In many cultures of the northern hemisphere winter is the most festive time of year. Communities of people, driven indoors by the colder, shorter days and longer nights of the season have found a variety of colorful and meaningful ways to understand the darkness that surrounds them. This understanding, represented by folklore customs and traditions, reflects how each geographic region found ways to gather together as a community and await the coming light, warmth, and food of the next spring.
Historically, this folklore – beliefs, art, food ways, music, stories and more – was designed to help people survive the outside forces of weather, nature, and the spirit world associated with the mysterious absence of light. Passed down from one generation to the next, this information was intended to help survive the harshness of winter isolation.
Today these traditions still offer much-wanted opportunities to gather together with others to share gifts of the season. Here are seven examples of winter festivities:
Iran. Sadeh: the Persian mid-winter that honors the fire that defeats the forces of darkness, frost and cold will be celebrated on December 11 this year. It literally means “hundred” and refers to one hundred days and nights left until the beginning of the new year on at the first day of spring.
Sweden. Luciadagen: December 13 celebrates St Lucia’s Day in Sweden. St Lucia symbolizes the growing light and warmth that Swedes eagerly anticipate. This is when they put their Christmas decorations, including candles in nearly every window.
India. Pancha Ganapati: a 5-day Hindu festival (December 21-25) celebrates Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture. Home shrines include lights and tinsel and images of the patron, who is decorated each day in a different color: yellow, blue, red, green and orange represent his five powers.
Africa. Fanal Parade: Also known as Lantern Festival of Senegambia (Africa). During the Christmas season a parade of bamboo boats decorated with candles or electric lights visits residencies expected to contribute to the community’s large, festive party.
England/Canada. Boxing Day: It is customary on December 26 to give “gift boxes” to mailmen and servants.
Argentina. Globos: In Argentina (southern hemisphere) people light colorful paper globes that, once lit, are airborne, brightening up the night sky during Christmas.
Scotland. Hogmanay: the Scottish word for the last day of the year. This celebration reaches back to the winter solstice among the Norse and incorporates Gaelic Samhain customs.
Karen Pierce Gonzalez is the author of the newly released Black Pepper Visions: Original Folktales & Stories You Can Eat, Family Folktales: What Are Yours, and Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories workbook. An award winning writer with degrees in Anthropology/Folklore and Creative Writing she belongs to the Western States Folklore Society. For information: www.blackpeppervisions.com.