An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Greetings & Lore
for Solstice/Yuletide 2012
and Winter 2012-2013

Blessings to all in this season of Light -- may all be warm, protected, and loved.



Don't dim your joy
you might be a distant star
in someone's dark night

From The Year in Poems: from the journals of Elizabeth Cummingham.
                             -- Elizabeth Cunningham

Winter Solstice arrives in the northern hemisphere this year when the sun enters Capricorn on Friday, 21 December 2012 at 6:12am EST.  In parts of Europe, this will take place at 1112 Universal Time (GMT).  In America, here are the time zones:
EST: Dec.  21, 6:12 am
CST: Dec.  21, 5:12 am
MST: Dec. 21, 4:12am
PST: Dec.   21, 3:12am
In the southern hemisphere, summer begins on this date. Thus, the southern half of our planet welcomes the descent into darkness just as the northern half welcome the ascent into light. A perfect balance.

Two of the world's three desert-born monotheisms always observe important feasts during the winter season.  This year, the Jewish feast of Chanukah..[see below in calendar section]  begins at sundown on Saturday, 8 December 2012.  As always, Christians in the West celebrate Christmas on December 25th; Eastern Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on January 7th.

The Moslem month of Ramadhan migrates each lunar year and thus is not currently falling during the Chanukah/Yule/Christmas season (for a fine site on the Islamic calendar and the crucial role of moonsighting, see Ramadhan; for a large selection of illustrated, annotated links on Islam, please see my Myth*ing Links page on Islam; also see my pages on the month of Ramadhan and the Islamic New Year's month of Muharram).

P.S. don't miss my 2006 page on Wintery Shamanism. I also created a new 2007 page in my Ancient Greece section in which I have combined my two latest Kore and Persephone essays (from my Yuletide pages) and added more art as well as annotated links: Kore / PersephoneAlso relevant is my new December 2009 page, Money, Wealth and Treasure.

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Winter Links:

Winter Moon
© 1999 by Joanna Powell Colbert: used with her permission.  Note, 12/22/08 & 12/23/10:  Joanna's earlier site is now with Web Archive & no  longer online but is now, as of 2010,  Gaian Soul, with new content and a new design.  Meanwhile, the original link with images is on the above Web Archive link.
[Added 12/2-3/04]: This is "Singing to Deer," a remarkable experience well-known author Patricia Monaghan had with three deer one winter solstice in the American Midwest.  The essay is exquisite and deeply moving -- don't miss it.  [Added Christmas Day 2008: since I often mention Black Earth Institute in my webpages, I should mention that my good friend Patricia and her husband, Michael McDermott, M.D., are its co-founders. I am honored to be a scholar/advisor for this group.  12/21/12: sadly, Patricia died this autumn. She is greatly, deeply missed by her friends and colleagues.]
[Added 12/26/10]: It may seem inappropriate to follow Patricia's essay with this next one:  "Christmas versus 'Feast of the Sacrifice': Is There an Ethical Difference Between Hidden and Visible Animal Sacrifice?" by Ardeth Baxter (11 December 2007).  Patricia's essay shows us the deep kinship, made possible through music and loving hearts, between humans and animals.  Ardeth Baxter shows us the other side -- the brutality of that kinship when its potential for wonder is destroyed.   This is a strongly-worded article about the plight of huge numbers of animals sacrificed during annual winter religious celebrations.  She opens with comments on a Turkish tent-market erected in time for the "annual Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, celebrated around Christmas":
...It is a special market featuring sacrificial sheep destined to die in an upcoming religious festival; sheep who will soon be slaughtered so their killers can get closer to God, whom they believe is the creator of these animals but (for some obscure reason) wants them dead.
Then she turns to an equally blunt look at Christmas.  Here's an excerpt:
... For a day or two every December, billions of people put violence on hold and think about others. Or do they?

Like Passover, Thanksgiving and Easter, Christmas is a quasi-religious feast of violent animal sacrifice. The only difference between a country like Turkey and a Western country is that instead of buying animals at a market and cutting their throats themselves, Christmas revelers drive to their local supermarkets.... [Then they spout]  warm, fuzzy phrases like "Peace on earth, good will to men." What about good will to animals? As I recall, animals were part of the Nativity scene. Doesn't it follow that they should be honored instead of devoured?

She won't change many minds, but she's asking the right questions.
[Added 12/26/10]: Next is an interesting, historically-focused Christmas Eve 2010 article by Douglas Morrison: "How the Winter Solstice was Stolen by Christmas." He doesn't bring in the sacrifice of animals but he does make it clear why this time of the year is so important that most religions schedule major festivities around it!  The unstated implication is that humans have become increasingly out of touch with nature, which is the true source of what we should be celebrating, not the countless anthropomorphic deities associated with it (which only distances us still further from nature).  Here are some excerpts from his opening:
Christmas in America is really about the Winter Solstice. Americans are quite out of touch with Nature, the reason for seasonal changes, and the importance of the Solstices. What is the common denominator that has all these religions vying for "their most important day" on or near Dec. 25th? It is the Winter Solstice. Humans have celebrated the Winter Solstice for millennia. It could be argued that the Winter Solstice is the single most influential and important event of the year. We're hardwired to appreciate the end of short days and that day's lengthening to more sun and longer days. Many holidays conform to this time and celebrate on or near Dec 25th. The Winter Solstice, Dec 21, and the Summer Solstice, June 21, are the most dramatic of the Natural Holidays. Many, many candles are lit on this shortest of nights, in many religions, in many countries, and in many customs outside of Christianity....
Morrison then looks at a wide, compelling range of pagan deities whose births were all celebrated around the Winter Solstice.  In fact, Jesus' Nativity was not moved to December 25th until 336 AD, even though a winter date conflicts with his much older birth-narrative:
...Dec 25 became the consensus date, and a logical way to assimilate the pagan, and Earth based Winter Solstice gatherings into the Christian religion.  The writings in the Bible contradict the creation of Christmas on Dec 25 because of weather. The shepherds and their flocks were not "in the fields;" they were in shelter; no one travelled in mid winter (it was too hard), and a manger at night on Dec 25 in Bethlehem was very cold. The Holy Family's whole journey, if at all, started at another time of the year....
Morrison concludes with a question:
Are Jesus and Christmas "the reason for the season"? ....
And he replies:
...the "real reason for the season" is the Winter Solstice. [Link updated 11/20/03]
This lovely site from Caltech professor of physics, Kenneth G. Libbrecht, examines why no two snowflakes are ever alike.  The page offers images of and links to gorgeous photos of individual snowflakes.  I found it utterly fascinating.  [Update 11/20/03: the original site is now spread out over a number of linked pages, but the data is still all here.]
[Annotation updated 11/9/01]: From the "Weather Doctor," meteorologist Dr. Keith C. Heidorn, comes this marvelous essay on frost:
...Our friend Jack Frost, it appears, is a benevolent artist compared to some of the other frost beings of mythology. Jack is likely the son of the Norse god of wind Kari, born Jokul ("icicle") Frosti ("frost"). When Jokul Frosti immigrated to England with the Norse, he became Jack Frost, an elf-like being who colours tree leaves and paints patterns on windows....
Heidorn elegantly combines the science of frost formation with the folklore of Jack Frost, Father Frost, the "frosty sisters" of the Pleiades (from an Australian Aboriginal myth), Germany's crone who makes snow by shaking out her feather bed, and other such beings.  There are lovely photos of different types of frost as well. [Link updated 11/9/01]
This wonderful site is the home page for Waverly Fitzgerald's School of the Seasons, one of my favorite sites (and one which appears elsewhere among my pages).  Waverly is thorough, wide-ranging, and has a superb eye for lore.  She updates each month a day or so before it begins -- but check her "Archives" section if you, like me, love sneak previews -- a few dates will change each year (e.g., Chanukah), but most remain the same.  Don't miss this one.  On the home page, you'll also find great special feature articles on the holiday season. Update 12/2011: The above link is still "live" but the calendar site I described is currently no longer online, except in pieces in the archives. However, anything Waverly does is of interest so here are two other links you might like to explore:
and [12/20/11: I'm keeping this link in case she restores it but here's another of her winter solstice pages -- its a good alternate]:
[Added 12/2-3/04]: This is a leisurely, sweet newsletter written by Waverly Fitzgerald in 2003.  She discusses how she personally celebrates the solstice season, and then she shares her favorite links and seasonal books.  She's always worth reading and it's a treat to be given a few glimpses into her private world. [12/20/11: link is dead and currently unavailable on the Wayback Machine. I'm saving the data, however, because such links often re-surface.]
[Annotation updated 11/9/01]:   Another "must see" is this award-winning site, created by San Franciscan, Teresa Ruano, and offering appealing essays on Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, and much else. (Note: click anywhere on the large candle to enter the site).  The focus is pagan, but the fabulous collection of links includes Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa as well.

If you click on "About the site," you'll find a hypertext link to Ruano's beautifully written reasons for choosing a candle for her site; she also gives the superb Margot Adler text that swirls around that opening candle:

"When one combines a process of inquiry with content of beauty and antiquity, when, even as a lark, one opens the flow of archetypal images contained in the history and legends of people long negated by this culture, many who confront these images are going to take to them and begin a journey unimagined by those who started the process."

               --Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon

Above all, don't forget to explore her "and Today" page -- here, starting with December first, she gives new entries for each day throughout the holiday season.  This is a great site for browsing -- just click on all hypertext!  (Note: the site is updated each year.) [updated 12/10/06]
[Added 11/2/02, annotated 11/20/03]:   This excellent page looks at ancient Greek and Roman winter festivals.  Here is how it opens:
The winter solstice is 25 December in the ancient Roman astronomical calendar, but 21 December in the modern calendar.  December is under the protection of Vesta, and the Greek month Poseideôn (mid-Dec.-mid-Jan.) is under the protection of Poseidon.

This is a time of rest and celebration after the last sowing, and so agricultural deities, such as Saturn, Ops and Consus, are especially honored. Generally speaking, Graeco-Roman festivals of this season are more concerned with raising human spirits and reviving the crops than with the return of the sun....
  [Added 11/2/02; grokked 12/21/02]:  This is Lady Bridget's elegant and informative essay on Yule.  Here are some excerpts:
... Firstly, Yule, or the Winter Solstice, occurs when the Sun enters the sign Capricorn, and is at 0 ° Capricorn. Thus, Yule is a "minor" Sabbat because it is at zero degrees, the beginning of the energy. This is the longest night of the year, at the darkest time of the year. In ancient times, it was believed that the Sun needed our help to return, so the people would light bonfires both to strenghthen the Sun through sympathetic magic and also to show the Sun the way back to the earth. Lighted candles in windows and lights on houses and trees (Christmas tree lights) are the leftover symbols of these bonfires, and are meant to symbolize and aid the return of the Sun....

...Tinsel and icicles are fertility magic also, representing the rains which will come to fertilize the earth in the spring. Bells were used to purify the air, and to summon the friendly spirits for protection. The star at the top of the tree is our own pentagram, representing the four elements of air, earth, fire and water, overseen by Spirit.

Holly and Ivy were seen as the male and fenale principles (respectively) and were believed to bring good luck and fertility to men and women. Holly, berries, pine cones, and acorns were all used to signify the God aspect at this season, while the wreath symbolized the Goddess aspect. As a complete circle, the wreath symbolized the circle of life, the wheel of the year, and the sacred cycles of the Goddess, and was usually decorated with the holly, berries, ribbons, etc. of the God, and so combined both aspects in one decoration.

