Friday, 24 December 2010

All the Shopping is Done.....

Don't you just love this time of year when you enter into the Annual Seasonal Sport ( check out what those initials spell and you get a general idea ) of 'Shop 'til you Drop'.
Loaded up like a Sherpa with bags of totally non-essential items, risking frost-bitten fingers and toes, trudging through the snow in temperatures that could freeze brass monkeys...
Yes, it's all part of the pleasure of having friends and family come round at this time of year to celebrate with you and all you need to do is ensure that you have ALL those seasonal goodies, just in case they do turn up and demand them....

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Holly and the Ivy - and Mistletoe too...

Holly is commonly used all over the world as a Christmas decoration, a custom derived from the early Romans who sent boughs of Holly to friends during Saturnalia, the Roman festival of Saturn held around the 17th of December in celebration of the Winter Solstice.

An old Christian legend says that Holly sprung up under the footsteps of Christ as he trod the earth, the spines of the leaves became symbolic of 'Crown of Thorns', with the red berries representing the drops of blood associated with his suffering.
From this symbology the Holly tree became known as 'Christ's Thorn' or the 'Holy Tree'.

In pagan folklore the Holly tree is associated with the spirit of vegetation and the waning forces of nature, which are personified as a mythical figure called the Holly King.

The Holly King is often depicted as an old man dressed in winter clothing wearing a Holly wreath on his head and walking with the aid of a staff made from a Holly branch.

The Holly King gathering Mistletoe

As nature rests during the darkest time of the year, it will be after the Winter Solstice and celebration of Yule, that the days begin to lengthen again and the re-birth of the new light of the Celtic Sun God encourages fresh growth during the coming new year.

As with most other tree legends, the Holly was revered for its protective qualities. When planted around the home it protects the inhabitants and guards against lightening, poisoning and mischievous spirits and witchcraft. 
Carrying a piece of Holly promoted good luck, especially for men, as Holly is considered a male plant - even though there are male and female Holly plants, those with red berries and those without.

In winter, the Druids advised people to take Holly into their homes to shelter the elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm. But it must be completely removed before the eve of Imbolc - 1st-2nd Februaury -first day of Spring, -for even if one leaf remained in the house, it would cause misfortune.

Old Scottish traditions says that Holly branches should only be pulled and not cut from the tree, a method considered more fitting for a sacred tree. It was also considered unlucky to fell a Holly tree or burn its green skinned branches. Yet luck was increased if a small branch was kept and hung outside of the house, there it would continue to protect against lightning.

Holly water was sprinkled on newborn babies to protect them and it is said to help the bereaved to cope with death, and to ease their sleep with peaceful dreams.

The wood of the Holly tree burns very hot and so it was used by Blacksmiths to forge weapons and tools necessary for survival and protection. Smithies were revered for their ability to use the elements of fire and earth to create these items and it is for this reason the Druids associated Holly with the element of fire.
Holly is used to attract the powers needed for: Protection, Consecration, Healing, Peace, Goodwill, Luck and anything to do with the element Fire.

Ivy was held in high esteem among the ancients and its leaves formed the poet's crown. Ivy was dedicated to the Roman god Bacchus -the Greek god Dionysus - the God of Intoxication who is often depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines. He is also depicted holding a chalice and carrying a thyrsus (a wand) which was also entwined with ivy and vine leaves.

Ivy leaves were thought to prevent intoxication and the binding of the brow with ivy was seen to balance the effects of the vine. It was believed that if a handful of ivy leaves are bruised and gently boiled in wine and drunk, it would prevent intoxication.
Old English taverns bore a sign of an ivy bush over their doors, this was to indicate the excellence of the liquor supplied within, hence the old saying 'A good wine needs no bush'.

Throughout the ages ivy has been regarded as the emblem of fidelity, and Greek priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married persons. Today the ivy is still commonly associated with weddings, and is carried or worn by bridesmaids.

If a women carried Ivy, it was said to aid fertility and general good luck. It was also said to ensure fidelity and from this came the custom of brides carrying Ivy. Ivy wherever it is grown or proliferates, guards against negativity and disaster. 
At one time, the custom of decorating houses and churches with Ivy at Christmas was once forbidden by the Christian Church, on account of its pagan associations.

Mistletoe grows in trees and in European legends is a symbol of fertility ( kissing under the mistletoe is still a tradition to bring people together ) and eternal life, perhaps because it remains green all winter. Many cultures have believed it to be heavenly or supernatural, because unlike most plants, mistletoe thrives without being rooted in soil and actually is a parasitic plant that lives off it's host tree.

Mistletoe has also been said to offer protection from sorcery and evil spells. The Druids believed that mistletoe had great healing properties, especially if it was gathered without the use of a knife and never allowed to touch the ground. Some Africans compare the mistletoe on a tree to the soul in the body, and they believe that mistletoe in a house brings good luck.

In Norse mythology, mistletoe was sacred to the beloved god Balder, but the evil god Loki used trickery to kill Balder with a stalk of mistletoe fashioned into a dart.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Merry Yule and Winter Solstice to you...

Yule, the Midwinter Solstice -21st-22nd December is the time of year when we experience our shortest day and longest night. With the sun being at its lowest point in the sky at noon. Yule means 'wheel' and is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.

Druids at Stonehenge

Yule is the celebration of the re-birth of the Sun god and the return of Light to the land. As the days begin to lengthen once more, the darkness of the winter spirits flee.
The winter solstice is believed to be a mysterious and powerful time, for it is at this point, that the sun begins to make the return journey across our skies. After the longest night of the year the sun is seen as growing stronger and the beginning of the return of the warmer season is welcomed - the concept of rebirth became strongly associated with the Winter Solstice.

