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January Holidays Asterisks appear next to saints names - see Celebrating Saints


January 1 New Year's Day
Everything you do on this day has magical implications for the coming year. So don't take anything out (even rubbish), lend money or pay bills. If you must carry something out, be sure to bring something else in first, preferably a coin concealed outside the previous night:

Take out, then take in
Bad luck will begin
Take in, then take out
Good luck comes about

Because whatever you do on this day will be repeated throughout the year, I like to make New Year’s Day an ideal day, and do a little of all the things I most want to enjoy in the coming year.

The Romans moved the New Year from Spring Equinox to January in 153 BCE and celebrated with six days of carousing and rejoicing, ending just as the Twelve Days of Christmas do, on January 6. They got drunk, wore disguises, and kept their tables laden with food all night long to ensure plenty in the coming year (and perhaps to appease the Fates). Boniface, visiting from England in 742, complained about how the Kalends of January were celebrated in Rome with “dancing in the streets, heathenish cries, sacrilegious songs, tables laden with food and women wearing amulets and offering them for sale.” To somewhat dampen these pagan celebrations, the Roman Catholic church declared this the day of the Circumcision (since Jewish boys are circumcised eight days after birth).

The ancient Romans also gave each other small gifts (called strenae) on this day, symbolic of good luck for the new year, like coins with the face of Janus on one side and a ship on the other (for he was considered the patron of ships and trade). The modern Roman ritual is a plunge in the icy Tiber River.

In England, gloves and pins were the traditional New Years gifts up until the 19th century. In France, children give their parents handmade gifts with a wish of Bonne Annee. Tradesmen send around baskets with gifts typical of their trade. The errand boys or girls are gifted in turn with wine and etrennes of money. Servants are often given a double month's pay as a New Year's gift. Other typical gifts include bonbons, flowers and fresh and glaces fruit.

Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese sculptor, says that his earliest recollections were of the gifts of handmade hanshi paper that craftsmen left at New Years. In Japan, craftsmen clean and honor their tools on New Years Day.

Food eaten on New Years Day always has significance as it also affects the quality of the coming year. Reiko Mochinaga Brandon, in an essay writes:

Preparing food for the New Year is one of the New Year's most poignant and intimate acts in households throughout Japan and was an important ritual in my grandmother's house. The sacred meal was meant for the kami [spirits] as well as family members, and through the human act of sharing food at her dining table, these unseen, abstract sacred souls seemed to become familiar and friendly.

Rice is one of the most important foods served on the New Year in Japan, usually in the form of mochi, a cooked glutinous rice cake shaped like a round ball. Two were offered at the altar of the toshigami (the year god, a term applied to the god Harisaijo, who brings blessings from the "lucky direction" and the god of rice, Uka no Mitama, and the ancestors). This altar might be the permanent family altar or a special "altar of the lucky direction," built especially for the year-god in the "lucky direction" of the year. Many of the mochi were given away to friends and relatives. Two special flattened mochi, called mirror rice cakes, are placed in a special shrine, the raised alcove in the guest room, as an offering to the year-god. They are usually placed on a piece of white paper, a symbol of purity, and garnished with evergreens, a bitter orange and black seaweed. Each item has its own ritual significance.

In ancient times, Romans gave friends a glass jar full of dates and dried figs in honey, along with a bay leaf branch so the coming year would be sweet and full of good fortune. Neapolitans still wrap dried figs in laurel leaves and exchange them as a kind of insurance of abundance for the coming year. They also make confections of caramelized dough and tiny almond pieces which are eaten over a period of days.

In many parts of Italy, the traditional New Year's Day lunch has lasagna as one of its courses. The Piedmontese eat little grains of rice which represent money. The traditional Umbrian New Years cake, made of almonds, sugar and egg whites, is shaped like a coiled snake, probably to represent the way snakes shed their skin to renew themselves, just as one year passes into another. Another sweet, Chiacchiere, is made of tiny balls of dough that look exactly like little sweet lentils, then drizzled with honey so the year will be sweet. Italians serve lentils, raisins, and oranges, symbols of riches, good luck and the promise of love.

In France, an elaborate evening dinner party is usually held at the home of the "head of the house," the eldest member of the family, which includes all relatives, whether close or several times removed.

