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December Holidays Asterisks appear next to saintsí names - see Celebrating Saints

December 16 Las Posadas
In Mexico during the nine nights before Christmas, children re-enact the drama of Mary and Joseph searching for room at the inn. They dress up and process from house to house, looking for shelter (Las Posadas means inn or shelter). One child, dressed as an angel heads the procession, followed by two people dressed as Mary and Joseph (or carrying statues of Mary and Joseph) followed by others carrying lighted candles. At each home they come to, they sing a vilancicos, a medieval Spanish carol, which features improvised lines by the members of the group. "En nombre del ciel," they beg ("in heaven's name") but the reply is always "Marchad a otra parte, y buena venture" ("move on elsewhere and good luck") until they read a house where one family sings "Pase la escogida" ("Let the chosen one enter").

Once inside they place their lighted candles around the nacimiento (nativity scene) and say a prayer and a blessing for their generous hosts. Then it's time for a party featuring fruit, hot punch, bunelos (pastries) and sometimes tamales or pozole (a thick stewlike dish).

In some parts of Mexico a pinata is broken on each of the nine nights of Las Posadas. In other places, it is broken only on Christmas Eve. The pinata, made of paper mache applied over a clay pot, is filled with treats including nuts, fresh limes, sugar canes and small green fruits.

Pastorelas, or shepherd's plays, are also performed during this time period. These plays were introduced by Franciscan friars. A group of shepherds start towards Bethlehem, but are tempted by devils. Angels rush in to rescue the shepherds and drive off the devils. These plays feature singing, dancing and satire, much like the medieval English mummer's plays which were often performed during the winter holidays.

Maypole Dance

December 17 Saturnalia
The Roman festival of Saturnalia was celebrated for seven days beginning on December 17th. It honored the corn-god Saturn and his consort, Ops, the goddess of plenty. Normal activities were suspended during this time period. No wars were fought. No business was conducted. Schools and courts were closed. People spent their time gambling and feasting. Roles were reversed with masters waiting on their servants. Everyone was free to say exactly what they pleased without fear of the consequences, so this was a time for great ventilation of feelings and political satire. For an ancient account of this day, and the Roman calendar in general, Blackburn and Holford-Strevens recommend reading Macrobius who describes an imaginary debate among pagan intellectuals taking place on Saturnalia, possibly in 383. For the significance of this time period, see my article on Time out of Time. [link]

A Lord of Misrule was often elected to mock the role of authority and direct his followers in ribald and humorous activities. Some folklorists (Frazer and Graves) believe he was a stand-in for the King, whoand was sacrificed at the end of the time period in the King's place but during his brief reign of thirty days, he assumed the king's perogatives, dressing in royal robes, doing anything he wanted and commanding obedience.

The Greek God equivalent to Saturn, is Cronus. Saturn carries a sickle, like the Grim Reaper. Cronos, who ate his own children rather than let them surpass him, gives his name to terms like chronological. Both are Time-Gods, who bring death and limitation and may fight to preserve their reign, even though they know it is time for them to be replaced with new life, just as the old year must die to give way to the new, a struggle depicted in many winter solstice customs (like Mummers Plays and the pastorelas (see December 16).

People gave gifts to each other, usually small items, like candles, terra cotta dolls, sprigs of holly, which symbolized wishes for the new year.

The Candlegrove website has a special section on Saturnalia at www.candlegrove.com

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

December 17 Sow Day
In Orkney, a sow was killed on this day. The pig has long been a significant animal at this time of year, a symbol of abundance, especially in the north (see Christmas Eve, December 23, and New Years Eve, December 31).

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

December 17 Ember Day
The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after December 13th are Ember Days, when Catholics say special prayers for the clergy. This may be a time to pray for and give thanks to those who minister to your spiritual needs.

Tickle, Phyllis, The Grace We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time, Loyola Press 2004

December 18 Epona
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. 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 (see December 26). Woden, who is one of the protoypes of Santa Claus, rides a white horse.

