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Library Council on Diversity and Inclusion

This guides serves to provide resources for the UNT Library's Council on Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI).

Yule/Winter Solstice

Look Ahead Holidays: Winter Solstice/Yule 

 

The Winter Solstice (December 21st 2021 at 9:59am CST) marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the longest night and the shortest day of the year as daylight is minimal due to the Earth’s tilt away from the sun. Astronomically speaking, the Winter Solstice is the day/time when the sun reaches its southern-most position in the sky and appears to observers on earth to be still or stationary at the Tropic of Capricorn before it reverses its direction and begins to move north on December 25th.

Cultures celebrating this season view the period from the 21st to the 24th as liminal time before the rebirth of the sun on the 25th. Some cultures focus on the return of solar energy, light, and warmth while others use the lunar energies and darkness to inform their practices, rituals, and celebrations. Practices, rituals, and celebrations may emphasize family gatherings and/or introspective solitude.

Evidence from ancient cultures indicates that the Winter Solstice is probably the oldest and most widely honored common observance across the world. Megalithic and Neolithic structures in Europe like Stonehenge, Newgrange, and Gobekli Tepe align with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice. [1] [2] [3]

Holidays that celebrate the Winter Solstice, Winter, or this time of year include

  • Dong Zhi (or Dongzhi) as celebrated on the Winter Solstice for the increase in daylight and “positive energy” in China. It is celebrated approximately six weeks before the Chinese New Year. Dong Zhi translates to “winter arrives.” [4] [5] (winter/solar observance)
  • Jólabókaflóðið as celebrated on Christmas Eve, December 24th, in Iceland as a book giving holiday. Jólabókaflóðið translates to “Christmas book flood.” After spending the day cleaning the home and leaving food or small gifts out for the huldufólk, Icelandic people give books to each other and spend the night reading. (winter/lunar observance)
  • Saturnalia as celebrated on December 17th through December 24th in Ancient Roman. Saturnalia marks in their calendar when the sun enters Capricorn, which is cardinal sign of Saturn. Following Saturnalia is Sol Invictus on the 25th. This solstice celebration celebrates Saturn/Chronos, the god of agriculture and time. [6] [7][8] (winter/solar observance)
  • St. Lucia’s Day as celebrated in Scandinavia to honor Saint Lucia who brought food to hungry. Saint Lucia is celebrated as a symbol of light, and women wear a wreath of candles on their heads. Fires are lit to scare away evil spirits. [9] [10] (solar observance)
  • Soyal as celebrated by Hopi Indigenous Peoples to honor the Winter Solstice and welcoming kachinas (spirits). Rituals include “purification, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving” as well as creating prayer sticks. The Sun Watcher or Sun Chief observes the sun and announces its setting by lighting bon fires. [11] [12] (lunar/solar observance)
  • Shalako as celebrated by Zuni Indigenous Peoples to honor the Winter Solstice which is also the new year. The Sun Priest fasts all day and announces the sun’s set, seen as its rebirth into the new year. Kachina dancers dance for 4 days with the Shalako, a large bird effigies, who are messengers of the gods. [13] [14] (lunar/solar observance)
  • Toji as celebrated on the Winter Solstice is a good health and good luck festival in Japan, especially in rural agricultural areas. The sun is welcomed to nurture crops through the winter. Bon fires are light to honor the sun’s return. Mount Fuji is known to have large bon fires each year. The Japanese also celebrate with citrus and yuzu scented baths to foster good health and eat kabocha squash for good luck. [15] [16] (winter/solar observance)
  • Uduvapa Poya/ Uposatha Poya/ Saṅghamittā (or Saṅghamitrā) Day as celebrated on the full moon of December (this year on December 18, 2021) to honor Buddhist nun Saṅghamittā who co-founded the Theravāda Buddhists in Sri Lanka. [17] [18]
  • Winter Solstice/ Yule/ Midwinter/ Alban Arthan/ Koročun (or Kračun) as celebrated on the Winter Solstice by Celtic, Scandinavian, Germanic, Slavic, Wiccan, and other Western pagans and new age spiritualists. Common celebrations include the maypole or a local tree being burnt in the hearth, evergreens being brought into the home, and candles being lit throughout the home. Tales of battle between the Holly (winter) and Oak (spring) Aos Sí Kings, the huldufólk, the death of Balder, Thor’s adventures on his goat chariot, and the rebirth of the Sun God by the Goddess are shared. For Slavic pagans specifically, they honor the death of the Sun God Hors and his rebirth as Koleda as well as their ancestors by visiting cemeteries and lighting bon fires at crossroads.[19] (lunar/winter and solar/spring observance)
  • Winter Solstice as celebrated by the Western Esotericism/ Western Mystery Traditions have varied rites and rituals related to the rise in Light and the Light of consciousness and may include references to solar gods. (solar/spring observance)
  • Winter Solstice as celebrated by secular humanists. [20] [21]  (winter/spring)
  • Yalda (or Shab-e Yalda) as celebrated on the Winter Solstice which is the last day of Persian month of Azar by Irians and Persians. Families gather to ward off the evil of darkness by lighting fires, reading poetry, eating nuts and fruit, and staying up until the sun rises. Yalda originates from Zoroastrianism and the ancient Persian celebrations of the Sun God Mithra is born and triumphs over evil. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]  (winter/lunar/solar observance)
  • Ziemassvētki as celebrated between December 24th and January 6th, depending on calendar used, in Latvia. The holiday that combines the Winter Solstice and Christmas. It is celebrated by both Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and non-Christians. [27] (solar/spring observance)
 