In Spanish-speaking countries, people put twelve grapes into their wine or champagne class at midnight. The grapes are twelve to represent the months of the old year and the new year. At the stroke of midnight, after toasting each other with the wine, people eat the grapes as quickly as possible, an act which brings luck. I've also been told this is a Greek tradition—the difference being that you had to stuff all twelve grapes into your mouth on the stroke of midnight.

Brandon, Reiko Mochinaga & Barbara B Stephan, Spirit and Symbol: The Japanese New Year, Honolulu Academy of Arts 1994
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Menard, Valerie,
The Latino Holiday Book, Marlowe and Company 2000
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Womans Press 1937

January 1 Strenia
Strenia was a Sabine Goddess of the New Year, who gave her name to laurel boughs cut from a wood sacred to her. Eventually her name was applied to this holiday when the Romans decorated with palm, bay and laurel branches, hung with sweets, dates, figs and gilded fruit.

Strenia, the ancient Roman name for the New Years is still found in Sicily were groups go around singing La Strenna, wishing everyone Happy New Year and asking for treats. If refused, they curse the offender with a threatening verse. It also survives in France, where New Years gifts are called Etrennes.

January 1 St Basil
St Basil, whose feast day is celebrated on January 1 or 2, was born around 330 in Caesarea to a Christian family of wealth and distinction. His grandmother, mother, father, elder sister and two younger brothers are all also saints. Basil became a Bishop of Cappadocia and helped establish the tenets of Orthodox monastic life. He is known as one of the four Greek doctors of the Church.

But it seems the customs celebrated on his feast day have more to do the winter holidays than with St. Basil's holy life. For instance, in Greece, the farm animals are specially groomed on his day since St. Basil will come to inspect the stables on New Year's Day. On the island of Skyros, they set out a bowl of water, two dishes of pancakes or sweets, a pomegranate and a pestle so St Basil can refresh himself and sweeten his tongue. At Kydoniae in Asia Minor the tray set out for him contains a jellied pork pie, fish, sweets, a slice of his special cake and a glass of water. In Aghiassos in Lesbos they put out food on a table and a log left upright in the grate so he can step down from the chimney easily (apparently like Santa Claus he comes down the chimney).

A special cake called Vassilopitta (or St. Basil's cake), made of milk, eggs, butter and sugar is served on New Year's day. The first slice is set aside for St. Basil, the second for the house, and the rest served to each member of the family in order of seniority. The final slices go to the cattle and the poor. A gold coin is hidden inside the cake (reminiscent of the charms hidden in the Twelfth Night cake) and whoever gets this piece has luck all year.

This is also a day for singing carols, including this old one, which was sung by boys who went from house to house, wishing a happy new year and receiving candy or little presents from all they visited:

St Basil has come from Caesarea,
He holds a book and paper, and carries an ink-stand
He writes in the book, and he reads from the paper.
"Basil, do you know how to read? Basil, do you know any songs?"
"I have learned how to read, but I don't know any songs."
And he leaned upon his staff to say his alpha, beta.
The staff was of dry wood, and it put forth green branches.

Demetrios, Geroge, When I Was A Boy in Greece, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co, 1913, pp. 60-62. [From MacDonald]
Megas, Geroge A.,
Greek Calendar Customs, B & M Rhodes, 1963, pp. 37-45. [From MacDonald]
MacDonald, Margaret Read, editor,
The Folklore of World Holidays, Gale Research 1992
deYoung, John E., Village Life in Modern Thailand, Berkeley: University of California 1995, pp. 139-40
Kaufman, Howard Keva, Bangkhuad: A Community Study in Thailand, Locust Valley, NY: J.J. Augustin 1960, pp. 195-6
Rajadhon, Phya Anuman, Essays on Thai Folklore, Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development & Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation 1988, pp. 54-56.

January 7 Handsel Monday
On the first Monday of the year in the British Isles, gifts are given, especially to servants and children. These gifts, called handsels, are considered tokens of luck or good wishes for the coming year. By 1200, according to Merriam Webster, the word "handsel" was used for any good luck charm, especially one given at the start of a new job or any new condition. By 1500, traders called the first money they received in the morning a "handsel," a token of good fortune for the day ahead. So if you saved your first twenty dollar bill from your retail store or your first check for your writing, that's a handsel.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
www.merriam-webster.com

Maypole Dance

January 5 Befana
The In Italy, the gift-giver of Yule is female: Befana, the witch-like good fairy who lives inside chimneys and rides on a broom this final night of Christmas. Families leave a focaccia for her by the fireplace and children hang their shoes and stockings by the chimney for her to fill with toys and sweets. If the children are bad they get garlic and lumps of carbone, but the charcoal is made of sugar.