Matthews, Caitlin, The Celtic Book of Days, Destiny Books 1995

St Elizabeth of Hungary

December 18 Nuestra Senora de la Soledad / Our Lady of Solitude
The I fell in love with this particular manifestation of Mary when a friend brought me a postcard from Mexico depicting the statue of Our Lady of Solitude in the cathedral in Oaxaca. 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. I loved the idea of a goddess of solitude, especially so near the winter solstice.

She 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. 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).


December 19 Opalia
This ancient Roman goddess is the mate of Consus, the god associated with conservation of grain. Her name means abundance, as still seen in the word opulent. She was worshipped by touching the ground.

Our Lady of Solitude
Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

December 20 St Thomas' Eve
This is another eve for love charms. For a prophetic dream, stick a pin in the exact center of an onion and put eight more pins around the first in a circle while saying:

Good St Thomas, do me right
And let my true love come to-night
That I may see him in the face
And in my arms may him embrace.

Then sleep with the onion under your pillow. What I find interesting about this folk custom is that both onions and the circle surrounding a dot are sun symbols, so this seems to be a charm relating to the sun, which is born again on Winter Solstice.

Kightly, Charles,
The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987

December 20 Midwinter Eve
Like the eve of most holidays, this is an opportunity for love divination. Find an Elder tree and shake it, saying,

Sweet Elder, I shake, I shake!
Tell me, ye dogs that wake,
Where is my lover tonight?

Then listen carefully. The goddess Holle will send her white dogs in the direction from which your future lover will come. If you are quiet and patient, you will hear them barking.

Farias, Helen, "Holler and Holle," The Advent Sunwheel, Juno's Peacock Press, 1989

December 21 Winter Solstice

December 21 Hertha
According to Hottes, the early Germans considered the Norse goddess Hertha or Bertha, the goddess of Domesticity and the home. They baked yeast cakes shaped like slippers, which were called the slippers of Hertha, and filled with gifts. Hottes writes:

During the Winter Solstice houses were decked with fir and evergreens to welcome her coming. When the family and serfs were gathered to dine, a great altar of flat stones was erected and here a fire of fir boughs was laid. Hertha descended through the smoke, guiding those who were wise in saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those persons at the feast. Hertha's altar stones became the hearthstones of the home. We learn from this story why Santa Claus comes down the chimney instead of at the door. It is a survival of the coming of Hertha…

Hottes, Alfred Carl, 1001 Christmas Facts and Fancies, NY: De La Mare, 1937

December 21 St Thomas
Patron saint of carpenters, masons and architects because he was a carpenter. One of those early saints given a feast day on or near the solstice for no apparent historical reason, undoubtedly to divert attention from the pagan rites associated with that date.

St Thomas grey, St Thomas grey
The longest night and the shortest day

St Thomas divine,
Brewing, baking, and killing of fat swine

On this day in England, poor women and children went "a-Thomassing" for the ingredients for the Christmas feast, particularly wheat for frumenty and flour for Yule bread. Ghosts were permitted to walk abroad from now until Christmas Eve.

Since he is the patron saint of architects, you might want to make your gingerbread house on this day. Or since he's the doubting apostle, you might reflect on the role of doubt in your life.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Tickle, Phyllis,
What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days, Loyola Press

December 21 Divalia/Angeronalia
I've created one of my most satisfying winter solstice rituals around the feast day of Diva Angerona, a Roman goddess, so obscure that I can't find a source to verify her existence. Supposedly she is the goddess of silence and is pictured holding her finger to her lips.

That is until I got a copy of The Oxford Companion to the Year, whereupon I learned that she prescribes remedies against angina. Her sealed lips represent a warning not to reveal the secret name (or taboo) name of Rome, which some claim is Amor (Roma backwards). This was also a day when sacrifices were made to Hercules and Ceres of a pregnant cow, baked goods and honeyed wine.