Of course, mistletoe has come down as the plant most associated with the Yule season. Being a parasite, it only grows high in trees, where the seeds land after being borne on the wind. The Druids therefore believed the plant was put there by the Gods, probably by lightning bolt, or put there by the Sun. It was believed to have miraculous healing powers, be very strong good luck, and have many other magical and mystical attributes, and thus was referred to as "the Golden Bough". In Scandanavian countries, enemies would often be reconciled underneath boughs containing mistletoe, and any contract thus made could never be broken. Thus comes our custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe.... [Link updated 11/21/04]
From the always excellent Witches' Voice site come various essays on many aspects of winter solstice and Christmas, especially from pagan perspectives.
[Source changed 11/21/04; 12/12/09: now on WebArchive, w/o popup ads.]
This is Carol McCullough's colorful "Winter Festivals from the Past & Present."  Her opening commentary mentions the calendar changes of 1752, which is why the Orthodox Church retains the older date of 7 January (if you're interested in the history behind these calendar changes, you might wish to explore some of the links on my page about Time).

Then she offers a survey of worldwide festivals with brief comments on each:  Sweden's Midvimterblot; Druid/Wiccan solstice; Tibet's Dosmoche (a 5-day celebration for the dying year) and Butter Sculpture festivals; medieval Europe's Feast of the Ass; Italy's La Befana; Pakistan's Chaomas; Ethiopia's Ganna games; England's wassailing of the apple trees (also a Snapdragon game); Mexico's "Night of the Radishes"; and Japan's Hari-Kuyo, or festival of Broken Needles.  At the end, under "Happy Holidays," she has good links to other sites, including those for Chanukah and Kwanzaa.

I wish she had more data for each festival but the page is bright, pleasant and gives a good sense of the variety of winter festivals available throughout the world.  It's a great starting point for you to explore further into those that intrigue you most.  [11/21/04: there used to be a link without the annoying pop-up ads, but it disappeared this year -- it was: The new link is still worthwhile, however, despite the ads.]
From N. S. Gill, the reliable and erudite Ancient/Classical History guide at, comes this excellent page of information and links to four ancient winter solstice celebrations held in Rome (Saturnalia and feasts honoring Mithras), Mesopotamia (the Zagmuk festival), and Israel (Chanukah).
[Link updated 11/21/04] -- [Note, 12/22/08:  dead link -- discards all articles when a guide leaves. I'm keeping the original annotation in case Peña publishes it elsewhere -- Note: 12/12/09: Hurrah! it's finally on Web Archive, where my LinksElf found it!]
From Anthony Peña, the Astrology guide at, comes this provocative 2-page essay, "Jesus Was A Capricorn?"  Peña looks convincingly at facts surrounding the Christmas Star, magi, and ancient astronomy; he speculates (along with other astrologers) that Jesus was probably a Pisces and may have been born 1 March in the year 7 BCE.  Peña also provides a great collection of links to myths of Saturn and Janus, the Saturnalia, Star of Bethlehem, life in Roman antiquity, and much more.

[Added 12/12/09]: In case this link ever breaks, here are several intriguing excerpts:

It's interesting to note that when looked at on a purely symbolic level, the esoteric Church placed John the Baptist's birth on the Summer Solstice (decreasing sunlight) and Christ's birth on the Winter Solstice (increasing sunlight). This was meant to esoterically represent the New Testament scriptural passage where John the Baptist told his disciples that he (John) must decrease, while Jesus must increase....

...Many astrologers (dating back at least as far as Medieval times) have typically placed the year of Jesus' birth at 7 BC.

7 BC was a landmark year when the planets, Jupiter and Saturn, were "triple conjuncting" in the sign of Pisces. Triple conjuncting means that Jupiter and Saturn met each other in the sky three different times in the sign of Pisces. Such a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of Pisces is extremely rare, and it has not occurred again during the past 2000 years. According to astronomer Dr. Percy Seymour ("The Birth of Christ; Exploding The Myth"), Babylonian and Jewish astrologers associated the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn with the "passing of power" from one supernatural deity to another.

The unique thing about this particular triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces was that it was simultaneously taking place with the precessional dawning of the new astrological age Pisces. This precessional phenomenon occurs in the sign of Pisces only once every approximately 26,000 years. Jesus was (and is) traditionally thought to have ushered in the astrological age of Pisces (the fishes) symbolizing "salvation through suffering" (each astrological age lasting approximately 2155 years). Combine the association of a triple Jupiter/Saturn conjunction (passing of power) in the sign of Pisces with the birth of an astrological age in the same sign (Pisces) – and any ancient Chaldean astrologer will tell you that you're ripe for the birth of a messiah....
[Added 12/2/04]:This is a "Book of Days," or annotated calendar, for December.  Although it isn't nearly as rich as Waverly Fitzgerald's, what I like about it is that it includes more feastdays from the New World, especially Mexico and the American Southwest.  What I don't like about it is that it's too high tech for my Netscape 4.7.  All I can bring up is a black page with a few little areas of small print.  I discovered, however, that if I run my mouse down the page to highlight it, voila!, text appears.  I'm glad to be able to access its content, but because it's such a nuisance to do so, I'm not offering any excerpts.
[12/10/06: this domain name is now in other hands. Use the archived link instead]
[Added 12/6/05]:From Echoed Voices comes another "Book of Days" for December, which is much easier to read and covers much of the same turf as the above link.
[Recommended by my Links-Elf, Michaela and added 12/23/08]: From a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) site comes "Your Independent Source of News from the Current Middle Ages."  It looks as if it was last updated in 2004, but many of the annotated links are still fine and a great place for browsing. Some are from sites I have already annotated, either on this page or elsewhere. For example, there are several Christmas pages from James Matterer's Gode Cookery [link updated 12/26/10 & again on 12/21/12] that are excellent (his work is already on several of my medieval pages). When I was first starting my website a decade ago, James was wonderfully helpful in many ways. I was awed by his many pages and I know you'll enjoy his work as well -- he has a fine eye for art, lore, and scholarship; he also delights in cooking and sharing medieval recipes. [12/20/11]: this is now on Web Archive's Wayback Machine]
[Added 12/25/08]: This is AlterNet's Greta Christina's "The True Meaning of the Holiday Season," reprinted in It is an engaging, funny, sensible approach to the season. An opening excerpt:
So what does Christmas really mean?

Among all the traditions of the holiday season, one that's becoming increasingly familiar is the War on the Supposed War On Christmas. In this tradition -- one that dates back to the sweet olden days of overt anti-Semitism -- the Christian Right foams at the mouth about the fact that not everyone has the same meaning of Christmas that they do, and works themselves into a dither about things like store clerks politely recognizing that not everyone is a Christian by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Because in the mind of the Christian Right, it somehow disrespects their faith and impinges on their religious freedom to share a country with people who feel and act differently than they do.

Okay. Insert rant here about how the Christian Right isn't actually interested in religious freedom and respect for their faith. They're trying to establish a theocracy. They don't care about religious and cultural plurality. They don't care about the fact that winter holidays mean different things to different people, and that different people celebrate different ones and in different ways. They don't care about the fact that not everyone in the country is Christian, and that lots of people who do call themselves Christian are actually pretty secular in both their everyday life and their celebration of the winter holidays.

No, scratch that. They do care about it. They think it's bad.

But that's not actually what I want to talk about today.

In the face of Bill O'Reilly and company screaming hatefully about the true meaning of Christmas, I want to talk -- in true grade-school essay form -- about what Christmas means to me.

Because I actually like Christmas.

Christmas; Solstice; Hanukkah; Kwanzaa; Festivus; "the holidays"; whatever. I don't have a strong attachment to any particular name or date or occasion. Any mid-winter holiday around the end of December will do. Lately I've been calling it either "the holidays" or "Santamas" (in honor of what Bart Simpson has described as the true meaning of the holiday: the birth of Santa). I was brought up culturally Christian, though, with Christmas trees and Santa and all that, and I do tend to refer to it as Christmas at least some of the time.

And I love it. I always have. I know it's fashionable to hate it, and I get why people get annoyed by it -- but I don't. I love it. It's one of my favorite times of the year.

And here's what it means to me....

The whole article is excellent, as are many of the comments at the end from her readers.
[Added 12/23/09]:  From the 18 December 2009 edition of the New York Times comes "Whose Christmas Is It?" by Michael Feinstein -- a great little Op Ed piece about how some of the best known contemporary Christmas music was actually written by Jews.  Here are some excerpts:
...Between numbers the night before, I had mentioned that almost all the most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews and then riffed on the idea that the Gentiles must have written mostly Hanukkah songs. The audience was enthusiastic....

The evolution of Christmas is reflected to a degree in its music. As the holiday has become more secular, so have its songs, with religious and spiritual compositions largely supplanted by the banalities of Rudolph, sleigh bells and Santa. Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others’ embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.

Yet I also hope that those who feel this encroachment will on some level understand that the spirit of the holiday is universal. We live in a multicultural time and the mixing, and mixing up, of traditions is an inevitable result. Hence we have the almost century-old custom of American Jews creating a lot more Christmas music than Hanukkah music.

If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you’ll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” — perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: “White Christmas,” introduced in “Holiday Inn,” and “Silver Bells,” written for “The Lemon Drop Kid.”) ....

Here is the wise, gentle conclusion:
...It doesn’t take Freud to figure out that the sugarplums, holly and mistletoe all tap into a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; that we all wish the clichés were true. As Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists and everything in between, we are all more alike than we are different. That’s something to celebrate.
[Added Christmas Night 2009]:  Again on Christmas music, tonight I launched a new little page called "A New Breed of Christmas Songs."  So far, it features two powerful, rich lyrics -- Stevie Wonder's "Someday at Christmas" and Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus." I had never heard of either song before and found them deeply moving. If you're not already familiar with them, I hope you'll take a look.
Note: for links arranged by geographical regions instead of calendar,
please go to my
Annotated Yuletide Links From Around the World.
(Note: many of those links were on my 1999 Winter page, but they took too long to load;
despite the fact that some categories overlap, I decided to divide them in 2000). [URL updated 11/9/01; link is dead as of 12/20/11: see my notes in the above section on other Waverlysites, since she has discontinued her online calendars. I'm keeping the annotation in case she restores them.]
[Annotation updated 11/9/01]: This is Waverly Fitzgerald's brief paean to the month of November, which is when winter begins in many lands.  A calendar at the end shows many of the ancient winter celebrations in Europe, Asia, and the New World -- many of them have clickable links for further data.
25 November:
Feastday of St. Catherine of Alexandria

St. Catherine of Alexandria
[From the site directly below]
                   [Link updated 11/9/01: scroll down to 25 November; 12/20/11: the print is tiny but amazingly this link still works!]

Again from Waverly, this is the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, patroness of scholars, jurists, unmarried women, and people who work with wheels, like spinners (it's also my name-day <smile>):
...She is possibly modeled after Kali who has a fiery wheel as an emblem. Certainly these images (found in the word Yule, the Advent candle wreath and St. Lucy's crown of candles) are ubiquitous at this time of year; so are folk customs forbidding women to spin (use a wheel). Durdin-Robertson says St. Catherine is a Christian version of Nemesis, the Goddess of the Wheel of Fortune (and thus perhaps with Mary in her aspect as Mother of Divine Providence....
FYI: during my Catholic days, I celebrated this feast for years in my small slum apartment on the Lower East Side of New York in the 1960-70's.  When the Vatican deleted many saints like Catherine (also St. Nicholas and St. Christopher) from the yearly calendar, I wondered who would replace her.  I kept checking church calendars for updates.  Then one night I dreamed that I was given a beautifully illuminated, medieval-style, updated Daily Missal.  Eagerly, I turned to 25 November to see whose feastday it now was.  There on the exquisitely painted page I saw written: The Feast of the Acceptance by God of St. Francis of Assisi's Music.  The grammar was awkward, but it only served to impress it upon my memory so that I could recall it intact when I awoke.  I now celebrate the music and sacred art within each of us on 25 November.
4 December:
Feastday of St. Barbara

St. Barbara
[Link updated 12/10/06]
Detail of the Werl Altarpiece by the Master of Flemalle
(Madrid's Prado Museum)
This is the feast of St. Barbara:
....This saint protects children from different diseases and, first of all, small-pox. This festival has to do not only with children, but with animals too....
This site from Bulgaria looks at traditions involving this saint; it also provides festive Bulgarian recipes for foods associated with this day: "bathed bread," stuffed dried peppers, lentils, and macaroons. (Also see my Balkans: Bulgarian pages.)
5 December:
Feastday of Faunus (Greek, Pan)

Faunus (see directly below)

[Added 12/02/04]:  From Brazil's Faunus Records comes this site on its namesake, the Roman version of Greece's god Pan:
The god of wild nature and fertility, protector of flocks, agriculture, nature, woodlands, dance and music, also regarded as the giver of oracles.  He was later identified with the Greek Pan and also assumed some of Pan's characteristics such as the horns and hooves. As the protector of cattle he is also referred to as Lupercus ("he who wards off the wolf")....