Three days after Yule many people exchange gifts and celebrate Christmas - the 'birth' of Jesus, as our ancestors celebrated the return of light and the sun growing in strength.
The well-known figure of Father Christmas may have derived from the Pagan god, Herne the Hunter - Cernunnos in Celtic tradition - who was the guardian of the beasts and primal forests and who also appeared as a fertility god.

Yule is celebrated with bonfires that encourage the ascent of the sun, and brightly lit houses are decorated with evergreens to simulate summer.
It is a time to look on the past year's achievements, as the days begin to grow longer up to the mid summer solstice.
In Alton Barnes in Wiltshire the winter solstice is still celebrated by the lighting up of the white horse that is carved in the chalky hillside there. Tea lights are placed in jars, so that the horse glows with candlelight

Yule Traditions

During medieval times, the Yule Log was decorated and ceremoniously carried into the home on Christmas Eve and placed in the fireplace. Traditionally the Yule log was lit with the saved stump of last year's log, and then it was burnt over the twelve days of the winter celebration, and its ashes and stump were kept until the following year to sprinkle on the new log, so that the fortune would be passed on from year to year.

Even without an open fire, you can still enjoy a Yule log

In France and Germany ashes from the Yule log were mixed with the cattle feed to ensure their health and in other regions the ash was sprinkled around fruit trees to increase their yield of fruit.

Yule wreaths were traditionally made of evergreens and holly and ivy. Holly represents the male and ivy the female and the wreath's circle symbolizes the wheel of the year. Both holly and ivy were used as protection in the home against unwanted spirits.

In the eleventh-century, the Danish rule over England brought the Scandinavian term for Christmas - Yule. Yuletide  was the time to bring out the wassail bowl or cup.
The leader of the celebrations would call 'Wassail', from the old Anglo Saxon 'Was Hal' meaning be of good health, which was Old English for 'your health', and the answer was 'Drinkhail', at which the bowl was passed round so everyone took a drink and handed it on with a kiss.In the middle ages, the celebration was transfered from the drinker to the tree. It usually takes place on Old Christmas Eve - January 5th, Twelfth night - January 6th or Old Twelfth night - January 17th.
Wassailing took place, and was originally held around the oldest tree in the apple orchard. The first cider crop was poured on the roots of the apple tree to thank the tree spirits for the crop and to ensure a good harvest next year.

Drumming and banging of pots and pans and sticks would re-awaken the tree spirits and beat away any demons, wassailing was performed to protect the trees from evil spirits until their apples appeared the following year. Then the wassail cup would be passed around. Toast dipped in cider would then be hung on the oldest tree, as an offering to the tree spirits. Christians moulded this other pagan practise, into the singing of Christmas hymns and the Singing of Carols was developed to replace it.  

Oh apple tree, we'll wassail thee 
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord does know where we may go
To be merry another year
To grow well and to bear well
And so merrily let us be
Let every man drink up his glass
And a health to the old apple tree
Brave boys, and a health to the old apple tree"

'A Merry Yule and Wassail to you all...........'


Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse

This morning's lunar eclipse occured at approximately 7.40am when the moon passed behind the earth so that the earth blocked the sun's rays from striking the moon and giving it a rosy glow. This occurs only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly ( or almost so ) with the Earth in the middle. There is always a full moon on the night of a lunar eclipse and today's eclipse was of particular signifigance as it is also the Midwinter Solstice. It is the first total lunar eclipse in three years and the first to fall on the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year - in nearly 500 years and the next one is 84 years time.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which can only be viewed from a certain relatively small area of the world, a lunar eclipse may be viewed from anywhere on the night side of the Earth. A lunar eclipse lasts for a few hours, whereas a total solar eclipse lasts for only a few minutes at any given place. Some lunar eclipses have been associated with important historical events.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Oak Moon

Decembers Full Moon is known as the Oak Moon and to the Algonquin Indians it is known as the Cold Moon.

The Oak was sacred to the Druids, who revered it for it's strength, endurance and permanance as it solidly weathers the harshness of winter.
The Oak has a habit of being struck by lightning during storms and so it is frequently associated with the various Gods of thunder and lightening, including Zeus, Thor, Jupiter, and the Lithuanian God, Perkunas, where they are often depicted holding bolts of lightning and their hands.

The Oak was believed to protect those who sheltered beneath it, from being struck by lightning.
Oak Trees have also been associated with Herne of the Wild Hunt, in England, and Wodin, in Germany.
King Arthur's Round Table was reputedly made from a single slab from a giant Oak Tree.  

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Naughty or Nice ?

December 6th was the feast day of St. Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in Turkey during the 4th Century. He was known for his kindness and many legends are told of him.
He is said to have saved three girls from prostitution and provided them with dowries, then rescued three men from the gallows after being wrongly accused, he is also said to have saved three sailors from drowning.
But he is most popular for his are his gentle love of children.

 In the European folklore of Holland, Belgium and Germany, he is associated with giving rewards on his feast day, to those children who have been good throughout the year.
On the eve of the 6th, children leave their shoes on the doorstep, to be filled with presents.
And in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy, it is believed that St. Nicholas is accompanied by a mythical creature known as Krampus a demon like figure. Krampus is a warning to naughty children, whom he punishes for their bad ways.

The word Krampus originates from the old German word for claw - Krampen. In the Alpine regions, traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Winter Lights

Well it looks like winter has arrived, with recent snow falls and temperatures well into the minuses. I have tried to cheer up these darker earlier evenings by putting up little lights on the lifeless gazebo frame, so I can see them from the kitchen window. It makes the darkened garden look rather jolly and far more pleasant than the deep inky blackness that it becomes at this time of year.
Hooray for Fairy Lights, you can never own too many sets of them......... 

And No, it doesn't look quite like this, but you get the general idea

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