[1] Almanac. 2021. “Winter Solstice 2021: The First Day of Winter.” Almanac.com. Accessed November 24, 2021. 

[2] Curry, Andrew. 2008. “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?” Smithsonian Magazine, November n.d., 2008. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[3] Wikipedia. 2021c. “Winter solstice.” Wikipedia.com. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice.

[4] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[5] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[6] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[7] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[8] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[9] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[10] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[11] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[12] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[13] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[14] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[15] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[16] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[17] Bodhistav Foundation. 2011. "A brief history of Sanghamitta". Bodhistav Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Accessed November 30, 2021.

[18] Wikipedia. 2021b. “Sanghamitta.” Wikipedia.com. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanghamitta.

[19] Wikipedia. 2021a. “Korochun.” Wikipedia.com. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korochun.

[20] Robbins, Liz. 2013. "During Religious Season, Nonbelievers Assert Right to Celebrate". The New York Times. Accessed November 30, 2021

[22] Eldridge, Alison. N.d. "7 Winter Solstice Celebrations From Around the World." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[23] Merkelbach, R.2020. "Mithraism." Encyclopedia Britannica, February 5, 2020. Accessed November 30, 2021.

[24] Pruitt, Sarah. 2018. “8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World.” History.com. Accessed November 24, 2021.

[25] PT Reporter. 2019. “Yalda Night.” Parsi Times. Accessed November 30, 2021. https://parsi-times.com/2019/12/yalda-night/.

[26] Rowman and Littlefield. 2021. “December 21.”Chase’s Calendar of Events 2022 : The Ultimate Go-to Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield. 606.

[27] Wikipedia. 2021d. “Ziemassvētki.” Wikipedia.com. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziemassv%C4%93tki.

 

Samhain

Look Ahead Holidays: Samhain

 

Samhain (Samhuinn, Shamhna, and Nos Calan Gaeaf) (pronounced SAH-win or SO-wen) is celebrated at sunset on October 31st through sunset of November 1st. Historically, it is the last harvest festival and one of the great fire festivals to the Gaelic peoples, marking the beginning of winter, the dark season, and the New Year. Great gatherings at Neolithic tombs and structures like Stonehenge took place, and modern practioners still gather at these places and at sacred sites in their communities to light bonfires[1].

Samhain is one of the two times of the year when the veils between the worlds of the dead, the Otherworld, and the living are thin. Those that celebrate Samhain honor the lives of their ancestors and deceased loved-ones who visit from the afterlife. Practioners decorate ancestor altars and provide place-settings at feasting tables for the dead. For loved-ones who have died in the past year, Samhain is considered a final chance to pass safely into the afterlife before the liminality between the worlds ends. People experiencing or remembering loss, wear masks or face paint to hide recognizable facial features from the dead so that the dead are not tempted to remain in the world of the living too long. Offerings to the Good Neighbors or Fair Folk (Aos sí/aes sídhe/aes sìth or daoine sídhe/daoine sìth)[2] and the various death deities like The Morrígan, The Horned God, Persphone, Hecate/Hekate, Cernunnos, Dionysus, Hades, and the Angel of Death may be made at this time.