...On February 15 (the founding date of his temple) his feast, the Lupercalia, was celebrated. Priests (called the Luperci) wearing goat skins walked through the streets of Rome and hit the spectators with belts made from goat skin. Another festival was the Faunalia, observed on December 5.... [12/20/11: this Waverly link also still works]
[Added 11/22/04]: If you scroll down to the entry for December 5th on Waverly Fitzgerald's site, you'll come to Faunus, Rome's forest god, akin to Greece's Pan.  She writes:
...Faunus is the rustic god of woods and flocks, a Roman Pan, the original Green Man.... [Robert] Graves says [these]... are rain-making shepherd gods....
6 December:
Feastday of St. Nicholas
*** [Note: also see Christmas Day for Santa Claus] ***

The Myrrh-Streaming Icon of St. Nicholas [Link updated 11/21/04]

[Added 11/24/03]: This is an interesting report from Indiana by a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Elias Warnke, about an icon of St. Nicholas that began streaming with fragrant myrrh on his feastday, 6 December 1996.  Remarkable healings have been reported from coming into contact with the myrrh.  Whether one believes this or not, the reports could come under the category of "wonder tales," a genre I love, so I'm including it here.  An excerpt:
...On this snowy morning at about 6:30 a.m. when we opened the door of our temple and came into the vestibule, the reader and myself were engulfed in the sweet fragrance of roses in the hot summer sun. I questioned the fragrance, which seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. We opened the door to the nave and the fragrance became even more powerful, but not overbearing, it was like it was inside you so that you felt it. This was also evidenced by that fact that both Timothy and I had colds, which left us congested and unable to smell much. We turned on the lights and Timothy began to look around for the source of the fragrance. I looked toward the Royal doors and saw that the Icon of St. Nicholas that was on the analogion stand from Sunday's Liturgy had three glistening streams pouring from it. My whole body became flushed and rigid, feeling as if my heart seemed to fall through the floor. Through my tears I said, "It's St. Nicho1as." I could not even tell if it was me saying it, I seemed to be rooted to the spot, unable to approach the icon....
[Added 11/24/03]: From the St. Nicholas Center comes this excellent and comprehensive site filled with great images and links about St. Nicholas, including the report and photo of the Myrrh-streaming St. Nicholas (see above).  Here are the categories covered:  BISHOP OF MYRA; SAINT IN BARI; GIFT GIVER; PATRON SAINT; WONDERWORKER (this is the page I explored); Origin of Santa; Timeline; Compare Santa & St. Nicholas; Stories & Legends; A Real Person?; A Real Saint?; and St. Nicholas Symbols. [Link updated 12/1/01; 12/20/11: this Waverly link also still works]
These dates are the eve and feastday of St. Nicholas.  Waverly Fitzgerald offers this well researched page on St. Nicholas as well as his companion, "Black Pete."  I found especially interesting the echoes of Poseidon (whose feastday is December 1st) found in this Turkish saint.
I love the additional nautical lore offered on this Bulgarian site about St. Nicholas.  Although the connection to Poseidon (see below & elsewhere) isn't specified, it's obvious from the context:
The folk-Christian myth relates of the partitioning of the world when to Saint Nicholas’ lot fell the seas, rivers and lakes. He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish and water demons, as well as of the sea winds. According to the myths, St. Nicholas makes winds rage and cease, he can walk on the seas, and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it.
The site offers several Bulgarian recipes for ribnik, dough-wrapped carp (a fish offered to St. Nicholas) as well as for rice with dried fruits.
[12/23/08: here it is on WebArchive, complete with pictures]
[Added 11/24/03]: This is an entry level page on St. Nicholas but the photos of relics, tomb, church in Myra, etc are of interest.
11 December:
Beginning of Poseidon's Month
[Approximate annual date is tied to last New Moon of the year --see note below from 12/7/05] [12/20/11: this Waverly link also still works -- just scroll down]

[Added 11/22/04]:  If you click on this link, scroll down to the second section for December 1st and you'll find Waverly Fitzgerald's entry for Poseidon's month, which runs from mid-December to mid-January.  The date varies each year, depending upon when the last New Moon of each year falls -- in 2004, it's on 11 December:
The ancient Greek lunar month named in honor of Poseidon begins with the new moon near the end of the year. When the lunar calendar was translated into the fixed solar calendar by the Romans, the first day of December, the day which correlates to the new moon, was set aside in honor of Poseidon, the god of the sea, whose presence is felt in other legends about this time of year (see December 6, St Nicholas)....
Since I greatly like this blue-maned sea-god, who, according to Hesiod, lay with his beautiful lover Medusa in a meadow filled with flowers, I'm using the more ancient manner of dedicating an entire month to him, and not just that single Roman day unrelated to moon cycles.  The sea with its tides, after all, is most obviously and intimately connected with the moon.  The sea also plays an interesting role cross-culturally in winter festivals, from Poseidon in the Old World to the Brazilian sea-goddess Yemaya's feastday on 31 December.  [Also see my pages on Poseidon and Medusa]

Above, under St. Nicholas for December 6th, I mention a Bulgarian link related to this topic.  Let me repeat what I cited there, since it shows a St. Nicholas who sounds exactly like the older sea-god, Poseidon:

The folk-Christian myth relates of the partitioning of the world when to Saint Nicholas’ lot fell the seas, rivers and lakes. He is the master of the entire submarine realm - fish and water demons, as well as of the sea winds. According to the myths, St. Nicholas makes winds rage and cease, he can walk on the seas, and whenever there is a ship in trouble, he would save it.
[12/7/05]: This year there is confusion around Poseidon's month.  Waverly gives both December 1, 2005 and December 11, 2005 as New Moon dates.  December 1 does indeed have a New Moon -- the 11th does not, so I suspect that the 11th is a carry-over from last year.  But as it happens, this year there are two new moons: one on the 1st at 10:01am EST and another on the 30th at 10:12pm EST.  Since the ancients apparently used the year's last New Moon to usher in Poseidon's month, that would mean it would start 12/30/05.  Yet this conflicts with the mid-December to mid-January timeframe. So I leave it to each of you to decide what works for you -- this is, after all, "mythic time."  For myself, I like December 11- January 11 with a special emphasis upon whenever an actual New Moon sighting occurs during the month of December as well as into early January.
[Added 12/21/02, annotated 11/20/03]:   This is "The Halycon Days of December," another beautifully illustrated, mythically and scientifically rich page from Dr. Keith Heidorn.  Although Poseidon isn't specifically named, the connection with the ocean is clear.  Here's an excerpt from the opening:
December 14th marks the start of the Halcyon Days of December:
The Halcyon Days encompass the fourteen-day period centered on the Winter Solstice when the sea is commanded to be calm and the wind light by none other than Aeolus, keeper of the winds and one of the lesser Greek deities. In the Mediterranean region where this belief originated, the weather is typically calm around the time of the Winter Solstice....
12 December:
Feastday of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe
[From "The Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe": see directly below] [Link updated 11/21/04 and again 12/12/09]

"The Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe" is explored in this illustrated essay from Arizona State University on the background of this major winter celebration in Mexico:
December 12 is perhaps the most important day on Mexico's fiesta calendar, for it is the day which honors the "Mother of the Mexicans," the Virgin of Guadalupe. According to legend, an apparition of the Virgin appeared to the recently converted Indian Juan Diego in 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac, just north of Mexico City; this site had served in pre-Conquest times as an ancient pilgrimage site dedicated to the Aztec earth goddess, Tonantzin. A brown-skinned Virgin, speaking in Juan Diego's native tongue of Nahuatl, declared herself to be Mary, the Mother of Christ, and requested that a church be built in her honor on the hill.... [12/20/11: Hurrah! Web Archive link now restored!! -- that's why I keep "dead" links for so long -- because so many are just "comatose," not dead.]
[12/23/10: the domain seems to be for sale and none of its Web Archive links work anymore.  I'm keeping my annotations, however, just in case it ever reappears.  Link updated 11/23/03; dead by 12/7/05 -- now using WebArchive: unfortunately, unillustrated. WebArchive updated 12/12/09]
 [Added 31 October 2002; expanded 12/7/05]:  From Boise Matthews comes a fine little essay on the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as traditions in New Mexico that are connected with her feast.  Since it is brief, and since Boise's own link for it is dead, I am quoting the whole piece:
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas, and the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Feast Day on December 12th signals the start of the Christmas season for many New Mexicans. It is a day to thank the Virgin Mary for easing the daily burdens and protecting our homes and children during the year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was first sighted in Mexico in 1531 by Juan Diego, a native of Cuautitlan and a recent convert to Catholicism. He saw several apparitions of Mary at the hill of Tepayacac from December 9th-12th, 1531. After the first sighting, he went to Tlatilolco to tell the Bishop Father Juan de Zumarraga, but was not believed.

In her fourth appearance, Our Lady told Juan Diego to pick some flowers, which shouldn't have been growing that time of year, as proof of her appearance. Juan presented the flowers to Zumarraga, and when they fell from his coat, the image of the Blessed Mother was impressed upon his tilma, a cactus-fiber shirt. The image and tilma remains to this day, undecayed after more than 450 years, in Mexico City.

Jemez, Pojoaque, Santa Clara, and Tesuque Pueblos hold Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Feasts Days on December 12th, but the most famous celebration in New Mexico is the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe which takes place at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church at Tortugas, a small village just south of Las Cruces.

