Greetings From St. Nicholas and Krampus

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra. He was an early Christian bishop of the ancient Greek maritime city of Myra (now Turkey) during the time of the Roman Empire.

Many miracles attributed to his intercession led to his sainthood. His reputation evolved among the faithful and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving led to the traditional model of Santa Claus (“Saint Nick”),


Sinterklaas arriving in the Dutch town of Schiedam Image: WikimediaSaint Nicholas Day is observed on December 5/6 in Western Christian countries and December 19 in Eastern Christian countries on the Old Calendar. This day is celebrated as a Christian festival, but along with the attendance of Mass or other worship services, there are gifting traditions.

In Europe, especially in Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor.

In Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows. Gifts traditionally are given to children who were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows.

In the Netherlands, Dutch children put out a clog shoe filled with hay and a carrot for Saint Nicholas’ horse. “Santa Claus” is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas, the saint’s name in that language.

Some American children leave their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hope that Saint Nicholas will place some gifts or coins on the soles. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive from Saint Nicholas and some traditions from other countries have been passed on, but the gift-giving tradition has been moved to Christmas Eve or Day rather than Saint Nicholas Day.

Besides Sinterklaas, earlier names for the legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas as a patron saint of children include De Sint (“The Saint”), De Goede Sint (“The Good Saint”), and De Goedheiligman (“The Good Holy Man”) in Dutch; Saint Nicolas in French; Sinteklaas in West Frisian; Sinterklaos in Limburgs; Saint-Nikloi in West Flemish; Kleeschen and Zinniklos in Luxembourgish; and Sankt Nikolaus or Nikolaus in German.

Of course, there is no hard evidence of any Nicholas type person’s miracles and the legend doesn’t stand up to scientific analysis. And most of what Americans now associate with Santa Claus (flying reindeer, down the chimney and other supernatural powers) come from the marketing of the commercialized version of Christmas.

Most people don’t know that while Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, he is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

Some of the traditions followed in other countries bear little resemblance to the legendary St. Nick we know in the United States.

In Italy, San Nicola) is the patron of the city of Bari (where it is believed that his stolen remains are found) and their celebration is called the Festa di San Nicola. That occurs on May 7–9 of May and includes the relics of the saint carried on a boat on the sea in front of the city with many boats following (Festa a mare).

Also, since San Nicola is said to protect children and virgins, on this day in December the ritual of Rito delle nubili finds unmarried women seeking a husband at an early-morning Mass, in which they have to turn around a column 7 times.

My own childhood included not only Santa Claus and St. Nicholas but also the terrifying Krampus. My mother’s family were from Austria and my father’s side from Austria-Hungary (though Slovak by language). In those places, as well as in  Bavaria and Tyrol, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia, this creature with Germanic folklore roots appears.

A person dressed as Krampus in Salzburg    (via Wikimedia)

You may have heard that Santa Claus keeps a list of who is naughty and who is nice, but Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon” who accompanies St. Nick. This demonic figure of the Krampus has the job of punishing children during the Yule season who have misbehaved. When I asked my mother how he punishes kids she sais “You don’t want to know.” He also sometimes captures the really naughty children in his sack and carries them away to his lair.

In some of these countries, the eve of St. NIck is called Krampus Night or Krampusnacht and that’s when he appears. In modern times, young men will dress up as the Krampus before St. Nicholas Day frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Sometimes accompanying St. Nicholas and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses.

When the Saint himself appears nowadays, he is usually in the Eastern Rite vestments of a bishop, and he carries a ceremonial staff.

Nicholas gives gifts. When not terrorizing children, Krampus supplies coal and ruten bundles. That is an object with pagan origins that may have had significance in pre-Christian initiation rites. They are bundles of birch branches that Krampus carries and with which he occasionally swats children.

Greetings from Krampus!
Hopefully, you did not send or receive any cards this week like this one from the early 1900s that reads “Greetings from Krampus!”


Spring Will Come

There is snow on the ground in Paradelle, and the Polar Vortex visited us this past week. The ground is rock-hard. Nothing is budding. But I saw my first robin today.


There are a lot of things that are supposed to indicate that the spring season is near. That silly groundhog in Pennsylvania who was pulled out of his home, saw no shadow (Duh, it was cloudy) and so it is supposed to be an early spring. NOAA says Phil the Groundhog has a 40% accuracy rate over 133 years – about as good as a coin toss.

It is a sure sign of spring when I once again watch the film Groundhog Day, and whatever the weather might be, I get into the Zen of that film.

