As the winter gales outside try to compete with the howling gales of rampant consumerism/commercialisation at this time that threaten to drown out the meaning of Christmas, and ‘Santa’ supplants the Christ as the figurehead of the season in the eyes of the public, take a few moments to reflect upon the fact that the main reason for the festivities is much older than Christianity.
The event celebrated is the Winter Solstice from which point on the Sun becomes stronger and the days become longer, but which never the less are hard months until the advent of spring. Feasting was because of the animals that had to be slaughtered as they could not be over-wintered, or in some regions had to be brought into byres for protection, and because the wines were fermented and ready for drinking.
There is actually little reference to the giving of presents in most sources for all versions of the ‘festival’ around the world
Us fellas should be grateful we do not live in very early Aegean times!
In the Aegean civilizations, the exclusively female midwinter ritual, Lenaea or Lenaia, was the “Festival of the Wild Women”. In the forest, a man or bull representing the god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by Maenads. Later in the ritual a baby, representing Dionysus reborn, was presented. Lenaion, the first month of the Delian calendar, derived its name from the festival’s name. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by that of a goat, and the women’s role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth. Wine miracles were performed by the priests, in which priests would seal water or juice in a room overnight and the next day they would have turned into wine.
Here is the final paragraph of an exploration of the Irish Nollaig
Oíche Nollaíg, the day (literally night) before, preparations come to an end. Now all is near ready. Groaning tables are laden with the feast which will last for days. Puncheons of Mead and Ale are tapped. Bright decorations add their cheery note. The beacon fire is lit at sunset to call the scattered ones and light the way of that last missing family member. Now the celebration of survival of one year and the anticipation of the next begins. Feasting, accompanied by music, dancing and storytelling last into the night. Those who have traveled from afar to set once more around the hearth midst kith and kin are honored and the generosity of the season is expressed in gift-giving. In those ancient times, festivals generally were celebrated over a five-day period. During such time, days were likely more devoted to out-of-door activities including physical activities including racing, and games of skill and strength. Night was more conducive to the less robust, but equally enjoyed music, singing, dancing and story-telling. Whatever the time, the mounds of food and puncheons were always inviting.
It doesn’t really seem all that different, does it? This Nollaíg, consider our ancient tradition as you join with your family and celebrate the blessings of the year past and the promise of the year future. Though there is change, there is also comfort in the steadfastness of tradition. Enjoy, celebrate and Nollaíg mhaith chughat!
It doesn’t really seem all that different, does it? Indeed it does. Older customs were giving thanks for the survival into another year. Modern ‘festivites’ include the feasting, but the giving of presents of obscene value by those who can ill afford the extravagance to those whose expectations have been pumped up by media, advertising and peer pressure is not.