Festivities begin on the 10th and culminate with a feast on the 12th.  Dances are performed by the Tortugas, a small group of Tiwa Pueblo Indians, and booths are set up to sell snacks or to honor Our Lady. On the night of December 11th, a torchlight procession begins at the church and crosses 14 miles of desert to the top of Tortuga Mountain.  The pilgrims gather firewood on the way up and at the top, build a bonfire, and sing and pray until dawn.
[Added 10 December 2005]: This is a translated account from 1649 concerning Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe:
Translation by Fr. Martinus Cawley of a text published in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs by Luis Lasso de la Vega in 1649 about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It comes from a booklet printed by the Monks of Guadalupe, Guadalupe Abbey, Box 97, Lafayette, Oregon 97127.
The format is distracting but if you can get past it, the data is of interest.
[Added 14 December 2005]: This is a Picture Gallery of 14 images of paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Especially lovely is the closeup of her face from the original version.
13 December:
Feastday of Juno-Lucina / St. Lucia

Juno-Lucina/St. Lucia
© Sandra Stanton  -- and used with her kind permission
(Also see directly below)

This is the feastday of Sweden's St. Lucia, a light-bearing saint who originated in Italy as the goddess Juno-Lucina.  This lovely, strong page from Sandra Stanton begins with Lucina and offers a brief historical perspective.
[Updated 12/1/01. Note, 12/23/08:  Joanna's old site is no longer online but a new one will appear in 2010. Meanwhile, the original illustrated link is on Web Archive.  Update 12/24/10: Joanna's lovely new site is nowGaian Soul, with new content and design.]
[Annotations updated 11/12/01 & 11/21/04]: This is another fine page on Juno-Lucina, this time from artist Joanna Powell Colbert:
Juno Lucina, Mother of Lights, was a goddess of childbirth whose festival was celebrated with torchlights and bonfires in Rome in early December. As midwife of the miraculous Sun Child born at Winter Solstice, it was said she brought children to light....
From elsewhere on her site, here are two wonderful pages from Joanna on legends and lore connected with St. Lucia. [Note, 12/22/08:  again, Joanna's site is no longer online but will reappear in 2010 with new content and a new design. Meanwhile, the original illustrated is on Web Archive at:]
...In elder times, you called me by other names. In ancient Rome, I was Juno Lucina, midwife to the newborn Sun. In the northlands, I was Freya, she of the golden necklace, Bride of the Vanir. I flew across the night sky in an amber chariot drawn by my beloved cats and entered your homes before dawn. My cats came along, though mysteriously changed into nourishing cakes! You knew me too as Frigga of the hearth and home, when I sat at my spinning wheel and spun threads of sunlight to brighten the morning sky.... [Note: click on the link at the bottom of the first page for the link to the second.]
[Added 12/24/10]: ...continuing with Joanna's work from above, this is a page from her new site with photos and text from her famous annual "Lucia Party." It is part of her "Magical Giftbringers of Yule" series (further links from that series are below). [Link updated 12/1/01]
And from Waverly Fitzgerald, woven from several excellent sources, comes a more detailed look at St. Lucia, patroness of eye diseases and the blind.  Waverly reminds us that before the calendar change, St. Lucia's feast would have fallen on winter solstice (just like the Baltic goddess Saule -- see below).
16 December:
Las Posadas

The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie de Paola
[See for this children's book]
[Added 12/2/04]:  The first entry on Waverly Fitzgerald's page looks at this celebration in Mexico:
In Mexico during the nine nights before Christmas, children re-enact the drama of Mary and Joseph searching for room at the inn. They dress up and process from house to house, looking for shelter (Las Posadas means inn or shelter). One child, dressed as an angel heads the procession, followed by two people dressed as Mary and Joseph (or carrying statues of Mary and Joseph) followed by others carrying lighted candles. At each home they come to, they sing a vilancicos, a medieval Spanish carol, which features improvised lines by the members of the group....

...In some parts of Mexico a pinata is broken on each of the nine nights of Las Posadas. In other places, it is broken only on Christmas Eve. The pinata, made of paper mache applied over a clay pot, is filled with treats including nuts, fresh limes, sugar canes and small green fruits.... [12/20/11: Hurrah! Web Archive link now restored!! -- that's why I keep "dead" links for so long -- because so many are just "comatose," not dead.    12/21/12: Here is the latest link, but it doesn't seem to be functioning properly:

[12/23/10: the domain seems to be for sale and none of its Web Archive links work anymore.  I'm keeping my annotations, however, just in case it ever reappears.  12/12/09: sometimes this still works -- will keep for another year, just in case.

[Added 12/02/04]: Las Posadas commemorates the Holy Family's search for an inn just prior to the Virgin's labor pains.  This page from Boise Matthews' Go-Southwest (see below under 12/26), discusses this Hispanic celebration in the American Southwest.  [12/7/06]: Since this page is now only available with Web Archive, and might not survive even there, I am quoting this little essay in full:
On Christmas Eve, a small group of carolers trudge through the snow. Bundled against the chill and light flurries of snow, they carry candles to light their way through the village streets.  Ahead, they see a flickering light, a driveway lined with barrels of burning ocate, and the group follows the drive to the front door of a large adobe house.

In the light from the luminarias, we see the carolers carrying elaborately carved figures of Joseph leading Mary upon a burro. They knock at the door, and when it is answered, they break into beautiful song, their faces lit by candle and firelight. An older man plays a guitar as the carollers plead in Spanish for a pallet of hay to lay their heads.

The carollers are tired and cold. This is the fourth house they have come to asking for entry and so far, they have been turned away.  This time, the occupants of the house answer with verses of welcome and throw wide their doors.  Inside, there is a feast of posole, red and green chile, Christmas eve tamales, biscochitos and capirotada. Mexican chocolate is served, maybe even some wine or tequila. There is much laughter, and in the garden, people warm their hands over the luminarias. Soon, they will all go to Midnight Mass.

This is "Las Posadas," the beautiful and touching reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. The novena (a prayer said on nine consecutive days) of Las Posadas traditionally begins on December 16th and continues through Christmas Eve, each night a search for shelter, a series of refusals, and a final resting place. Today, Las Posadas is usually condensed into one evening, Christmas Eve, and the final festivities are always followed with Midnight Mass.

The rituals vary from town to town. Sometimes, the carollers are turned away but given refreshments at each house. Sometimes they are led by live figures, a young man and a donkey carrying a young woman. The groups may be small or large and there may be musical accompaniment or not. Los Posadas may be sponsored by a family, a community, or a church.  In some places, each child is given a small gift and part of the activities include breaking the piñata.

Los Posadas originated in New Mexico almost 400 years ago when Fray Diego de Soria received permission from the Vatican to begin a novena which would counteract the religious practices of the Pueblos. As with many customs introduced by the Spanish, this one has endured to contribute to the unique beauty of New Mexico.

Las Posadas may be seen at San Juan, Picuris, Tesuque, Nambi and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico.

Chanukah: Sunset on
December 8 to December 15, 2012

The Three Candles [Detail]
Marc Chagall
Link updated 12/10/06 -- also see an alternate at:  Humanities Web
Author's Note
[9 November 2001]:
I am not Jewish, at least not in this lifetime <smile>.  But I love Chanukah.  I have an Israeli menorah depicting the Tree of Life that I bought in the 1950's when I was studying Hebrew with a dear friend.  In 1959 I played the role of Margot, the older sister of Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank in a local Civic Theatre production in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  As Margot, I celebrated and sang as a Jew with the rest of the largely Jewish cast.  I've never forgotten the poignancy of that time.  The feast celebrates a miracle, seeds of light, burning in a time of darkness and despair.  This is a good thing to celebrate, for all peoples........ [Link updated 12/1/01]
Waverly Fitzgerald's thoughtful Hanukkah page gives both an historical and a cross-cultural perspective.  For example:
The Jewish festival of light, Hanukkah, begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. This means it spans the darkest time of the year both in the lunar cycle and the solar cycle....
[Added 11/21/04]:  From ETNI ("English Teachers Network in Israel on the Internet"), comes a ton of well-chosen Chanukah links.  They express a great range of variety and overall excellence.  This is a great browsing site.
This is a family oriented site, lively, well written, and many pages are as interesting for adults as for children:
...We've got stories, tasty holiday recipes, holiday pictures for the kids to print
and color, easy crafts to make, holiday games to play, and spinning dreidels!
20 December:
Feastday of St. Ignatius of Antioch / Onset of the Virgin Mary's Labor Pains

St. Ignatius of Antioch
[Updated 11/21/04; 12/22/08: the art is no longer here but there's further data.]

This is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch as it is celebrated in Bulgaria.  According to tradition, the Virgin's labor pains began on this day and continued until Christmas:
....This festival venerates the bishop of Antioch - Saint Ignatius  Theophorus, sentenced to death because of his Christian faith and thrown to the lions. It was from the day of St. Ignatius to Christmas Eve that Virgin Mary's labours continued.  Christmas and New Year festivities begin from Ignazhden. The popular belief holds this day as the beginning of the new year, that is why in some places in Bulgaria its name is Nov den /New Day/.  And since it is the start of a new year, it is very important what man or woman first steps in the house - good or bad. On this personality depends the whole year ahead....
(FYI: St Ignatius lived in the first-second centuries A.D. and was thrown to the lions in Rome, where he died as a martyr.  He is reported to have said: I am God's wheat, ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ...If the lions are lazy, poke them.)

Although this Bulgarian feast honors a Christian saint, the feast's traditional connection with the beginnings of the Virgin's labor as well as its association with new life and new beginnings clearly mark it as a Christian holiday substituted for a much older winter solstice celebration.  The site provides recipes connected with this feast, including ring-cakes and potato dishes.

21-22 December:
Winter Solstice / Yule
Also: Baltic Sun-goddess, Saule

Saule [Detail]
© Joanna Powell Colbert and used with her kind permission.
[See directly below]
  [URL updated 12/1/01] Note, 12/22/08:  Joanna's site is no longer online but will reappear in 2010 with new content and design.
[12/24/10: see next link for one of her new pages]. Meanwhile, the original illustrated link is on Web Archive.

Winter Solstice is celebrated as the feast of the Baltic goddess Saule in Latvia and Lithuania.  Joanna Powell Colbert gives us this page on Saule's connection with light -- in this case, the golden apples of the sun:
....At Winter Solstice, Kaleda, Saule is reborn as her daughter the morning-star....
The page offers good data in addition to a lovely image of Saule (see directly above for detail).
[Added 12/24/10]: This is a new page on Saule from Joanna Powell Colbert's "Magical Giftbringers of Yule" series.  It's about a ritual in her home in which a young woman playing Saule enters the room with a basket of golden apples and speaks about her own role at Winter Solstice.  Joanna wrote the beautiful script (based on scholarly work from our mutual friend, Patricia Monaghan). It's wonderful -- as are the photos taken at this celebration.[12/20/11--dead link, but I'm saving the annotation in case it reappears, as so many do. It's now on Web Archive as of 12/12, but I'm not sure this specific page can be reached there. ]
[Added 18 December 2007]: This is Candlegrove's evocative site, full of lore and insights. It ranges from science to Stonehenge, Newgrange, Native Amercan celebrations, and much more.  At the bottom is a link to the current year's solstice times (and from there is a link to future years).
[12/12/09: link dead, using Web Archive instead.]
From Sacred Serpent (whose other pages are found elsewhere on my website) comes another site dedicated to Saule ("Sow-lay") by Vilija, a woman who knows the language and lore firsthand.  It's beautifully done, authoritative, impressively detailed.  For example, in addition to being the Sun, Saule is also the mother of the planets, all of whom are her daughters! --
...As the female head of the heavenly family, Saule is the mother of the planets.  Among Her daughters are: Vaivora (Mercury), Ausrine, (Morning Star or Venus), Zemyna (Earth), Ziezdre (Mars), Selija (Saturn) and Indraja (Jupiter). Thus, according to some scholars, Lithuanians named the planets during a matriarchal age. i.e. earlier than the Romans.

On December 13th, (Feast of St. Lucia), Saule pauses on Her return to dance with Her daughters. She also dances at Velykos (Easter) and Rasa (summer solstice)....

The site conjures up many such evocative images.
[Link & annotation updated 11/21/04; 12/12/09: web archived]
 Based on data from "O Mother Sun" by Patricia Monaghan (Crossing Press), as well as other resources, this page gives more information on Saule.  My favorite part is this beautiful passage on the goddess, her sun-stone (amber), and spinning:
....Among the Balts, the connection between the sun and spinning is very old, and the sun-stone, amber, forms the link....Sometimes amber discs were also placed in the grave, perhaps as prayers to the Sun Goddess to spin forth the lost life in another body.... [A]mber was considered a magical substance for a spinner; as the light never tangles in the sky, so an amber spindle protected the new thread from snarls caused by unhappy or malicious spirits....

   © Lisa Hunt -- permission pending

        "Saule, my amber weeping Goddess
                       creating light like thread.
          As "Saules Mat" my mother sun, daily blessing
                    your thankful world with light."