Animals pay no attention to calendars, but those that hibernate or spend more time  inside than outside (like most of us) during winter do sense a warming climate. There are also internal clocks that will signal that it is time for them to emerge.

It made a kind of sense to people at one time that if they observed an animal (bears in France, badgers in Germany, groundhogs in America) emerging but then heading back inside, it must “know” something about the weather ahead.

You can also be a sky watcher like the ancients, who paid more careful attention to things up there. The movements of the Sun and Moon were very important and today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. Today falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

Though it might not feel like it, consider that winter is halfway over and spring is on the celestial horizon – whether it looks and feels like it outside. I have definitely noticed that there was a longer day(light) the past week.

Many nature and garden folks look to the plants in their neighborhood for signs of spring. But I can’t say that I have found them to be much more accurate than groundhogs. I saw some bulbs poking above ground back in December, but they stopped their progress. I have a patch of crocuses that get full sun all day in front of my home that always bloom a week or more before the others.

Take the snowdrops I have outside. When they bloom, it might be snowy and they add some white (and green) to the landscape. But Galanthus nivalis will bloom when they are ready no matter what the weather happens to be. They are early bloomers.  Mine are not poking out, but we have a warming week ahead, so they might break through.

Cultures and religions all have some type of seasonal celebrations. The Celtic holiday of Imbolc is an ancient one that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. February first is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

The ancient Imbolc (from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”) is thought to have come from his time being when ewes became pregnant. Those would be the spring lambs. As February started, Saint Brigid was thought to bring the healing power of the sun back to the world.

Christians took the pagan holiday and repurposed February 2 as Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy).  Though it is to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth, the ceremony is to bring candles (and Brigid’s crosses) to church to be blessed.  So, it offers the elements of fire and birth.

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

What made that robin return to this cold northern place now? Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations.

Though the vast majority of robins do move south in the winter, some remain and move around in northern locations. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature and fruit is the robin’s winter food source. I haven’t seen any robins in my area since autumn, so I assume they went south.

American Robins eat large numbers of both invertebrates and fruit. In spring and summer, they prefer earthworms, insects and some snails. they also eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits and juniper berries. One study suggested that robins may try to round out their diet by selectively eating fruits that have bugs in them.

Concerning the Yuletide


I see that the Yule Log at Douglass College celebrates its 100th anniversary tomorrow.  This is a non-sectarian event, but this marking of the advent of winter falls on the first Sunday of the Christian Advent and the first night of Hanukkah. The Douglass College event embraces the diversity of seasonal celebrations with candles, which play a role in many observations during this time.

I attended the Yule Log celebration there my freshman year at neighboring Rutgers College and sang songs, and listened to students reading passages about the winter season.

Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time”) is a festival historically observed by Germanic peoples. It went through some remixes and later was, as many other pagan holidays, Christianised as Christmastide.

As a child, my family incorporated some of our the Austro-Hungarian traditions of our ancestors. We considered Yuletide to be a 12-day celebration (as with the more modern Twelve Days of Christmas).

“Officially” Yule 2018 will begin on the Winter Solstice on December 21 (at 5:23 PM ET for the Northern Hemisphere if you want to be Druid precise) and it will end on January 1, 2019. So, today’s post is early, but it gives you lots of time to prepare.

The most common present day custom is probably the Yule log, but there are also a Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing and other pagan Yule symbols.

Much earlier references to Yule are made in the Germanic month names Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule).

We also associate this time with the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. But you can mark the Yuletide and the winter season inside and outside your home with a variety of traditions.

I forgot this year when the first snow fell, to collect some of it for snow water – a kind of Pagan “holy” water.

I know that some people leave out birdseed ornaments and halved oranges as winter offerings to attract and aid the birds who remain for winter.


If you make some wassail, you can gather friends and go wassailing and after the sun has gone down, Sure, go ahead and burn a yule log in a bonfire, if you can.

Inside, you can make stovetop potpourri as an alternative to incense.

As the winter solstice comes upon us, get out the tarot cards and do a spread for you and your friends and see what is to come.

Hang mistletoe for protection, and also for consensual kisses. In the Christian era, mistletoe in the Western world became associated with Christmas as a decoration under which lovers are expected to kiss. It had also been considered protection from witches and demons. Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.


In a cultural sense, I would be quite happy if someone decided to make me some Swedish Lussekatter rolls, or a loaf of cardamom-scented, studded with raisins and candied citron Norwegian Julekake bread. The smell of any baking in the house in winter always warms me and feels like the holiday season.