My ritual is simpler and involves spending the day of the solstice in silence. I don't talk to anyone, turn on the radio or the TV or answer the phone. I turn over or hide all the clocks. To increase my sense of time out of time, I also don't turn on the electric lights at night but light candles. I've been doing this for many years and I love my oasis of peace and serenity in the midst of the chaotic holiday season.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

December 21 Fourth Sunday in Advent
On the fourth Sunday in Lent, Phyllis Tickle and her family light Joseph's candle, the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

Tickle, Phyllis, What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days, Loyola Press 2003

Winter Solstice

December 21 Beiwe/Rozhanitsa
Beiwe is the sun-goddess worshipped by the Saami, the indigenous people of Finland. She travels with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, through the sky in an enclosure of reindeer bones, bringing back the green plants for the reindeer to feed upon. On the Winter Solstice, her worshippers sacrifice white female animals and thread the meat on sticks which they bentd into rings and tied with bright ribbons. They also smear their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat the rich food and begin her recovery.

Another Winter Goddess of the north is the Russian goddess, Rozhnitsa. In the twelfth century, the eastern Slavs worshipped her as an ancestor, offering her honey, bread and cheese — all bloodless sacrifices, like those offered at the Haloa. In the 19th and early 20th century, Russian women still embroidered and wove bright linens, usually red on white, which depict the Goddesses of the seasons.

Although she does not mention the exact date of Rohanitsa's festival, Mary Kelly writes about her connection with the Winter season:

Winter embroideries were made to honor the feast of Rohanitsa, the Mother Goddess, held in late December. These cloths depict [her] together with her daughter goddess, or with children who may or may not be divine….[She] was often shown with deer horns sprouting from her head or headdress….The horns are a sign that--as tales and rock carvings confirm--in ancient times the Mother Goddess gave birth to deer as well as children. For her feast, small, white-iced cookies shaped like deer were given as presents or good luck tokens.

Kelly, Mary B, Goddesses and Their Offspring, NY: Binghamton 1990
See also, Kelly, Mary B, Goddess
Embroideries of Eastern Europe, Studiobooks (Box 23, McLean NY 13102)

December 22 Hanukkah begins

December 23 Larentalia or Acca Laurentia
This day honors the Etruscan goddess whose name means Lady Mother. Several tales are told about her. Some say she was the foster-mother or Romus and Remulus, the founders of Rome, or that she was the wolf that suckled them. Some say she was a lover of Heracles. Another tale relates that after spending a night in the temple of Heracles, she was told to give herself to the first man she met. He happened to be a rich man who married her. After his death, she inherited his fortune, which she gave to Rome, a generosity which the Romans celebrated with a rowdy feast. Blackburn and Holford-Strevens point out that these legends might derive from the same source as lupa means both "she-wolf" and "prostitute." Obviously, in all of her manifestations, she represents mothering and abundance.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

December 23 Haloa
On the 26th day of the month of Poseidon, Greek women gathered for the Merry Womens Mysteries of Demeter and Kore, which later also honored Dionysos.   

Women carried first fruits and the new wine of Dionysos from Athens in procession to the open threshing floors. Lucius says it ends with a great feast. "Much wine was set out and the tables were full of all the fields that are yielded by land and sea, save only those prohibited in the mysteries, I mean pomegranate and apple and domestic fowls and eggs and red sea mullet and black tailed brayfish and shark." Men prepared the feast and then withdrew leaving the women to alone enjoy themselves, consuming cakes in the shape of genitals and trading obscenities, scurrilous jests and mutual abuse. 

December 23 Rural Dionysia
The ancient Greeks celebrated this holiday at different times in different neighborhoods but usually around the time of the full moon in Poseidon. Plutarch complained that the rustic festival he remembered from his youth, featuring a jar of wine, a vine, a goat, a basket of raisins and a depiction of a phallus had been replaced with an elaborate procession featuring gold vessels, decorated horses and people wearing costumes and masks. This was a time for revelry including phallic songs, games (the kind played at church picnics like one-legged hopping or playing tag) and eventually, under the influence of the City Dionysia at Athens, the production of plays.

