Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ante Diem VIII Kalendas January

Modern Date : December 25th

Ante Diem VIII Kalendas January
Eighth Day to the Kalends of January

This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.

Dies Natalis Solis Invictus (Birth of the Invincible Sun)
After Caesar's reform, this day became the traditional Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, The Day of the Birth of the Invincible Sun, instead of the more precise solstice of 21-22.

The early Christian leaders moved Christmas here from January 6th, the assumed date of Jesus' birth. Although the name of this holiday has been altered, it continues to be a festival of joy, peace, feasting, and goodwill to men. Helios was the god honored this day.

The illiterate barbarian king Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans this day in 800 by the Pope, who had the right to do so by default. He was, in name, the first emperor of the Western Roman empire since 460 AD. His lands split three ways, amongst his sons, when he died but the title passed to the kingship of what are now Germany and Austria. The title actually passed in direct succession right up to Kaiser (Caesar) Wilhelm in WWI, who was the last man on earth who could claim the title Emperor of the Romans.

In ancient Persia, this day was celebrated as Atargatis, while Mesopotamians celebrated it as the Day of Astarte, the mother goddess.

Decima, the middle Fate in charge of the present, presides over December, but the month may have received its name as the tenth month of the Roman calendar. Vesta, patroness of fire also laid claim to the month of December.

In the Northern hemisphere, the most important festival day of the year, marking the birth of the Solar Child, the Savior, Renewer of the Light. This day has been celebrated in the Northern world for more than 6,000 years as the birth or feast day of many solar deities, resurrected kings and queens, and saviors. When the mythic cycles of Sumeria, Egypt, India and China were forming and on their way to being vivid and complex, Dec. 25 was the accepted date of the winter solstice, before the ancient star priests were able to reckon it precisely on Dec. 21.

The birth of many dying solar savior-gods (Osiris, the Syrian Baal, Attis, Helios, Apollo, Dionysus, Balder, Frey) was celebrated on this day. According to Roman tradition this was Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, "the day of the birth of the undefeated sun," a Mithraic cult. A festival was held in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven. In Semitic lands she was a form of Astarte. This is also the feast of Frau Holle, a Germanic weather goddess.

In the Egyptian calendar, Dec. 25 is the shared father-and-son birthday of Osiris, Neter of male creativity and vegetation; and Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, the falcon-headed solar hero who is destined to battle Set, Neter of destruction and chaos, for the survival of life on Earth. Horus is solar energy in active physical manifestation. Thus the living Pharaoh is considered the human embodiment of Horus. The birthdays of Osiris and Horus fall on day 10 in the Month of Mechir.

Dec. 25 is the birthday of the Persian solar deity Mithras, whose ritual slaying of the Bull enacts the ascendancy of spirit over matter, and also the end of the Age of Taurus. Mithras' day first entered the Roman Calendar as the holiday sacred to Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. This is lso the birthday of the ancient Babylonian god Baal.

In the ancient Greek calendar, this day is celebrated as a birthday or major festival day of Apollo/Helios, who merges into the single figure of Apollo, god of the Sun, patron of intellect, rationality, the ideal beauty of classical form, and the mystery of prophecy. On the same day, curiously, some of Apollo's opposite numbers are born and honored too: Dionysus and the Phrygian Attis, both associated with ecstatic revelry and passion, blood and wine. The incomparably beautiful and doomed Adonis, lover of Aphrodite, is reborn on this day each year and dies a few months later on what some other calendars usually call Easter.

In the Norse tradition, this is the birthday of Baldur, yet another beautiful young god who dies in the bloom of youth and returns to life on the first day of winter. His feast is associated with wreaths of greenery and holly. At his death each year his blood is said to fall on the white young holly berries, staining them bright red. These colors also symbolize Baldur as the joining of spiritual love (white) with erotic love (red).

Isra Miraj Nabi Muhammed
In the Islamic calendar of Indonesia, this day is Isra Miraj Nabi Muhammed, commemorating the prophet Mohammed's ascension.

In Christian calendars, this is Christmas, birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, considered by his devotees to be the Promised One, the Messiah, whom Christians revere as the fully realized embodiment of divinity, the Christ. In the words of Isaiah: " . . . unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace."

The metaphor of the birth of the sun worked equally well for Christians celebrating the birth of the Son of God, who brings Light to the world. Biblical scholars speculate that Christ was actually born in the fall after the harvest or in the spring after the birth of the new animals, both the most likely times for taxation. The British scientist Colin Humphreys believes Christ was born between April 13 and April 27, the week of Passover in 5 BCE, when a great comet appeared.

The birth of Christ was celebrated in the early church on January 6th (on the same date, Kore gave birth to the year god Aeon). However, in the 4th century, it was moved to December 25th. Biblical scholar Brent Walters says that the Pope authorized the change at the request of Cyril of Jerusalem who was concerned about the pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Christ’s birth, then turned around and headed to Bethlehem to attend special ceremonies there on the same day. By moving the date of Christ's birth forward to December 25th, they had more time to make the trip to Bethlehem by January 6th. Of course, not everyone was pleased by this change. The Christians of ”dessa accused the church in Rome of idolatry and “sun worship."

Christmas/Yule Traditions
Many of the ceremonies of the Saturnalia continue in our modern Yuletide celebrations. Temples were decorated with greenery. Holly was used by the early Roman Christians to decorate churches and dwellings at this time, but the tradition was derived from earlier practices. Pagan Romans would send their friends holly-sprigs with wishes for their health and well being. The evergreens for Yuletide decorations were holly, ivy, mistletoe, bay, rosemary, and green branches of the box tree. One of the oldest Yule traditions comes from its origins in Saturnalia. During that time, it was customary for all creatures to be equal. Charitable acts were not the exception, but the rule. Master and servant were on equal terms and people even acted with charity toward the lesser animals. Extra food was given to livestock and pets, and food was laid out for the birds or other wild creatures.