You can have a ritual bath with fresh orange slices and winter spices, such as frankincense and myrrh, or essential oils which is supposed to ensure future prosperity.

On a Winter Solstice or Yule altar you might find colors like reds, greens, whites, and metallic colors, but some holly, pine, ivy, mistletoe, juniper, or cedar greenery. The harvest can be represented by oranges, pears, nuts and berries.  Snowflake obsidian, clear quartz, or bloodstone may be found there too.

Neopaganism – and holiday rituals – can vary widely and also share similarities, having come from similar origins. Some may try to celebrate in a way as close as possible to how they believe Ancient Germanic pagans observed the tradition. Neopagan sects may celebrate Yule with a special meal and gift giving.

No matter how you treat this time of year, there are probably some roots back to the original Yuletide.


Quarter Days and the Wheel of the Year


The recent summer solstice reminds me that many of our current rituals and holidays have some basis in the calendars of the ancient Celts and other cultures. The turning of the “Wheel of the Year” was a concept used in varying ways by several cultures.

Historians don’t all agree about whether the ancient Celts observed the solstices and equinoxes. They may have divided the year into four major sections: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. Today those days are referred to as Quarter Days.

Some historians believe the ancient Celts observed eight divisions of the year – the four major sections, which are the equinoxes and solstices each beginning with a quarter day, and then a further halving into four cross-quarter days.

It is important to remember that the seasons as we know them today are not ancient division, though they are certainly based on some of the same celestial observations. The solstices and equinoxes nicely divided an agrarian lifestyle year.

The adoption of the 12-month Roman calendar for civil and then religious purposes began to align closely with the liturgical year of the Christian church.

The eight divisions are: Midwinter (Yule), Imbolc, Vernal Equinox (Ostara), Beltane, Midsummer (Litha), Lammas/Lughnasadh, Autumnal equinox (Mabon) and Samhain.

The Cross-Quarter Days marked the midpoint between a solstice and equinox, and for the ancient Celts, these marked the beginning of each season. As far as “seasons,” there were only two divisions: winter marked with Samhain which was the start of the dark half of the year, and summer/Beltane to begin the light half of the year.

The Wheel of the Year is the annual cycle of seasonal festivals, still observed by many modern Pagans. It consists of either four or eight festivals depending on whether they observe the solstices and equinoxes, or include the four midpoint cross quarter days.

A sun cross is a design found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory. Its importance in prehistoric religion has made its interpretation as a solar symbol.

Popular legend in Ireland says that the Celtic Christian cross was introduced by Saint Patrick or possibly Saint Declan, though there are no examples from this early period. The legend is that St. Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross to bring the pagan followers a connection to the Christian cross. The cross also divided the solar year into quarters.

The Old Moon After the Winter Solstice


Tonight, the moon will be full in Paradelle just before midnight (11:53 p.m. EST).  It is a bit odd that we give times for the full moon such as UTC, EST etc. because, despite our human efforts to control time, the moon turns full at the same instant worldwide. But, yes, it will be at 8:53 p.m. PST.

If we want to be astronomically correct, the moon is only “full” at that moment when it is most opposite the sun in its orbit.

You can also note this as a time of the arrival of the Morning Star in the east. The Morning Star isn’t a star at all, but the name given to the planet Venus when it appears in the east before sunrise. The Greek referred to “Phosphorus” (meaning “Light-Bringer”) or Heōsphoros [AKA Eosphorus in English] meaning the “Dawn-Bringer” for Venus in its morning appearance.

Popularized names for this January full moon are the Wolf Moon, Old Moon or Moon After Yule.  Some of the American Indian names include Cold Moon, Cooking Moon, Moon of the Terrible, Moon of the Raccoon, Full Snow Moon (also used by some tribes to the February moon).

The most popular name on this blog has been Wolf Moon. It comes from the deepening snows of midwinter in some area (like the Dakotas) and the howling of hungry wolves heard in the long nights outside villages. Wolves often hunt at night and many people associate their howling with the moon. However, it is lore rather than biology that wolves howl at the moon.

This Cold Moon (Unolvtani in Cherokee) marked the start of the season for personal and ritual observance, fasting and personal purification. The tools for planting are repaired, new ones made, and ancestors are honored by passing on their stories to young ones. Our seasons don’t align with American Indian seasons which were lunar-based rather than sun-based. This time was for families to prepare for the next season which starts  with the full moon in March.