H W Parke, Festivals of the Athenians, Cornell University Press (reprint 1986)

December 24 The Mothers
The Venerable Bede, writing about the customs of the pagan Anglo Saxons who he was trying to convert in 6th century England, mentions their practice of celebrating a holiday he called Modranicht or Modresnacht on the eve of Christmas. This "night of the Mothers" was evidently a sacred night devoted to a group of feminine divinities, like those pictured on carvings and statues all over Celtic France and Britain which show three women together, holding children and fruit, fish, grain and other bounties of the earth.

Rozhanitza by Joanna Powell Colbert

December 24 Christmas Eve

December 24 Adam and Eve's Day

In the 14th and 15th century, miracle plays depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise were performed in churches on the Eve of Christmas. As part of the scenery, apples were tied on evergreen trees, one of the possible sources of the Christmas tree.

December 25 Christmas

December 25 Juvenalia
After the Saturnalia, the Romans celebrated the birth of new life with a festival honoring children, who were given talismans (like bells, shoes, warm clothes and toys) for good luck in the coming year.

December 26 Boxing Day
I like to believe it's called Boxing Day because it's the day you put your least favorite present in a box and give it away. But it's more likely the name derives from the custom of boxing up I've also heard it explained as the you box up leftovers from your Christmas dinner and giving them to the poor.

In 19th century England, employers gave gifts to their servants on Boxing Day. Tradesmen, servants and children went "boxing," going from house to house, soliciting Christmas tips from householders, which they deposited in slitted earthernware Christmas boxes. This poem, quoted by Kightly, seems to reflect this custom:

When Boxing Day comes round again
O then I shall have money
I'll hoard it up and Box and all
I'll give it to my honey.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

December 26 The Twelve Days of Christmas begin

St Andrew

December 26 Hunting the Wren
The old English custom of hunting the wren on this day may be the remnant of an ancient midwinter sacrifice. The official explanation given is that wrens are hunted on St Stephen's Day because their chattering in the bushes gave away the saint's hiding place, leading to his martyrdom. The usually sacred and protected bird was ceremonially hunted and its decorated corpse carried about to bring luck.

The Wren, the Wren, the King of all Birds
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze
Although he be little, his honor is great
Therefore, good people, give us a treat.

The custom still survives in Ireland and the Isle of Man where the bird's corpse is replaced by a potato stuck with feathers. It's not clear if the children even bothered to create a mock Wren in Deborah Tall's description of how the holiday was celebrated on an island in Ireland in the 1970s:

St. Stephen's Day, the children went pagan and mad, roaming the island in gangs, bursting in doors, unannounced, masked, painted, bedraggled, piping, dancing, and singing at the top of their lungs in their ritual "hunting of the wren." Cookies and pennies buy off their shrieks, the players curtsy and bow, then streak out through the rain to their next stage, indefatigable.

Deborah Tall, Island of the White Cow, Atheneum 1986

December 26 St Stephen's Day

Blessed be St Stephen
There's no fast at his Even

An early Christian martyr, one of the early disciples, he became the patron of stonemasons because he was stoned to death. Possibly because of the date of his feast day, he took on the attributes of Frey and Freya in Scandinavia. Early Scandinavian Christmas legends, make him the groom who carries the boar's head to the feast of Herod and is stoned to death for announcing the birth of Christ. Frey is associated with horses and Freya's animal is the boar.

In Scandinavia, this day was devoted to horses. Horses were raced and the one who reached the well first got the lucky first drink. This was also a traditional day for blood-letting in horses, perhaps a masculine appropriation of the feminine mysteries.