 The page is by "kitchen witch" Shayleah Greenwitch (with a sweet illustration of Saule by Lisa Hunt: see above).
[Updated link 12/9/01 -- images may not load yet as site is being restructured -- please be patient; 11/21/04: the original link is now gone but still available in a web archive -- so the revised link above is "live" again; 12/22/08: now, alas, the web archive link is also dead. I'm keeping the annotation in case this wonderful site ever reappears;  12/12/09: web archive link now works again! -- but no artwork; 12/24/10: alas, web archive says the site has now been blocked by the owner. 12/21/12: my Links-Elf says the link is now ok.]
From Kristaps ("Chris") Johnson comes yet one more fine page on Saule and, to a lesser extent, her brother, the Moon.  Chris approaches Saule in her own right but also in an interesting cross-cultural context.  The illustrated page includes her ancient symbols as found in intricate embroideries -- Chris includes some lovely examples. [11/17/02: note -- Chris' images were still not up when I last checked.  Here's another Latvian site with stunning cross-stitch patterns, including one for Saule; 12/12/09: now on web archive.]

[12/24/10]: also see Mary B. Kelly's excellent book: Goddess Embroideries of Eastern Europe at:
[12/12/09: moved to web archive]
This rich essay, again from Sacred Serpent (see above), is "The Winter Solstice: Kucios and Kaledos," by Audrius Dundzila, Ph.D. looks at traditions surrounding the Balts' winter solstice eve (Kucios) and winter solstice itself (Kaledos), which is the rebirth of Saule, Mother Sun.
From Sweden comes this well written and quite intriguing essay on Yule, or Winter Solstice, from a pagan perspective.  The author is Mike Nichols.  Here is how he begins:
     Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season.  Even though we prefer to use the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe.  We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God.  None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.

    In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with its associations of Nordic divination, Celtic  fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism.  That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston!  The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes.  And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus.  And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.

    Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year.  It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day.  It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name you choose to call him.  On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth....

There is rich lore here, including wassail cups, bees, crickets, windy weather, shepherds tending flocks by night, lambing, ivy, holly, and mistletoe.  If you're interested in the ancient roots of this season, don't miss this essay.
[Added 12/10 & 12/16/01]: From the non-profit organization, Religious Tolerance, comes an excellent and thoughtful page on cross-cultural winter solstice celebrations.  The cultures include those of Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Druids, Native Americans, Buddhists, Jews, Moslems, atheists, and Neo Pagans.  It also looks at prehistoric monuments aligned with the rising sun on winter solstice.  Here is one passage concerning pre-historic north Europeans:
...In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aoriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by DEC-25.  Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th....
[11/21/04: the original link's content has been "temporarily unavailable" for several years but in this web archive it lives anew <smile>.]
[Added 12/10/01]:From Shamanic Astrology comes "Mysteries of the Winter Solstice" by Daniel Giamario.  It begins with a discussion of calendars and their unfortunate modern detachment from natural cycles.  Then it moves to its central topic, winter solstice, in a cross-cultural context, beginning with the Native American:
...A cross-cultural and global view of humanity reveals the Winter Solstice to be in many respects, the most important of all the magic points of the natural year. A look at some examples from around the world will illustrate this.

Solstice means -- "standstill of the Sun". At Winter Solstice, the Sun travels farthest south in its orbital path and for about three days the Sun rises and sets at virtually the same place, appearing to stand still, and then it slowly moves north. As Winter Solstice approaches, the nights become longer and the days shorter, so that the days around Winter Solstice are the shortest of the year. Most ancient peoples (including Anasazi, Celtic, Scandinavian, Etruscan, and many more) planned festivals and ceremonies at or around the Winter Solstice. The intent was to ensure that the Sun would return; that the days would again get longer. The implicit belief was that if the ceremonies were not worked properly, then the Sun might not return, and there would be eternal winter and night.

The Anasazi, along with their descendants among the Hopi, Pueblo, and Zuni, especially honored the Winter Solstice. The Hopi's highest festival is Soyal, taking place as close to the day of the Winter Solstice as they can make it by observation of the sunrise and sunset on their horizon calendars. A village elder, called the Tawa-Mongwi, or the Sun Chief, stands at an observation point on Second Mesa to carefully observe the sunset over the San Francisco peaks, home of their Kachinas. It was (and is) extremely important to get this right, for knowledge of when to plant crops was dependent on the correct ascertations of the Winter Solstice.

Among the Pueblos, Winter Solstice is an affirmation that the cyclical order of time and the world order will continue intact. Their ceremonies of Soyal are designed to guarantee the Sun's return north. They called the full Moon nearest to Soyal "sacred but dangerous Moon", alluding to the concern that the Sun might not return.

The Zunis attempted to organize their calendar so that Winter Solstice occurred at or near Full Moon. White Shell Woman (the Moon) helps to persuade the Sun to return north. The coincidence of Full Moon and Winter Solstice would also have provided a great opportunity to bring the solar and lunar calendars into agreement.

These examples are typical of all land based agricultural peoples. There are numerous other examples from the Celtic traditions and from other Neolithic peoples of Northern Europe and the British Isles with virtually identical attitudes about the Winter Solstice. Always included were the practical applications regarding agriculture as well as the spiritual matters of the death of the Sun/Light and its return....

Note: although the lengthy and informative page is unfootnoted, there's a bibliography at the end.
[Added 12/10/01 -- 12/21/12: all this site's links are now on Web Archive]:eFrom Self Help Magazine comes a series of 6 short but really nice pages by psychologist Joanna Poppink, MFCC, on winter solstice (Note: she offers special connections to seasonal Teutonic mythology).  The first page is somewhat weak but the next five have great data (unfortunately not footnoted).  On Page 4 I especially like her connecting winter solstice to the moment in which Thor hurls a lightning bolt of pure light at a dark oak -- a moment in which both light and dark are equally balanced and precious.  Since the dark is so often demonized in the West, it's refreshing to see an honoring of the life-carrying power and other gifts of the "dark" -- mistletoe, it turns out, is one of those gifts:
...The moment of the solstice occurs when Thor hurls a bolt of lightning through the black night storm and strikes an oak tree. In that moment light and dark are simultaneously both powerful. The moment marks the shift where the power of light now takes dominion. Dark is good because it holds the beginning new life. Light is good because it brings birth.  Such tremendous goodness requires a tremendous celebration.

The flash of lightning, bright and hot, creates mistletoe. Mistletoe, called allheal, a bestower of life and fertility, a protection against poison and a provider of safe conduct through the underworld, is of the dark, fertile, gestating side of mid winter.  Born in fire, mistletoe puts out fire and keeps the dark safe. Hung on doorways of homes an barns it keeps evil spirits and witches away.  Kissing under the mistletoe is a remnant of the old fertility rites. In parts of England people burn the Christmas mistletoe on Twelfth Night. If they don't they believe the boys and girls who kissed under it will not marry.

The power of the mistletoe comes from the solstice moment backed by the force of Thor himself.
[Updated URL 12/14/05; Updated w/WebArchive 12/22/08; updated again 12/21/12]
[Added 12/10/01]: From Creative Minds Unlimited comes a page on various ancient cross-cultural winter and/or winter solstice celebrations.  The range is intriguing.
[Added 12/10/05]:These are photos of winter solstice at Stonehenge.
[Added 12/10/05]: More Stonehenge photos. [Update 12/24/10: now on Web Archive]
[Added 12/10/05]: Here you'll find some video files as well as pictures at Stonehenge; latest upload is Autumn Equinox 2005.  [Update 12/24/10: now on Web Archive -- and data has been updated through 2007.]
[Added 12/23/09]:This is "California Revels," a cheerful, festive, solstice page that opens with Susan Cooper's evocative poem, "The Shortest Day."  Here are a few lines from her poem, starting with ancient celebrations:
...They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us – listen!....
There's lore here, art, photos of the Revels' many theatrical performances, and much more.

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day

Latvian artist, IngaSkujina
[Note, 12/22/08: link now goes to WebArchive -- it's slow-loading but includes 5 images plus data on the artist]
Author's Note
(27 June 2001):
What if there had been no special baby born in a cave under the stars?  What if all we had had to celebrate the past few thousand years were millions and millions of babies born under the stars -- small humans, growing into wise humans, with no special being to mediate between us and the heavens, no special being given the task of uniquely loving, laughing, bleeding, dying, rising?  What if there were just us, the lovely earth, the watching stars?  What if.......?
What if all the love and tenderness for earth and each other had to come from us alone, witnessed only by the stars?  What if the gods themselves have decreed that we alone hold responsibility for the wonder and fragile beauty of this planet?  Could we not then do a better job of all this? -- with no one to fall back upon but ourselves?  I'm not suggesting that there are no deities or Watchers out there, only that perhaps we have too long depended upon rescue from "out there" instead of focusing upon the innate wisdom and compassion long ago seeded within us.
In this season of Light's birth from the all encompassing, holy, pulsing Darkness, perhaps we could remember that what's really being born, hopefully, is our own ability to mature and navigate gracefully through both Darkness and Light, for the dance between these seeming opposites profoundly enriches the deeper wisdom lying too long unclaimed within us.......


NOTE:  For more links and great artwork on Christmas & Yuletide, I have shifted data that used to be on this page to a separate Myth*ing Links Yule Page.  This page covers regional Yuletide customs and lore in Scandinavia; Russia & Eastern Europe; Western Europe (including Celtic traditions; also Greece, France, and Europe in general); the New World; and "Down Under."  The page concludes with Yuletide mummers, festive foods, and Christmas tree lore.  Additional ones are also listed below.......
[Added 12/24/10]:  Waverly Fitzgerald's page on "December Holidays" has this to say about Mothers' Night or Modresnacht, which takes place on Christmas Eve:
December 24 The Mothers:
The Venerable Bede, writing about the customs of the pagan Anglo Saxons who he was trying to convert in 6th century England, mentions their practice of celebrating a holiday he called Modranicht or Modresnacht on the eve of Christmas. This "night of the Mothers" was evidently a sacred night devoted to a group of feminine divinities, like those pictured on carvings and statues all over Celtic France and Britain which show three women together, holding children and fruit, fish, grain and other bounties of the earth.
[Added 12/24/10]: Here is a brief but interesting account of how Mothers' Night is celebrated in the Orkney Islands of Scotland -- it includes a gentle blessing for sleeping children. The page offers links to other Yuletide Orkney celebrations as well.
[Link updated 12/21/12]: This page on Christmas eve in Bulgaria details many folk customs rooted in an agricultural past and associated with this celebration:
It is also called Sukha koleda /Dry Christmas/, Malka koleda /Little Christmas/, Kadena vecher /Incensed Night/, Bozhich. The forty-day Advent, starting on 15 November, finishes on this day. Folk beliefs hold it that the Mother of God began her labours on St. Ignatius’ Day and gave birth to God’s son on Christmas Eve....
Recipes included on the page are for meatless chomlek, stuffed cabbage leaves, boiled wheat, walnut kernels in the Thracian style, "Swift Pumpkin" dessert, stewed dried fruit, and a round breadloaf:
...the water used to make the bread was brought in a white caldron by a girl or by a young woman married in the autumn preceding Christmas Eve and having borne no children yet....
This is a page with a wide variety of Christmas Eve customs from Poland:
Customs to ensure a betrothal or good harvest were a major part of rural Polish Christmas time traditions.  For Poles, Christmas Eve is a time of family gathering and reconciliation. It's also a night of magic: Animals are said to talk in a human voice and people have the power to tell the future....
There are also good links to other Polish Yuletide features, including links to food, carols, and creches.

