Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ante Diem XV Kalendas January

Modern Date : December 18th

Ante Diem XV Kalendas January
Fifthteenth Day to the Kalends of January

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

Second Day of the Saturnalia
The Saturnalia is one of the most festive and uninhibited that the ancient Romans celebrated. It went on for seven days and encompassed the Winter Solstice, a time of religious observance for cultures the world over. Feasts were provided by the temples and were open to the public, the poor and the homeless. Servants and masters were met on equal terms. Unable to prevent the people's natural festive inclinations at this time of year, the early Christian leaders moved Christmas to December and claimed the celebration for their own.

During the Saturnalia, rules were set aside, schools were closed, and slaves could meet their masters on equal terms. Human kindness was the theme and war and the punishment of criminals was halted. The exchange of gifts was universally practiced. Strenae, which were boughs to which were attached cakes or sweetmeats, were exchanged by visitors and guests. Other common gifts included wax candles (cerei) and sigillaria, which were doll-like clay figures, a particular favorite of children.

On this day in 546 AD, Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, recaptured Rome. Only 500 citizens remained in the city and they were taken hostage against any attempt to recapture Rome. When Belisarius did so in the following year, the hostages were put to the sword. They were the last true-born citizens of the city of Rome.

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.

This Celtic goddess is always shown riding on a horse, or seated with horses around her or with foals eating out of her lap, according to Caitlin Matthews in The Celtic Book of Days . On this day, grooms decorated her shrine, which was found in stables, and draft animals like horses, mules and oxen were given the day off. The key to the Underworld is one of her symbols, as is the diaper of the baby, indicating her role as mistress of the entire life cycle.

Horses are one of the animals most commonly associated with winter solstice. Woden, who is one of the protoypes of Santa Claus, rides a white horse.

Our Lady of Solitude
Our Lady of Solitude is the patron saint of the Lonely, and also the patroness of Oaxaca and of sailor who bring her the pearls she wears in her crown. Her statue is dressed in black satin, ornamented with pearls and gold thread and lilies. Her pale, thin face shines like a silver moon in the star-spangled darkness of her clothing. The idea of a goddess of solitude, especially so near the winter solstice is pleasing.

Processions are held in her honor for several nights previous to and on December 18th, with people carrying Japanese lanterns, candles and figures of birds, a boat, banners displaying the sun and the moon and other objects made of flowers, leaves and colored paper. Offerings of nuts, fruits and flowers are laid at the feet of the Virgin. Booths around the cathedral sell bonuelos, big crisp pancakes fried in lard and eaten with syrup. After eating them, it is customary to break the plate.

Apparently devotion to this compassionate aspect of Mary is common in Spanish-speaking cultures and honors Mary's silence and grief on Holy Saturday. The Church of Our Lady of Solitude in Oaxaca was built in 1692. Legend says that a mule driver, guiding his train of burros through Oaxaca, discovered that one of the animals was carrying a huge box, which when opened contained the image of the Blessed Virgin of Solitude. An enormous boulder at the entrance to the church marks the spot where the burro died from the weight of the box (so much for compassion — perhaps this represents symbolically the burden of grief).

Fourth Sunday in Advent
On the fourth Sunday in Lent, Phyllis Tickle(What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days) and her family light Joseph's candle, the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.


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