December 26 Kwanzaa
This new winter festival was created in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga to give African Americans a focus during the holiday season. He synthesized various African harvest rituals to create new customs for this holiday; the name Kwanzaa means the first or the first fruits of the harvest in Swahili.

One of the main Kwanzaa practices, which aligns it with the other festivals of light like Hanukkah and Christmas at this time period, is the lighting of the seven candles of the Kinara (kee-NAH-rah), a candelabra with 7 candles, three red, one black and three green. Each candles symbolizes seven qualities of African culture to be emulated: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imana (faith).

December 27 St John's Day
In honor of the patron of booksellers, patronize your local independent bookstore. They need your help in these days of fierce competition from corporate mergers, massive chain bookstores and ruthless Internet book-selling behemoths.

St John, the apostle and Gospel maker, is also the patron of publishers, printers and writers, so spending your money on books will help all of these folks.

St John acquired the honor of representing writers, publishers and theologians because of the beauty of the Gospel written in his name. A legend says that Aristodemus, the high priest of Artemis at Ephesus, challenged John (who lived in Ephesus with Mary, the Mother of God). Aristodemus promised to become a Christian if John survived a drink from a poisoned chalice. He did, of course. Germans drink a loving-cup in his honor.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

December 27 New Moon in Capricorn
The twelfth lunation in the Chinese lunar calendar, it is known as the Winter Sacrifice Moon. The start of the month of Tevet in the Jewish calendar.

December 28 Holy Innocents Day
All of the two-year old boys who were massacred by Herod in his attempt to kill the rumored Messiah who had been born in Bethlehem, were declared martyrs by the early Christian church and are considered the patrons of choir boys.

In medieval English cathedrals, a choir boy was dressed up as the bishop on this day, in a reversal of roles similar to that found in Hari No Kuyo (December 12) and Saturnalia (December 17). Like the Lord of Misrule, who rules at Saturnalia (and again on Twelfth Night, January 6), the Boy Bishop ordered around his superiors and made fun of their authority. Mock Masses were celebrated which were full of bawdiness and rowdiness. Eventually the Church suppressed these customs. According to Matthews, the Boy Bishop was elected on St Nicholas Day (December 6) and ruled until Holy Innocents Day.

Traditionally this is the unluckiest day of the year, and the day of the week on which it falls is unlucky throughout the coming year. Since it is a day of bad omen, don't do anything new on this day, like starting a new project or wearing new clothes.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Matthews, John, T
he Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, Quest 1998

December 31 New Year's Eve

If New Year's eve night wind blows South,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If West, much milk and fish in the sea,
If North, much cold and storms there will be;
If East, the trees will bear much fruit;
If North-east, flee it, man and brute.

Out with the old and in with the new. Before midnight, sweep and clean your house and take out all the trash because you don't want to sweep tomorrow (you will sweep the good luck away) or take anything out of the house (you only want to bring new things in to insure abundance during the coming year). Be sure you finish any work you have in hand for a task carried over will never prosper.

Everything you do on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is freighted with significance. The American custom of spending the night with the one you love and kissing them at midnight insures that the relationship will flourish during the coming year. In Vienna, the pig is the symbol of good luck. Pigs are let loose in restaurants and everyone tries to touch it as it runs by for luck. In private homes, a marzipan pig, with a gold piece in its mouth, is suspended from a ribbon and touched instead. In Saratoga Springs, New York, it's a peppermint pig that brings good luck and good health for the coming year. The pig is cracked with a hammer after a holiday meal and shared among the guests.

In Italy, I've been told, you have to watch out for falling objects on New Year's Eve, as people shove their old sofas, chairs and even refrigerators out of the windows of their apartments on New Year's Eve. In Greece, it's customary to throw a pomegranate wrapped in silver foil on the threshold, to spread the seeds of good luck for an abundant year.