Samhain traditions were borrowed and blended with Catholic traditions to develop the holidays of All-Hallows Eve (on October 31st), All Saints' Day (on November 1st), and All Souls Day (on November 2nd). Later these traditions and more blending of folk traditions from Ireland, the British Isles, and mainland Europe developed into the modern practices of Halloween. For instances in Ireland, Jack-O-Lanterns were carved out of turnips and beets to keep unwanted visitors like Stingy Jack or “Jack of the Lantern” away from homes.[3] This tradition developed into pumpkin carving in the North America.

Today, contemporary pagans of many traditions, members of earth-centered religions or folktraditions, and practioners of Western Esotericism or the Western Mystery Traditions celebrate Samhain and this season for remembering the dead with many. Heathens, Asatru, and Norse Pagans may celebrate Winter Nights/Winternights, Álfablót, and Dísablót/Disting instead of Samhain, which are festivals and harvests from Scandinavian and Germanic pre-Christian and Medieval times from mid to late October. These celebrations mark the end of autumn and beginning of winter with a harvest[4]. Practioners of these holidays may honor elves, the Dísir, and deities like Hela, Mordgud, Nidhogg, Hlin, Mermod, Vor, Balur, Anna, and Hoder, and the Norns. People who practice Slavic traditions may celebrate the Festival of Mokosh on November 10th[5]. Kemetic  pagans or Egyptian Neopagan may celebrate Osiris and Wepwawet (possibly Anubis) during the Haker Feast of Osiris and Feast of Sokar/Khoiak[6].

In addition to these pagan holidays, Días de los Muertos is multiday Mexican holiday that celebrates the ancestors on November 1st and November 2nd. Ofrendas (offerings) are given to the ancestors on tables decorated with marigolds, candles, calaveras (skulls), family photos, and heirlooms[7]. Días de los Muertos has origins in traditions from Aztec and Nahuan peoples as well specific Spanish-Catholic traditions for All Souls Days, including bringing pan de ánimas (spirit bread) to graves[8]. While similar in theme to Samhain and the traditions that developed into contemporary Halloween, Días de los Muertos is a separate holiday for Mexican and Mexican-American. Through movies and retail trends, it is in endanger of appropriation and secularization by people with non-Mexican heritage, especially in the Texas and the American south. 

Resources from UNT Libraries

 

[1] Wikipedia. 2021. “Samhain.” Last updated September  21, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain;

History.com. 2020. “Samhain.” Last updated November 3, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/samhain;

Stonehenge News Blog. N.d. “Celtic festivals – Samhain. October 31st.” Last updated November 16, 2010. https://blog.stonehenge-stone-circle.co.uk/2010/10/16/celtic-festivals-samhain-october-31st/.

[2] Wikipedia. 2021. “Aos Sí.” Last updated August 26, 2021.

[3] Kayla Hertz. 2020. “Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns made of turnips were truly terrifying.” Irish Central. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/jack-o-lantern-turnips-ireland.

[4] Wikipedia. 2020. “Winter Nights.” Last updated October  21, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_Nights;

Wikipedia. 2021. “Álfablót.” Last updated February  5, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lfabl%C3%B3t;

Wikipedia. 2021. “Dísablót.” Last updated February  28, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%ADsabl%C3%B3t.

[5] Wikipedia. 2021. “Slavic Native Faith's calendars and holidays.” Last updated September  6, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_Native_Faith%27s_calendars_and_holidays.

[6] Sharon LaBorde. 2010. “Haker Feast of Osiris.” The Virtual Temple of Tutankhamun. . Accessed September 22, 2021. http://kemetic-independent.awardspace.us/Osiris.htm; Joshua Mark. 2017. “Festivals in Ancient Egypt” World History Encyclopedia. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1032/festivals-in-ancient-egypt/.

[7] Day of the Dead. N.d. “Day of the Dead: Dia de los Muertos.” https://dayofthedead.holiday/; History.com. 2020. “Day of the Dead (D í a de los Muertos).” Lat updated October 30, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/day-of-the-dead.

[8] History.com. 2020. “Day of the Dead (D í a de los Muertos).” Last updated October 30, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/day-of-the-dead.

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