The story told of her is that she was too busy sweeping her house when the Three Kings came by and wanted her to go with them to see the Christ Child. When she set out later, she got lost and still searches for Him. Her name Befana derives from the holiday: Epiphany.

Originally she was one of the numinous female figures so prominent at this time of the year, goddesses who are associated with both death and abundance. She has a negative side as well. Florentine children are told that she will poke holes in their stomachs if she is angry with them. She is sometimes portrayed as a bogeyman or associated with Hecate, Queen of the Night. She also represents the old year, like the Cailleach of Celtic tradition, the old hag who gives way to (or transforms herself into) the young maiden of the Spring.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990

La Befana
La Befana

January 5 Epiphany Eve
During the week before Epiphany, Italian children sometimes dress up and go in groups of three, carrying a pole with a golden star on top, and stopping at houses to sing pasquelle, little songs about the coming of the Magi. Sometimes they are given money, but other places they receive gifts of food sausages, bread, eggs, dried figs and wine.

In some small rustic towns, the Nativity is re-enacted on Epiphany Eve with the newest baby in town taking the part of Jesus.

On the eve of Dia de los Reyes, Latino children write a letter to the Three Kings, similar to letters written to Santa Claus, and set out cans of water and a decorated cardboard box full of grass for the camels.

In Friuli, families gather around the hearth to watch the Christmas log burn. For centuries, bonfires have been lit to light the way for the Three Kings. The fires are called pan e vin, bread and wine, or vecja, old one. Boys run through the fields carrying burning brands, jump across the fires, and roll burning wheels down the hill, shouting out the names of their fiancées as a way to announce their engagements (see Epiphany, January 6). The ashes from the bonfires are used to fertilize the earth and assure a good harvest.

Carol Field describes an Epiphany procession in the town of Tarcento which ascends a hill to where a huge bonfire, made of sheaves of corn, brambles of brushwood and pine branches is set up. The fire, lit by the oldest man, ignites firecrackers and fireworks while bells ring in the town. The way the smoke blows foretells the prospects for the coming year: smoke blowing east predicts a year of abundance while smoke blowing west is a bad omen for the crops. People take home embers to fertilize their fields; the embers are magically said to transform into sacks of wheat.

In some places, a straw effigy of the Befana is placed on the fire and burned as a way of getting rid of the old year. Sometimes chestnuts are thrown on the fire and roasted, as a symbol of fertility.

Traditional foods served in Friuli on Epiphany Eve include mulled wine and pinza, a rustic sweet bread, made with corn flour (or sometimes rye and wheat), filled with raisins and pine nuts and figs, spiced with fennel seeds and shaped like a simple round or a Greek epsilon with three arms of equal length. It was once cooked under the embers. It is considered good luck to eat pinze made by seven different families.

Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Menard, Valerie,
The Latino Holiday Book, Marlowe & Company 2000

January 5 Theodosia/Gift of God
On this day on the island of Andros in ancient Greece, the water of a spring by the temple of Dionysos tasted like wine. This continued for a week although it only tasted like wine inside the temple.

This was the same day in Alexandria that water was drawn from the Nile as part of the ceremonies of the Koreion (see below). Blackburn notes that Aion (the miraculous child of Kore) was associated with Sarapis and Dionysus which may be why the liturgy for this day commemorates the miracle at the wedding-feast of Cana when Christ turned water into wine.

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

January 6 Koreion
An early Church father, St Epiphanius complained that in Alexandria in the temple of Kore-Persephone, a hideous mockery was enacted on Epiphany. "And if anyone asks them what manner of mysteries these might be, they reply saying" Today at this hour, Kore, that is the virgin, has given birth to Aeon." Part of the ritual involved bringing the naked statue of the Kore up from underground, adorning Her with jewels and parading Her around the temple seven times for protection.

Despite Epiphanius's scorn, the myth of Kore giving birth to Aeon, the year-god, is much older than the story of Mary giving birth to Jesus which he thought it mocked. Until the fourth century, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6th rather than December 25th.