Some tribes marked this time with the Cold Moon Dance and community hearth fires being put out and new ones being made. The renewal of fires was often the duty of holy men of certain clans. The new fires tradition was also a part of celebrations by ancients in Europe to mark the end and beginning of the seasonal cycles.

Moon ceremonies often involve fire, whether that be a bonfire or the lighting of candles.

One Moon prayer I found online used by some Pagan groups is “We gather tonight to rejoice by the light of the moon. We celebrate the season of darkness, knowing that the next turn of the Wheel will bring light. We use this time of darkness for thought, introspection, and growth. As the moon above, so the earth below.”

If you want to make that celebration a bit more English or American Colonist, throw in some wassail or cakes and ale.

Almost every name for the Full Moons is location-based. A Wolf Moon would have no meaning to many people.  A Snow Moon would apply to people in northern climes but not to people in warmer areas. Tribes of the southwest and the northeast did not share the same climate, plants or animals and the names of the moons show that. A name like Moon When Trees Pop would not apply to a tribe living in the Arizona desert.

In the distant past, the names usually applied to a period of time that included the month between the Full Moons and not just the day. Weeks, months and years were not the same concepts of time for them, and there were no leap years, time zones or daylight savings time to negotiate.

I chose Old Moon for this post’s title because I’m feeling old today and although the year is new, in some ways it seems like a continuation of the December winter and year. As a lifelong teacher and student, September feels more a the New Year than January.  If I had to pick a time for the calendar to begin, I would choose spring and let the year end with winter rather than start in the middle of it. How very Northern Hemisphere of me.

I like the Druid Poet’s Moon name for this month. Our January is their Llianth, the fourth month of their year, and this is seen as a time for peace, creativity, and inspiration.


The Honey Moon

The June Full Moon is often called the Rose, Strawberry or Flower Moon. For 2012, it appears on Monday, June 4th, and I chose an older name of the Honey Full Moon (AKA the Mead Moon) that goes back to medieval times. Both of those names are associated with Druids and pagans.

We are past the moons that signal spring and new life reaching for the warmth and light of the summer sun. Birds have hatched, animals have given birth and insects are swarming. Just last month, bee hives would have been empty but now after the heavy pollen of spring, they are laden with honey.

And that brings us to mead. This honey wine is believed to have been discovered by Irish monks during medieval times. The drink figures in both Gaelic poetry and Irish folklore. The basic recipe for mead consists of honey and water and sometimes a bit of yeast. The fermented honey wine has its flavor variations based on the flowers that produced the honey and the way the mead was prepared. Some people compare it to a Riesling wine with a range from sweet to quite dry.

Mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility, while also contributing supposed aphrodisiac qualities. As a result, Mead quickly found its way into Irish wedding ceremonies.

Some historians and etymologists say the term “honeymoon” came from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine everyday for one full moon (a month) after their weddings. Today, some Irish weddings still include a traditional Mead toast to the newlyweds.

If you want to stay with the pagan beliefs, then the natural energy of this time is a time for personal transformation, especially near this fertile moon. It is also a time ripe for prosperity, inspiration, and creativity. Pagans may also wear shades of yellow, gold, and amber to honor the harvesting of the honey. You may even want to try brewing your own mead.

This Sagittarius Full Moon is also the time of the Christ-Goodwill Festival or the Festival of Humanity, and the World Day of Invocation – all times marked to unite the human family. This year the Full Moon is a Lunar Eclipse at 14 degrees of Gemini/Sagittarius.

In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives this full Moon one of its names. Europeans often refer to it as the Rose Moon. Other names include: the Moon of Horses, Lovers’ Moon, Strong Sun Moon, Aerra Litha (Before Litha), Brachmanoth (Break Month) and the Moon of Making Fat.

The Full Moon festival of Edfu in Egypt honored the goddess Hathor. The cow horns on her head represented the Crescent Moon. Every year at the New Moon the statue of Hathor was taken from her temple at Dendera and transported by boat to the temple of the god Horus at Edfu, arriving on the Full Moon. This festival celebrated the sexual union of the two deities. It was a time of great festivities and very likely human marriages, since it was considered a period of good luck.

Rodlima is the ninth month of the Druid year and is known as the time of the Bird Moon. The first day of this month is the full moon. Rodlima is from May 30 (when the Celts celebrated Midsummer) to June 27 (Bright Moon). The patron deity for Rodlima is Tasimea.