ll experience continuous darkness or twilight.
I don’t love winter, but I have lived with it all my life. The four seasons are strong reminders of cycles – birth, maturity, aging, death, rebirth. There is something about losing summer that makes its return all the more miraculous to me.