Rahner, Hugo, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, Biblo-Moser 1963

January 6 Twelfth Night

January 6 Epiphany / The Three Kings
The Epiphany (which means apparition or manifestation) honors the arrival of the Magi and the first public presentation of the Baby Jesus. In Belgium, children dress up as the Three Kings and go from door to door singing a begging song. In Spain, the Magi leave gifts in the shoes children have set out on balconies or by the front door the previous evening, filled with straw and grain for the camels. Children who awaken to find a charcoal mark on their face are said to have been kissed by Balthazar. Since the twelve nights of Christmas are a liminal time, when evil spirits, like the Greek kalikatzari, can roam the earth, people protect their houses by chalking the Three King’s initials C (or K), B and M (for Caspar, Balthazar and Melchoir) on their doors.

Because this is the day the Three Kings brought gifts to the Baby Jesus, this holiday is usually celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries, where the tradition has remained strong, by giving gifts to children. Pedro Rossellio, the governor of Puerto Rico between 1992 and 2000, in his attempt to revive the island's cultural past, made Epiphany a national holiday and gave away gifts to all children who made the journey to the capital.

In Bulgaria, housewives rise early and carry the family crucifix, icons and plough to the village fountain. There they wash them with salt and water saying, "May the wheat be as white as the plough, as wholesome as the salt." The clergy also bless homes with holy water. If the water freezes on the priest's boxwood whisk, the year will be good and the crops fruitful.

In Danube port towns, they bless the waters. In Philippopolis, the most important town of southern Bulgaria, the priest throws the cross from the bridge into the Maritza River. The man who recovers it is allowed to take it around from house to house and receive money gifts, then returns it to the priest who bestows his blessing.

A similar blessing happens in Hungary only the priest uses salt and water and blesses houses and puts the initials of the three kings (G, M and B for Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior) on the doorstep.

Italians believe that animals can talk on the night of Epiphany so owners feed them well. Fountains and rivers in Calabria run with olive oil and wine and everything turns briefly into something to eat: the walls into ricotta, the bedposts into sausages, and the sheets into lasagna.

This is also the wonder night of the year in Syria where it is said that trees bow at midnight in honor of the Christ child, and miracles of increase occur.

This was the original date when the birth of Christ was celebrated and even now the Armenians celebrate both the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ on this day by eating fried fish, lettuce and boiled spinach, supposedly the foods the Virgin Mary ate on the night before she gave birth.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Menard, Valerie,
The Latino Holiday Book, Marlowe & Company 2000
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys,
The Book of Festivals, The Womens Press 1937

Three Kings

January 7 Distaff Day

Partly work and partly play
Ye must on St Distaff's day
From the plough soon free the team
Then come home and fodder them
If the Maids a-spinning go
Burn the flax and fire the tow
Bring in pails of water then
Let the Maids bewash the men
Give Saint Distaff all the right
Then bid Christmas sport goodnight
And next morrow, every one
To his own vocation.
- Herrick, Hesperides 1648

Sometimes said to honor a mythical St Distaff, this is the day when housewives could begin spinning again, after the break from the usual routine represented by the midwinter holidays.

January 7 Nanakusa (Seven Grasses)
The Japanese eat a stew of rice gruel and seven fresh herbs to ward off disease during the upcoming year. In the Chinese calendar, which is still lunar, a similar holiday is celebrated on the 7th day of the 1st lunar month (see January 28).

Blackburn, Bonnie and Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore,
Mythology and Legend, Maria Leach, ed., Harper 1984

January 7 Grandmothers Day
In Bulgaria, boys duck the girls in the icy waters of rivers and lakes, an ancient custom which is said to bring them good health in the coming year. Like the customs described above on Epiphany, it seems to promise a fresh new beginning.

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Womans Press 1937

January 7 Fire-Saving Day (Eldbjorgdagen)
In Norway, eldbjorgdagen means fire-saving day but a Saint Eldberga was later invented to explain the holiday. A report from Seljord in 1786, tells that the mistress of the house celebrated the return of the sun by drinking a draught of ale before the hearth, throwing something into the fire and then saying: "So high be my fire that hell is no higher or hotter." Then the rest of the household sat around the hearth, with their hands behind their back, and drank ale from bowls which were drained then tossed behind them with a toss of the head. If a bowl landed face down, the drinker would die within the next year. Another custom was to toast the members of the house and the king. In Skedsmo, this was said to be the day the hibernating bear turns over in his sleep.