[Note for another great page on Christmas Eve customs in Poland, see Okana's Web under "Yule in Russia & Eastern Europe" on my new Cross-Cultural Yuletide Links page.]
[Added 12/1/01]:  This is a page by Waverly Fitzgerald for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She looks at wonderful customs, ancient and contemporary, from all over the world.  Don't miss exploring this one. [12/20/11: this isn't the same link as below, but is a useful resource, so I'm keeping it. Hopefully the one below will also reappear.]
[12/23/10: the domain seems to be for sale and none of its Web Archive links work anymore.  I'm keeping my annotations, however, just in case it ever reappears.  Link updated 11/21/04; dead link a year later so reverting to Web Archive 12/14/05.]
[WebArchive link updated 12/23/08; 12/12/09: this seems dead now, but might reappear.]
[Added 11/2/02; grokked 12/21/02]:  This excellent page by Boise Matthews (also see her essay below for December 26th) looks at the Christmas Eve Las Posadas celebrations of New Mexico.   These depict:
...the beautiful and touching reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter.
For the complete "rescued" essay, see above for 16 December.

As Boise writes elsewhere in considering the complex traditions in the American Southwest:

One of the most wonderful things about the Southwest is that it is such a cultural stew pot. There are over 70 American Indian Tribes, each with their own languages and beliefs. The Spanish not only brought new skills and foods from Meso America and Europe, but they brought a rich cultural heritage that continues to enrich our daily lives. Add to that the influences of the last 200 years, beginning with the westward expansion of US settlers and continuing through the artistic explosion of the 1920s, the atomic age and the ever-present land and water conflicts, and you have a blend of cultures unique to this part of the world.

Adoration of the Shepherds
Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494)
Tigertail Virtual Museum: [11/21/04: link now only works for members;
for all others, there's this one, but quality is distorted:

[Added 12/2/04]:  This British webpage comes from the droll, literate, thoroughly engaging Nova Reinna -- I have no idea if Nova Reinna is a she, he, or them.  Although an e-mail is provided, from the gentle trickster-mood of the huge site's many categories, I doubt I'd get a straight answer if I wrote for more details on them <smile>.  So just enjoy these wonderful pages (alas, no bibliographic references are provided).  This one is on Christmas and Yuletide.  Be a little suspicious of the Mesopotamian data, since their New Year's actually was in spring, not winter, but the rest looks good.  Here are some excerpts that caught my eye:
...In Colonial America there were no Christmas celebrations. As recently as 100 years or so ago, such observances were declared illegal in many parts of the United States, including most of New England, being defined as pagan and a reproach to the Lord. (Today, it is against the law in some areas to display any Christmas symbols that are not pagan in nature...the erecting of nativity scenes, for example, are banned in some regions of America. Ironically, New England being one such area).

In Puritan Massachusetts, anyone caught observing the holiday was obliged to pay a fine. Connecticut also enacted a law forbidding the celebration of Christmas...and the baking of mincemeat pies. A few of the earliest settlers, however, did celebrate Christmas, but it was far from a common holiday during the Colonial era.

Prior to the American Civil War, the North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas as much as they were on the question of slavery. Many Northerners considered it sinful to celebrate Christmas since Thanksgiving was a much more appropriate holiday. In the South, however, Christmas played an important role in the social season. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first three American States to declare Christmas a legal holiday were located in the South: Alabama in 1836; and Louisiana and Arkansas, both in 1838.....

The page offers further pages on a fascinating variety of Christmas/Yuletide customs, including "Following Yonder Star," "Twelve Days of Christmas," "Christmas Tree" (see below), "The Reindeer," "Yule and Wassail," "Christmas Carols," "Foliage & Flora," "Santa Claus," "Twelfth Night," and "Advent & Wreaths."
[Added 12/10/01]:...From N.S. Gill, the literate and first-rate guide to the Ancient/Classical world, comes "Latin Christmas Carols and Music: Cantus, carols, chants, lyrics, musical terminology."  This is a lovely collection of briefly annotated links to the music of the Christmas season. [12/23/08: old link is now dead -- but the CD is widely available so google it if you're interested.  I bought it myself a few years ago and love it.  I forgot I ever wrote about it until I came to this link -- but it's the Italian music (mentioned above) that was playing on my CD when I began my opening essay for this page on 8 December 2008; 12/12/09: now have link to the group itself: click on the "Music" tab to go to many of their CDs, including Nova Stella; music samples available online.]
[Added 12/10/01]:...Still on medieval music, this is "Nova Stella: a medieval Italian Christmas" from the time of Francis of Assisi.  The page is a brief introduction to a CD (unfortunately, the one music link doesn't work --  still, it looks interesting):
... To see God in the birds, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the snow, the fire in the torch lights over the Nativity scene. This approach to spirituality, inspired and encouraged by the mendicant orders of thirteenth-century Italy, spoke directly to human experience and reached directly into the hearts of people from all walks of life.

The "holy songs" that Francis and the villagers sang on that Christmas night could very well have included the early Laude spirituali, spiritual songs of praise. The poetry of the laude is the oldest repertoire of Italian lyric for which we have extant music. The immediacy of these songs even today allows the listener to experience the breath of spirituality that Francis himself introduced on that medieval Christmas night....[Link updated 12/23/08]
[Added Christmas Day 2001; expanded with text 11/17/02]:  "Early Christians hid the origins of the Bethlehem star" by Marcus Chown comes from the New Scientist.  Based on recent work by Dr. Michael Molnar, this interesting article focuses on the implications of a 4th century astrological text written by a Roman astrologer and  Christian convert, Firmicus Maternus:
...Michael Molnar, formerly of Rutgers University in New Jersey, is the originator of the idea that the star of Bethlehem  was not a spectacular astronomical event such as a supernova or a comet but an obscure astrological one.   The event would nevertheless have been of great significance to ancient Roman astrologers.  After studying the symbolism on Roman coins, he concluded that the "star" was in fact a double eclipse of Jupiter in a rare astrological conjunction that occurred in Aries on 20 March, 6 BC, and again on 17 April, 6 BC....  Molnar believed that Roman astrologers would have interpreted such an event as signifying the birth of a divine king in Judea.  But he lacked proof.

Now he says he has found it, in the Mathesis, a book written by Maternus in AD 334. Maternus described an astrological event involving an eclipse of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries, and said that it signified the birth of a divine king.  "Maternus did not mention Jesus's name," says Molnar. "But Roman astrology was a popular craze at the time and everyone reading the book would have known the reference was to Jesus and that the astrological event was the star of Bethlehem."  So why did Maternus not mention Jesus by name?  According to Molnar, early Christians hated pagan beliefs and did not want to justify the Biblical story with astrological mumbo-jumbo. The idea that the stars govern our fate flew in the face of belief in a Christian God as the controlling force in the Universe.  "Being a pagan who had converted to Christianity during his lifetime, Firmicus was torn," says Molnar.  "Hence his use of astrology to support the Christian story, but in a veiled way."

According to Molnar, it was essential to early Christians that the true nature of the star be hidden, otherwise theologians would be mired in debate about celestial influences that were not part of Christianity. So they buried the knowledge of the  star's astrological roots and in time it was forgotten.

"I take Molnar's work quite seriously," says Owen Gingerich, a historian of astronomy at Harvard University. "Anything he comes up with along these lines has to be considered as being very likely correct."
[Added 12/2/04]: This is astronomer Michael Molnar's own carefully reasoned Q&A page with samples from his book.  The page includes a photo of the ancient coin that started him on this research.  As noted above, his final conclusion is that Jesus was born 17 April 6 B.C.  I think that he makes a very convincing case for this.
[Added 12/2/04]:  From Nick Strobel comes an alternate point of view on the "Star of Bethlehem."  I found the mass of dates, details, and scripture a bit overwhelming, especially when compared to the simple elegance of Molnar's work.  I will leave it to my readers to make their own comparisions.
[Updated URL 12/14/05 -- dead 12/23/08, so reverting to WebArchive]:
[Added 12/10/01]: From Creative Minds Unlimited comes a fine page by Vickie Hamby on Santa Claus (and St. Nicholas -- also see annotations for 5-6 December):
The idea of Santa Claus emerged thousands of years ago before Christ in Scandinavia.  The Viking god named Odin rode throughout the world in the winter on his eight-footed horse, Sleipnir, giving out gifts or punishments.  In the pagan world Odin was the forefather of Santa Claus.  His son Thor, god of farming, thunder and war, made his home in the far North.  His weapon was lightning, his color red.  While his father went about the world, Thor fought the gods of ice and snow, and conquered the cold, thus allowing spring to come.  Thor traveled in a chariot drawn by goats name Gnasher & Cracker.  During the same season , the gentle German goddess Hertha came down with her gifts of good fortune and health....

... In 1823, Clarke [Clement] Moore wrote details of Santa Claus in "The Night Before Christmas" that have shaped our view of who Santa Claus is.  It seems that Moore took aspect of many cultures' Santa's and combined them.  The Reindeer seem to have come from the myth of Thor.  Coming down the chimney is reminiscent of St. Nicholas dropping the third bag of coins for the third daughter.  Santa being an elf probably came from Sweden, where children believed that Santa enlisted the help of the elves in the attic.  It was from these children came the tradition of setting out food (this was to persuade the elves to help Santa with his duties)....
[Added 12/2/04]:This is "Welcome to Santa Land,"a site full of old fashioned charm with sections on holiday stories, the history of ornaments, magical bells, arts & crafts, Christmas carols, Christmas trees, writing letters to Santa, and much more.
                    [12/10/01: This site can be hard to reach during busy seasonal times -- please be patient]
This is a nice little 1993 essay by Shava Nerad Averett that links the spirit of a kindly Santa Claus to the spirits of the kachinas of the American southwest. [Updated 12/20/11 by my attentive Links-Elf  but it keeps crashing my Netscape, so I don't know if it's valid. Here's the old one, but dumps all links when a writer leaves them so this is surely "dead":
Finally, this link will take you to facts and fictions about Clement Moore's famous depiction of "St. Nick."
26 December:

 First day of Kwanzaa [Note: Kwanzaa has its own section -- just scroll down]
Feastday of Rozhanitza / Pueblo Turtle Dance

Used with the kind permission of Joanna Powell Colbert
[see directly below]
Note, 12/22/08:  Joanna's old site is no longer online but a new one will appear in 2010. Meanwhile, the original illustrated link is on Web Archive.  Update 12/24/10: Joanna's lovely new site is now Gaian Soul, with new content and design.]

This date is celebrated as the birthday of the eastern European winter goddess, Rozhanitza.  On this day, people used to give each other gifts of embroidered cloth in the goddess' honor.  Here (above, her clothing reflecting Mary B. Kelly's research on these embroideries) Joanna shows her with her daughter, a deer-goddess.  The link gives further tantalizingly brief data on this virtually unknown goddess.
[Added 12/24/10]: This is another new page from Joanna Powell Colbert's "Magical Giftbringers of Yule" series. Here, it is Rozhanita who speaks during one of Joanna's ritual-performances.  This is a stunning passage from her script that I especially like:
...I am the oldest goddess of the Russian plains, the ancient Mother of the Deer. I ran with the herds in the Paleolithic age when the first hunter took aim. I danced through the stars too, with my sisters the Sky Deer.

I am Rozhanitsa, the Birth-Giver. At this season, I bring forth a child who is sometimes a daughter and sometimes a deer. The reindeer of the far north, you know, are the only species of deer in which the female has antlers. The folksongs say that my daughters bear golden antlers — just another way of saying they are born on the sun’s birthday, don’t you think?....

Hopi Turtle Icons
[See directly below]
[11/22/04: link went dead c. 10/02 but I kept the annotation and now find that the site is still accessible via this web archive]
This December 26th date is also celebrated in the American southwest -- in this case, with a sacred dance honoring the Turtle:
....They named it the Turtle Dance because the turtle is a animal which has a long life. The elders were saying that the life span of the Native Americans of the Pueblo of San Juan relies on that certain reptile, the life-span that it has.

The elders had a big ceremonial in naming the elements in the songs, the elements which are provided for human survival like the evergreens, the gourd rattle, and the turtle itself. And then also the songs relate to creations of the Kachinas....