Yule has many names in many lands. To the Druids and Celtic tribes, it was Nodlaig, An Nodlaig, La Nodlag, or Nodlaig Day. Yule. Jul or Jol is a Gothic word signifying a sumptuous treat, and the month of January was called Giuli (the Festival) by the Saxons. The festival of the Sun at the winter solstice ushered in the New Year’s sun. To the Saxons, it was Gehul, 'the Sun-feast', for the Danes, Juul, the Swedes called it Oel, in Breton, it was Heol (the sun), and for the Welsh it was Hal. The word Yule is derived from an old Norse word Iul, meaning a wheel, and the symbol of a wheel is still used to mark Yuletide.

The ash is the wood of the world-tree, Yggdrasil, with its roots knotted in Hell and its boughs supporting Heaven. Beneath Yggdrasil sit the Norns or Nornir, Urth (past), Verdandi (present), and Skuld (future). Like the Greek and Roman Fates, they sit spinning the events of human life. Nearby is the spring of Urd from which the Norns draw water and clay every day. They sprinkle this on Yggdrasil to keep its branches from wither and decay.

The Yule log was chosen of green ash wood and cut before Yule. In Devon, a bundle of ash sticks were bound together with nine ash-bands. The us of nine, or thrice three, ash-bands may be an indirect reference to the Norns. Amidst much rejoicing, it was carried in on Yule Day or on Yule Eve. Sometimes it was sprinkled with corn or dragged in with a girl seated upon it. A new fire was made, and the log was kindled with the last fragments of the previous log, kept throughout the year for this purpose.

The mistletoe sprig has a long history of use, perhaps older than the Yuletime tree. The traditional Kissing Bough or the Kissing Bunch was hung from the ceiling with a ring of candles above and a ring of bright red apples below, perhaps hinting at fulfillment in the hour of promise. It was also said to represent the sun and the earth. On Yule Eve, the candles were lit in ceremony, and it became the center of the festival. It was lit again on Yule Day, and every evening thereafter till the Twelve Days were done. It hung from the middle of the ceiling, just high enough from the ground for a couple to stand or stoop and kiss beneath it.

Welsh churches held a carol service called Plygain between 3 am and 6 am on Christmas morning. The name is derived from the Latin pulli cantio (“cock crow”). The churches were decorated with candles. After a brief session of prayers, people spent the remainder of the time singing plygain carols. It seems possible this was originally a ritual designed to comfort people during the darkest hours before the sun was born, or to help welcome the newly-emerging sun.

Christmas/Yule dinner
Christmas dinner is one of those grand seasonal feasts for which each culture has its own set of traditional dishes. In France, the big meal, called the revillon (meaning the beginning of a new watch) is served immediately after Midnight Mass. It often begins with oysters and champagne. Roast turkey with chestnuts is the usual dish but in former times, each region had its own specialty: a daube (beef in red wine) in Armagnac, sauerkraut and goose liver in Alsace, aligot in Auvergne, black pudding (blood sausage) in Nivernais and goose in southwestern France. In the southeast, a large meal was eaten before Mass consisting of cauliflower and salt cod with raito (or perhaps snails), grey mullet with olives, or omelette with artichokes and fresh pasta.

The Poles eat foods containing poppy seeds. The English serve plum pudding. Romans eat eels. In Bologna, it's tortellini stuffed with minced group pork, turkey, sausage, cheese and nutmeg, followed by desserts of nocciata (walnuts and honey, cut into triangles), cassata flavored with Ricotta cheese and chocolate, and torrone, made with almonds.

The Germans used to serve blue carp, a fish that had been specially fattened for Christmas from August onwards, turned blue by pouring hot vinegar over it before cooking and served with sour cream, horseradish and apples. Now the main dish is more likely to be goose, turkey, venison, wild boar or a roast. However, apples, walnuts and almonds are always served.

The Swedes for centuries have feasted on marinated ling, served in a white sauce with butter, potatoes, mustard and black pepper. The Danes like roast goose or duck stuffed with apples and prunes and garnished with red cabbage, caramelized potatoes and cranberry sauce. Dessert consists of rice porridge or rice with almonds and cherry compote. The Norwegians serve roast pork chops and sauerkraut (flavored with cumin). The Finns cook a ham in a rye-flour pastry case. In all the Scandinavian countries, Christmas is the occasion for a sumptuous smorgasbord.

Most countries also have a traditional Christmas cake. In France, it's buche de noel, a cake of dough rolled up and frosted with buttercream to look like a log. In England it's a fruitcake, sometimes soaked in alcohol, and then spread with apricot jam, almond paste and frosting. In Germany, it's stollen which contains crystallized fruit. In Alsace, it's bireweck (a cake which includes nuts and dried and candied fruit) served with compotes and gingerbread, traditionally eaten before Midnight Mass. In Brittany, it's a star-shaped fouace.

In France, the dinner concludes with the traditional Thirteen Desserts. Each one must be tasted to bring good luck in the coming year. According to Larousse Gastronomique, the number thirteen commemorates the thirteen participants at the Last Supper (this seems a bit far-fetched and out-of-season as well). The desserts are: pompe a l'huile (a fruit pastry), raisins, quince paste, marzipan sweets, nougat, fougasse (a rich cake), crystallized (candied) citrons, walnuts and hazelnuts, winter pears, Brignoles plums, dried figs, almonds and dates.


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