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

January 7 Handsel Monday
On the first Monday of the year in the British Isles, gifts are given, especially to servants and children. These gifts, called handsels, are considered tokens of luck or good wishes for the coming year. By 1200, according to Merriam Webster, the word "handsel" was used for any good luck charm, especially one given at the start of a new job or any new condition. By 1500, traders called the first money they received in the morning a "handsel," a token of good fortune for the day ahead. So if you saved your first twenty dollar bill from your retail store or your first check for your writing, that's a handsel.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
www.merriam-webster.com

January 7 Plough Monday
The first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas. Farmers resume their work after the winter holiday. Before the reformation, medieval peasants had their ploughs blessed and censed by the parish priest and pooled their money to keep a plough light burning before their parish saint to ensure good fortune. This custom has been revived since World War II and in the north has always been accompanied by sword dancing and mumming. In the fenlands, the plough witches performed with a straw bear.

Like the Japanese custom of cleaning and honoring tools on New Year's day, these English customs seem to reflect a tradition of honoring the all-important tool of the farmer.

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

January 8 Midwives Day
A Greek holiday honoring midwives and birth, appropriate at the start of the new year. The village midwife, surrounded by attendants, and adorned with gilded flowers, onion and garlic braids and necklaces of dried figs, currants and carob-beans (all fertility symbols) receives gifts from all the women of child-bearing age. They pour out water for her and kiss a large phallic symbol made from a leek or sausage and called the schema (meaning shape). Afterwards the women feast and drink, then lead the midwife through the streets on a carriage, sprinkle her with water from the fountain and sing, dance and tell lewd jokes. The men stay inside.

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

January 8 New Moon in Capricorn
Start watching for the first sight of the new crescent after New Years—it’s a particularly lucky new moon. When you see it, stand astride the bars of a gate or stile (in Yorkshire they kneel on a ground-fast stone), look at the moon and say:

All Hail to the moon, all hail to thee
I prithee Good Moon reveal to me
This night who my husband or wife must be.

John Aubrey writing in 1695 says he knows two gentlewomen who did this as young maids and dreamed of the men they later married.

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

January 8 Winter Sacrifice Moon
The new moon of the twelfth Chinese lunation is called the Winter Sacrifice Moon.

In the Greek lunar calendar, this is the beginning of the month of Gamelion, which celebrates the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. This was a favorite month for weddings, dedicated to Hera, Goddess of Weddings

January 9 Agonia
On this day, Romans honored Janus, the two-faced god of the year, at his citadel on the Janiculum Hill. Its double gate was closed when the land was at peace but remained open in times of war. He was supposedly an old king of Latium whose worship was introduced by Romulus. Farias says that he along with his female counterpart Jana (aka Dianus and Diana) were probably the highest (sun and moon) gods of the pre-Italian peoples, until replaced by Jupiter and Juno.

Janus opens the gates of heaven at dawn and closes them at dusk. Like Elegba in the Voodun tradition, he was invoked before any other deity. He is the god of all doors, gates and entrances. Sometimes pictured as a porter or doorkeeper with a staff in one hand and a key in the other, sometimes pictured with an XXX (300) in one hand and LXV (65) in the other. At the time of Hadrian, his image was four-faced. And his temple had four sides with three windows each, four sides for the seasons and 12 windows for the months.

Although sanction and luck came from Jupiter, every action, occupation and undertaking depended for its beginning on Janus. As Consivius he presided over the beginning of human life, a role in which he was connected with Juno, with whom he was worshipped at the Calends.

Janus was offered grains of farro (a primitive kind of wheat) mixed with salt and iannual, a focaccia made with cheese, flour, eggs and oil, for his help in providing good harvests. The ancient Romans ate enormous focaccia, great disks of bread as round as the sun, on this day in his honor.

Farias, Helen, The TBP Lunar-Solar Festival Calendar, The Beltane Papers, Issue 6, Winter/Spring 1995
Field, Carol,
Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
John Aubrey writing in 1695 says he knows two gentlewomen who did this as young maids and dreamed of the men they later married.