Links on this illustrated pueblo site will take you to more information on the dance, a recording of a Turtle Song, and also to a beautiful essay by a Hopi elder on her memories of winter solstice.  (On this site you can also order tasty homegrown dried soup packets with native recipes. Note, 12/21/02: I've now found a replacement food link, "From the Kitchen of Kokopelli," that offers Navajo Sage Bread, Bean Soup, Hopi Blue Corn Muffins, Posole Stew, "Settler's Harvest Soup," great nuts, teas, popcorn, and much more -- see The Southwest Indian Foundation.) [12/20/11: restored!]
[12/23/10: the domain seems to be for sale and none of its Web Archive links work anymore.  I'm keeping my annotations, however, just in case it ever reappears.  Updated 4/26/02 & again 11/22/04; found dead 12/05 -- replacing it with Web Archive link; 12/12/09: probably dead -- keeping it just in case,  but I "rescued" the full essay in 2005 -- see below.]
[Annotation updated 11/22/04]:  Boise Matthews used to be's expert guide to the Southwest.  I especially enjoyed her series of evocative pieces on the rich cultural traditions of that region and frequently linked them to my Myth*ing Links pages.  Then, as I noted on my Winter Greetings page on 11/12/01: "The powers-that-be at have let economics guide them in slashing many excellent sites -- unfortunately, these links to Boise Matthews are among them."

Fortunately, I kept my annotations and the following spring I discovered that Boise and a partner had started their own web site, Go-Southwest, featuring handsome regional decor (furniture, lighting, textiles, tableware, art, etc).  To my delight, she was also including some of her cultural articles from  This excellent link explores four winter dances from the Southwest's pueblos -- the turtle, corn, buffalo, and deer dances. Although brief, I love what she says about them.

[12/14/05 Update:]  Since Boise's link to these four dances is now dead, and since I don't know how long Web Archive might retain the data, I am quoting the essay in full.  No one but Boise grounds this traditional data so well in the USA's southwest (an area dear to me):

Buffalo, Corn, Deer and Turtle Dances:  New Mexico offers much to keep your attention, and some of the most touching and beautiful events are the Pueblo Dances, many of which are combinations of ancient southwestern ceremonies and Spanish-introduced Catholic celebrations.  These Dances are complex and beautiful, combining song, in which stories are told, and formal and studied dance movements. Together they act out nature's dramas. They celebrate the bounty of Mother Earth, the harvest of corn and the animals who give up their lives so that the People may survive. They celebrate the seasons, the winds, the blessed moisture in a dry land and the gifts of wisdom, strength and persistence. Though many ceremonies may not be shared, the Pueblos, often called "The Rain Dance People," nevertheless welcome visitors to special celebrations which allow glimpses of their proud heritage.  Please keep in mind that these Dances are spiritual in nature. Following the Pueblo's rules of etiquette will not only allow you to enjoy their beauty and drama, but will show respect to The People who have kept these traditions alive for more than a thousand years.

The Buffalo Dance: The buffalo is a symbol of abundance.  Historically, Pueblo Peoples crossed the mountains to the north to hunt or trade for buffalo and bring back meat for the long winter.  Like all Animal Dances, the Buffalo Dance is a celebration of thanksgiving. The hunter takes on the spirit of the buffalo he has hunted during the year. He thanks the spirit of that animal, and he asks for good luck for next year's hunting. To be asked to dance in the Buffalo Dance is a great honor.  Buffalo Dances are held at Acoma, Cochiti, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos and Tesuque Pueblos in December.

The Corn Dance: The corn dance is a ceremony of thanksgiving for the bounty of this year's harvest and a prayer for enough rain for next year's crops. Evergreen branches and corn may be carried in the dancer's hands. Hollow gourd rattles filled with pebbles symbolize the falling rain, and drums are beaten to symbolize thunder. Corn Dances may be held several times a year, and one may be seen at Isleta Pueblo.

The Deer Dance: The Deer Dance is a celebration of thanksgiving in which the hunter takes on the spirit of the deer he has hunted during the year. He thanks the spirit of that animal for providing the people with continuing life and asks for good luck to the hunters. The Dancers may wear antlers and hold long sticks to represent the front legs of the deer.  The Deer Dance is usually held on Christmas Day (December 25) or King's day (January 6) at Acoma, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara and Taos Pueblos. (505) 843-7270.

The Turtle Dance:  The water-loving turtle has a long life and represents time, longevity, persistance and strength. The Turtle Dance ceremonial is dedicated to the rain-making spirits and is a thanksgiving for all that is moisture: Clouds, rain, snow, lightening and thunder. It honors Mother Earth for providing plentiful crops and gives thanks for the many beauties of life. The singing tells of evergreens which symbolize strength and eternity, the gourd rattle and the turtle. It tells of the creation of the Kachinas who create the elements of clouds, lightening, thunder and the production of water. Woven into the singing is the story of corn, pollination, the way the kernals sprout and ripen, the gathering and processing into food. Turtle Dance Day is an important day. It is a day to give thanks for the bounty of Mother Nature, to ask for moisture upon a dry parched land. Turtle Dances are held at Acoma, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara and Taos  Pueblos each December.

[Note: see my Autumn Greetings & Lore for other links to pueblo dances.  Also see the link to Boise's page on Las Posadas under 12/16 & Christmas Eve, above.]
***NOTE:  For more Southwestern sites,
please visit Myth*ing Links'
Indigenous Peoples of North America:
The American Southwest.
26 December - 1 January:

Mother and Daughter at Kwanzaa
© Michael Schwarz
[12/20/11 Note: link works, but photo is no longer there]

Kwanzaa is a new ritual, dating only from 1966, but the human heart, not antiquity, is the true measure of a ritual's power and depth.  This site comes from the scholar who created the celebration, Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach:
...the central interest of this website is to provide information which reveals and reaffirms the integrity, beauty and expansive meaning of the holiday and thus aids in our approaching it with the depth of thought, dignity, and sense of specialness it deserves. [12/23/10: only  on Web Archive now; link updated 12/21/12]
This is "Everything About Kwanzaa," a great site that was awarded the Times Pick by the Los Angeles Times on 12/23/96.  Whereas the preceding site has many fine linked pages (with accompanying load-times), this site is a long, convenient page with everything in one place.  I like both styles but if I were in a hurry, I'd use this one.  The other one is better for leisurely browsing.
[12/20/11: my Links-Elf tells me that WIVB has blocked the above Web Archive link.  Well, that's their right, of course, but then they should have the decency to keep a proper archive for such good stories!  Bah. ////  12/23/08: dead link -- reverting to Web Archive -- scroll down to end of page; 12/21/12: web archive link seems to be broken.]
[Updated 12/15/05]: This is from WIVB, a TV station in Buffalo, New York.  I think I first added this in 1999 but it changes annually.  Here is a passage from 2005:
...Although the holiday is marked by seven specific days in the year, it is the intention of Kwanzaa to become a way of life, not just a change in thought that occurs on those seven days. The seven principles should be woven into the every day lives of African-Americans of all ages in order to help us understand the significance of our past and build towards the future, united in the strength of our people and our mission.
I was touched by a brief passage on children and corn:
...One ear of Muhindi, or corn, is placed on the table for each child in the household. If there are no children in the household, one Muhindi is still added to represent the children of the community....
This useful little essay designed for educators from K-12 is "Kwanzaa- What Is It?" from the Akwansosem African Studies Program-Outreach at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. [Link updated 10/31/02 & again 11/22/04,  but if you don't have a recent browser, you'll only get a colorful background but no text-frame -- e.g., I can pull it up on Netscape 7.2 but not 4.7; 12/12/09: now on Web Archive & looks great.]
From the Flint Public Library in Michigan comes "Kwanzaa: an African-American Cultural Celebration."  The site offers a good collection of links to other sites but it also offers a unique Kwanzaa bibliography of non-fiction (divided into adult and youth), fiction (youth only), and audio & video resources.
31 December / 1 January:
New Year's Celebrations,
Also Feastday of Brazil's Sea-goddess, Yemaya

© Sandra Stanton
[Added 12/2/04]:If you'll scroll down to nearly the end of Waverly Fitzgerald's page, you'll find her entry for Yemaya:
...Yemaya-Olokun, the Mother of the Sea, is honored on New Year's Eve in Brazil. Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro) go down to the beaches to celebrate. The biggest show occurs at Copacabana Beach where over 1.5 million people crammed into two miles of beach to dance to Brazilian superstars and watch 60 tons of fireworks explode at the end of 2001.... [Link updated 12/23/08; 12/23/10: now on Web Archive]
[Added 12/2/04]:This is a well done, albeit brief, page on "Yoruba Religion."  Here is a portion of the section on Yemaya:
Yemaya, the Orisha [deity] of the Oceans and Motherhood:

Yemaya is the great mother goddess of Santeria; the maternal force of life and
creation. She is said to be the mother of many other Orishas, and is believed to live in
the ocean. She has many aspects, one of them being Yemaya Okute, a fierce warrior.
In Brazil her devotees set up elaborate beach front altars each New Year's Eve,
setting out food and candles to be washed away by Yemaya (there called Iemanja)
with the morning tides....

[Note: there's a lovely image of her on this page.]
[Added 12/2/04]:  Again from Nova Reinna (see above for Christmas) comes a fine historically-focused site on New Year's customs from Egypt (where the New Year began in mid-June), the ancient Near East (the Babylonian New Year began in March at the spring equinox), and Europe.  Here is an excerpt related to Christianity:
... New Year's Day [January 1st] became a Holy Day in the Christian Church in 487 A.D., when it was declared the Feast of the Circumcision. Originally, parties were not allowed on this day because the pagans had followed that custom.  However, in time, attitudes changed and it was deemed that celebrations could again be held. January 1st became generally recognized as New Year's Day in the 1500s, when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced. By this time, the Julian Calendar, once more out of calibration, placed the first day of the year 13 days later on January 14th....
The site also offers fine pages on Janus, the double-faced Roman god for whom "January" is named because he stands at the hinge of the year on January 1st; "Baby New Year"; "Old Father Time"; "Auld Lang Syne"; and "Around the World" (see directly below for this one): ...

[Added 12/2/04]: This is "Around the World," Nova Reinna's page on New Year's festivals and traditions.  There are sections of varying lengths for the following countries and peoples:
| Austria | Brazil | Cambodia | Canada | Poland | Switzerland | China | Egypt | Germany |
  | Great Britain | Greece | Hindus | Hong Kong | Hungary | India | Iran | Japan | Jews |  | Korea | Lao | Mayans | Muslims | Netherlands | Parsees | Poland | Portugal | Punjab |
| Scandinavia | Singapore | South Africa | Spain | Sri Lanka | Switzerland | Tamil |
| Thailand | Tibet | United States Of America | Vietnam |
6 January:

Adoration of the Magi
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
[11/1/00: original art link is now defunct -- the above new link was found 12/15/05:
just in case, several years ago I also saved the full version at:  da Vinci2] [Link updated 10/31/02 -- scroll down to 6 January]

This is the feast of the Epiphany, the day on which the three Magi (Wise Men and astrologers) found the Christ child.  Also see Waverly Fitzgerald's special page for "Twelfth Night," January 6th.  As always, her work is superb.
[Added 12/24/10]: This is from Joanna Powell Colbert's new "Magical Giftbringers of Yule" series.  Here, the focus is on Italy's La Befana, who was visited by the three Magi on the eve before Epiphany (January 5th), and who thereafter brought gifts to all children on Epiphany eve.
[Link updated 12/21/12]: Every country has rich traditions surrounding this feast of Epiphany.  This website tells us how it's celebrated in Bulgaria:
On 6 January the Bulgarian people celebrate Epiphany or St. Jordan’s Day. This festival has different names in the different parts of the country, some of them are Krastovden /Day of the Cross/, Voditzi /Waters/ or Vodokrashti /Waterchristen/. The night before St. Jordan’s Day is the last one of the ”incensed" nights....According to the popular belief, in the dead of night on Epiphany the skies open and everyone who sees them, will be given by God all that he wishes. In the past, many people used to sit up all night watchfully awaiting the heaven to open....
Bulgarian recipes for this feastday are for cluster loaf, cabbage leaves stuffed with grouts, and a wheat dessert prepared in the Stara Zagora style.
7 January:
Feastday of the Baptism of Christ

John's Baptism of Christ
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
[11/1/00: art link is now defunct but I saved the full version at:  da Vinci2 -- scroll down to the second painting]

[Link updated 12/21/12]: This date is Christmas in the Orthodox Church, but it's St. John the Baptist's Day in Bulgaria and elsewhere, for it was on this day that John's baptism of Christ at the Jordan River was celebrated (FYI: historically, Christ's Baptism is a far more ancient Christian feast than the Nativity):
In the church calendar, this is the day celebrated in honour of Saint John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. It is also the holiday of all who bear the Saint's name. By old Bulgarian custom at early dawn - before sunrise - young women brought water from a river or a well. In a large caldron, referred to as "chebar", they bathed the children for health. The young couples, who had married in the winter before St. John's Day, were also given a bath in this "chebar"....
Bulgarian recipes for the day include stuffed leg of pork, banitza (a cheese pastry) and apple pie.