The first person to cross your threshold after midnight brings luck into the house. In medieval Britain, the best possible first-footer was a tall dark-haired handsome man, who brought gifts of whisky, bread, a piece of coal or firewood and a silver coin. He entered in silence and no one spoke to him until he put the coal on the fire, poured a glass for the head of the house and wished everyone a Happy New Year. If this concept doesn't work for you, figure out what would and make sure it happens.

One popular method of divination, used to determine your future in the new year, is to prick a newly-laid egg at the smaller end with a pin, and let three drops of the egg white fall into a bowl of water. Interpret the designs it makes to get a glimpse of what will happen to you in the new year. Another traditional method of divination is to open a Bible at midnight and interpret the passage beneath your finger.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Womans Press 1937
Storace, Patricia,
Dinner with Persephone, Pantheon 1996

December 31 St Silvester's Eve
Austrians consider this a rauchnacht or smoke-night when all rooms and animals must be purified with the smoke of incense and holy water, a purification ritual.

In The Winter Solstice, Matthews describes another Austrian custom, involving a masked figure called the Sylvester (from the Latin sylvan, meaning "from the woods"), a sort of Green Man who hides in the corner at inns throughout Austria and leaps out when a young man or woman passes to give them a kiss. The Sylvester wears a wreath of mistletoe, perhaps an emblem of fertility which he bestows with the kisses. When midnight comes, he is driven out of the room as a representative of the old year.

Matthews, John, The Winter Solstice, Quest 1998

December 31 Réveillon/Yemaya
Yemaya-Olokun, the Mother of the Sea, is honored on New Year's Eve in Brazil. Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro) go down to the beaches to celebrate. The biggest show occurs at Copacabana Beach where over 1.5 million people crammed into two miles of beach to dance to Brazilian superstars and watch 60 tons of fireworks explode at the end of 2001.

According to McCabe, the color of underwear you wear on the first day of the new year establishes your fortune for the year. Pink brings love, yellow, prosperity; and white, peace and happiness. Tucking a fresh bay leaf in your wallet guarantees a miracle. And at midnight, people either eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the year, while making 12 wishes, or jump seven waves.

The color for outer clothing is white. Everyone goes to the ocean, where they carry out various rituals, for instance, throwing flowers (preferably gladioli and roses) into the waves, launching little wooden boats, releasing white doves, and arranging little altars in the sand in honor of Yemaya, who likes candles, fruit, fish, rice and items associated with personal adornment: mirrors, combs, perfumes and powder.

Alma Guillermoprieto, the author of Samba, asked an older woman how she should pray and the woman suggested she say something like this:

Yemanja, our Mother, please make [this year] a better year than [last year]. Not that [last year] was a bad year; don't get me wrong; I received many benefits, many good things happened to me and I'm not complaining. But now, thinking over everything that's happened, I would like to ask you for something from the bottom of my heart: please bring me twice the amount of good things and take away half the number of bad. [p. 123]

Luisah Teish provides suggestions for a beautiful Yemaya ritual in her book Carnival of the Spirit, along with good ideas for a New Year's ritual.

Guillermoprieto, Alma, Samba, Vintage 1990
McCabe, Connie, "Rhythm of the Night,"
Gourmet, December 2002
Teish, Luisah,
Carnival of the Spirit: Seasonal Celebrations and Rites of Passage, Harper San Francisco 1994

December 31 Vesta
This day is set aside for honoring the Roman goddess of the hearth (see Hertha, December 21). As Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth, she was credited with the art of building houses (since every home was built around the sacred central fire).

Robert Graves speculates that the archaic white aniconic image of the Great Goddess found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean represents a heap of glowing charcoal, kept alive by a covering of white ash. It was tended by the woman of the house and was the center of family life and clan gatherings. He also mentions the Pythoness who induced trance by burning hemp, laurel and barley over an oil lamp in an enclosed space, and suggests that burning the same herbs over hot ashes would be just as effective for producing visions because of their narcotic fumes.

Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, Penguin 1955

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