January 11 Carmentalia
In Rome, the first day of the Carmentalia, which honored the goddess of childbirth, Carmentis. Animal skins were forbidden in her shrine.

Monaghan says there was originally one Carmenta, a goddess of prophecy and midwivery, who was worshipped on January 11 and 15 by the "flamines," her priests. Later there were said to be many Carmentes, female deities who appeared to assist women in labor and to tell the fortune of the newborn child. On this day, Romans made offerings of rice to the goddess and feasted on cream-filled pastries shaped like male and female genitalia or triangle-shaped pastries filled with raspberry jam.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Holford-Strevens, Leofranc, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Monaghan, Patricia,
The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, Llewellyn 1990

January 11 Juturna
The Romans celebrated the water-nymph Juturna on this day.

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

January 13 St Knut's Day
In Scandinavian countries, this is the traditional day for taking down the Yule decorations. In Norway, the greeting Glaedelig jul is used up to and on this day. Swedes celebrate with a dance and then dismantle the Christmas tree, which is usually chopped up and burnt.

Sometimes known as the Twentieth Day (after Christmas), some authorities believe the name Knut comes from the Laws of Canute the Great, written between 1017 and 1035, who decreed that there should be no fasting between Christmas and the Epiphany Octave.

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Womans Press 1937

January 14 St Hilary's Day
According to British folklore, this is the coldest day of the year.

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

January 14 Makar Sankranti
Hindus celebrate the festival of Makar Sankrant, the solar date associated with the sun's journey into Capricorn and the start of the movement into the light part of the year. The festival is celebrated in different ways in different parts of India but always with sweetness. People make treats out of sesame seeds which are associated with sweetness, love and tender feelings and give them to each other with wishes for sweet words.

In Maharashtra, married women get together and receive gifts of kitchen utensils. In Gujarat Sankrant, elders give gifts to the younger members of their families and scholarships are awarded to students in astrology and philosophy. In Punjab, the festival is called Lohari. People gather around huge bonfires and throw into them sweets, sugarcane and rice.

In South Sankrant, the festival is known as Pongal, a name which comes from the special food that is served: newly harvested rice which is boiled in a new pot of milk. In Tamil, the place where the rice is cooked is treated ceremonially: washed with cow dung and water, then decorated with a lotus pattern drawn in powdered rice, depicting the Sun God. People rise before sunrise, bathe themselves and wear new clothes. The pot is decorated with saffron. The rice is offered to the Sun-God on three banana-leaves.

According to Venkatramani, this used to be a four day festival with the first day devoted to a thorough house-cleaning and the second day to cooking the rice which was offered to Surya, the Sun-God. the third day was called Festival of the Cow. Cattle ware washed and decorated with garlands and red saffron and given some of the ceremonial rice. In some parts of India, young men participated in bull-chasing: a net of tamarind fibers decorated with silver coins and gold rings was attached to a bull's horns and trumpets blown to make the bull run helter-skelter while young men vied to snatch the treasure from its horns. The fourth day was devoted to visiting.

In Nepal, people visit holy bathing spots on this day. Some immerse themselves while others flick water on their hands and face and over their heads. Special foods are served including sesame seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach, a mixture of rice and lentils called khichari, meat and home-brewed wine and beer. Married daughters return to their parental homes and mothers bless their children by putting mustard oil on their heads and placed a few drops in the ear for a long life of good fortune. People sit in the sun on this day and have mustard-oil massages. These customs seem to be related to the revitalization of the sun--I'm assuming that the heat and color of the mustard are associated with the sun.

Anderson, Mary, "The Holy Month of Magh," in The Festivals of Nepal, Allen & Unwin 1971, pp. 223-224 [from MacDonald]
Arasaratnam, S.,
Indian Festivals in Malaya, Kuala Lumpur: Department of Indian Studies, University of Malaya, 1966, pp. 7-8. [from MacDonald]
Bisen, Malini, "Makar Sankranti," http://www.bawarchi.com/festivals/sankranti.html
MacDonald, Margaret Read, editor,
The Folklore of World Holidays, Gale Research 1992
Venkatramani, S.H.,
Popular Festivals of India, ed. by Sunil Kumar Nag, Calcutta: Golden Books of India, 1983, p. 45. [from MacDonald]


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