Detail of Nativity by Andrea Mantagna
[Negativized] [12/23/08: link updated]
For many reasons, the winter holidays are often a time of depression -- this is the "shadow-side" of the season's bright festivities:
...The Yale Depression Research Clinic claims that the holiday blues are a "universal and normal" experience. Although many may feel unhappy during the holidays, even more may experience post-holiday doldrums. Several studies show a rise in emotional distress after holidays, especially Christmas. Other studies show that mental health emergencies increase during the three weeks following the holidays....
This site, "Avoiding the Holiday (and Post Holiday) Blues" by Dr. Steve Duncan from Montana State University, looks at causes and offers refreshing suggestions for relief.
[10/31/02: original link is dead but I'm keeping the annotation; 11/22/04: it's been rescued by a web archive.]
[Added 12/16/01]:..After September 11th, this essay, "Yuletide 2001: Joy, Guilt, & the Turning of the Wheel," by author Yasmine Gale, looks at the mixed feelings so many have during this Yuletide 2001.  It is thoughtful, insightful, gentle, sensible.  Here are some key passages:
...I began to feel a little guilty about my extreme joy and focus on the coming season.  After all, hundreds of thousands are being laid off from work, thousands recently died and thousands more were injured in the horrific attacks of some fanatical madmen…we’re fighting a war to find and root out those same extremists and many of “our men” (and women) are going to be a long ways from home come the holiday season—be it Yuletide, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah.  So how could I take so much pleasure in a holiday when there is so much pain in the world?

I began to think about the turning of the Wheel and how the cycle moves on regardless of those who are left behind—it is the nature of life, the nature of death.  We cannot live in constant pain.  We cannot share the agony of others because as much as misery may love company, it only perpetuates the problem to live with a constant focus on terror....

...And so our rituals of joy and celebration are so very important right now.

We must continue on, must keep up our spirits, because if we fall into depression it will only feed the vortex of negative energy that recent events have brought about....

Yasmine then offers her poem, "A Merry Yuletide to All," a clever, funny, and deep riff on Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas."  My favorite line comes from the Holly King:
...And not every hunger will feed, not every tear dry,
But to ignore beauty for pain is to let your soul die....
The page ends with an evocative sunrise winter solstice ritual.
While not focused specifically on holiday depression, this page from my former colleague, Dr. Dianne Skafte, offers simple, wise meditative exercises for getting in touch with the deeper, oracacular, "invisible" dimensions of life.  These are valid year-round but especially relevant at this time of the year.  Don't miss this one! [rescued 12/31/08]
[12/10/06: old link died -- this update is from web archives.  12/23/08: Web Archive link is also dead. I'm going to try and reach Laura and see if I can rescue this article and put it on a Myth*ing Links page; 12/25/08 -- Laura will send me her article next week and I'll post it ASAP -- please check back.]
This essay from one of my former graduate students, Laura Shamas (who teaches communication and theatre at Pepperdine University and has a doctorate in Mythological Studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute), looks at winter depression from another perspective -- that of bringing more beauty into our lives by honoring Aphrodite.  An exceptionally lovely Aphroditic ritual designed for New Year's is included.
[12/23/08: dead link but this former guide has republished her article on a new site]:
[Added 12/18/02]:"Avoid Holiday Burnout: Stress Management" -- This is a brief but well done piece on holiday burnout by Melissa C. Stöppler, M.D.  Here's an excerpt:
...Burnout" is a term often used to describe feelings of desperation, extreme stress, and the inability to continue with, or loss of interest in, scheduled activities. Sufferers of "holiday burnout" are often overwhelmed by the perceived extra demands and expectations associated with preparation for, and celebration of, the holiday season....
[Added 12/23/08]: This is's current "Holiday Survival Guide: Manage Stress and Simplify Your Holiday Season." The page offers a wide assortment of stress management articles related to a nice series of holiday issues.
 [Added 12/18/02]: This is a down-to-earth, practical essay on depression & holiday blues, "Does a White Christmas Make You Blue?" by Nancy Schimelpfening:
...The primary reason for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations.  From the time we are children, we start to build up expectations of what Christmas should be. In the media we see perfect images of family, friends, food, parties, and gifts. What we fail to see is that these are only staged scenes. We may all aspire to be Martha Stewart, but the reality will probably be closer to Erma Bombeck. What we have to realize is that there's nothing wrong with falling short of perfect....
 [Added 12/18/02]:This is Cathleen Henning's wise, evocative essay on "Loneliness During the Holidays: Panic/Anxiety Disorders" --
...The holidays are a prime time for loneliness. You might actually be alone this year which is exceedingly difficult when the rest of the world is telling you that you must be with people at this time. Or, you might be surrounded by people and still feel lonely as events and interactions don't go exactly as planned.

The best way to handle loneliness, and any other emotion, is to understand that it is OK to feel this way. You might then realize that most everyone feels this way at times. In fact, loneliness is a common feeling, even for people without anxiety disorders. Stop criticizing yourself for feeling a certain way....
 [Added 12/18/02]: In the midst of the light and hope that belong to this season, there is often death as well.  How does grief fit into this time of new birth?  This essay looks at "Holiday Grief: Death and Dying":
...The Hospice Foundation of America tells the bereaved to recognize the holidays will not be the same.  They also suggest that you should not isolate yourself.  Often the bereaved isolate themselves from friends and family during this time and feel they must bear their pain alone.  The HFA suggests you call friends and family and maybe use this time to reflect on the happier times or the special times with the deceased....
[12/10/06: the above link still has other good essays but not the one I cited.  My Links-Elf, Michaela, suggests this substitute-page which includes much, if not more, of the same data once found at the other link]:
 [Added 12/18/02]: This thoughtful site looks at abusive, alcoholic families at Christmas time:
...These family times are dreaded by some because of the memories which they bring back. If you grow up in a family dominated by an alcoholic, a family get-together may serve as a reminder of all of the bad times you had together. If a family member was abusive toward you, then a "family time" may stir up feelings associated with the abuse. This can occur long after the abuser is dead....

...If you are going to a get-together at a place which holds unpleasant memories take a piece of your current home with you. A favorite rock, an acorn from the oak in the back yard, a book you love, or a stuffed animal can be powerful reminders that you are just visiting. Your home is elsewhere and you will be returning...
 [Added 12/18/02]: This is a blunt look at a recovering alcoholic's perspective during the holidays:
...What I do is say "What a good idea. I would love a drink! Do you have a soda-water with lemon or a coca-cola? This allows me to say yes and get what I want as well.  Very few people will press anything alcoholic on us but when they do I simply say "Not right now thank you but a coke would really hit the spot...."

...My alcoholism is as smart as I am and then just a little bit smarter. My alcoholism wants me to drink therefore it wants me to be in slippery places like wet Christmas or New Year parties. I have to be careful I have to out-smart my disease.

I need to be connected to sober people I need to be doing sober things going to sober places. I can't let the Christmas season be an excuse for a relapse. I may be on holiday but my chemical dependency does not take a holiday... ultimately the only way to stay sober over the holidays is the same way I stay sober all year round that is one day at a time....
[Added 11/2/02; grokked 12/18/02]:  From the Health Guides come more of these special links to help with the many pressures of the holiday season -- stress, depression, grief -- even allergies to your Christmas tree.

Yuletide Around the World:   Since this "Winter Greetings & Lore" page is already very long, I've added new material & transferred many Yule links to their own page.  It covers regional Yuletide customs and lore in Scandinavia; Russia & Eastern Europe; Western Europe (e.g., Celtic); the New World; and "Down Under."  The page concludes with Yuletide Mummers; Yuletide Foods; and Yuletide Trees -- don't miss it!
  Wintery Shamanism: a page from 2006 on "Cold" as a person, a spirit, a deva, a presence, but growing more vulnerable because of climate changes.
MY MYTHIC HOLIDAY SHOPPING PAGEThis page includes a handful of sites where I buy my own holiday treasures.  (Don't forget that in the West, the Christmas/Yule season lasts til Epiphany/Three Kings' Day on 6 January -- thus, no holiday gift is ever really "late.")  It also includes a link to "Monsters in the Toybox," a great essay from Pat Grauer about what not to buy (her essay is Christian-oriented but I found it wise and valuable for all).

The Imbolc/Candlemas page:
The traditional end of the Yule season in the Catholic Church is Candlemas on 2 February.  This coincides with the pagan feast of Imbolc.  I have created a separate page for this ancient feast which marks the embryonic quickening of the seed of light, first planted on the darkest night of the year during Winter Solstice.
Other Related Myth*ing Links Pages:
To the Wheel of the Year

To Current Autumn Greetings & Lore
[Note: this autumn page overlaps my Winter Greetings & Lore page
and includes links applicable to the entire autumn equinox / winter solstice season]

To Current Lunar New Year

To European Nature-Based Ways

To the Common Themes: TIME page
(Calendars, Millennium Issues, etc)

To Food: Sacrality & Lore

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2012

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2011

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2010

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2009

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2008

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2007

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2006

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2005

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2004

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2003

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2002

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2001

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 2000

To archived Winter Greetings & Lore 1999

To archived Winter Greetings 1998

If everyone gives a thread, the naked one will have a shirt
[Polish proverb from Okana's Web]

Note: my complete site map will be found on my home page;
my e-mail address is at the bottom of that page.

Text and layout © 2000-2013 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.


Note: Update log for earlier years are on archived pages for each year.

Page for 2011-2012:

20 December 2011, 4pm: late last night (c. 3am) I archived 2010's page  but couldn't upload any changes to this 2011 page because my site's host was down for awhile.  I've only updated "calendar" data so far, moved  Chanukah to Dec.  20th for this year, and given the Islamic month of Muharram a page of its own (it doesn't fall in December this year).  No links check yet -- I'll do that later this evening.
As of 6:30pm, there are still a few broken links but most are now fine.
It's now 9pm -- turns out there were more than a "few broken links," but now all's updated. Enjoy!

21 December 2012., 2am: 14 broken links are in the process of being restored, thanks to my Links-Elf, Michaela. Also solstice times have been updated.


December 2009: I was the Mythology/Religion/Psychology consultant on Game-2, Wisdom Quest, of this series.  Since the new owners are no longer offering the $10 PDF download of the novella-style Companion Guide I wrote for this game,  please contact me directly if you're interested and I'll e-mail it to you..