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The Holidays of Asatru

     by Kadlin Waltheofsdottir
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Letter 'O' illuminated with image of Friggaf all the holidays of Asatru, Yule is the most important. It is firmly based in the lore, and it has been so loved by the people that over a thousand years of Christianity has been unable to wipe out the traditions associated with it. Decorating Christmas trees, displaying Christmas wreaths, putting candles in the windows, putting out cookies for Santa Claus, (Santa Claus himself), exchanging Christmas presents, the "Yule Log" in the fireplace, Christmas caroling/wassailing, all are heathen in origin. Some scholars argue that exact original date of Yule is no longer known (it may not have had a fixed date), but all agree that it was likely to have been near the winter solstice.

     Yule consists of three holy nights spread during the span of twelve days, which is the origin of the "twelve days of Christmas". These nights represent the entire year, and should be spent in celebration with family and friends. This is also when the division between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest, when one might best communicate with one's ancestors.

     The first night of Yule is Mother-Night, which many Asatruars celebrate on December 20th, the eve of the solstice. Mother-Night is particularly sacred to Frigga and the disir (holy ancestral mothers of the family). However, there are Asatruar who begin the season as early as December 6th.

     The next night of Yule is referred to as "Yule" and traditionally is the night after Mother-Night, although some folks spread it out a bit. One might celebrate Mother-Night on the 20th, but celebrate Yule on the 24th or 25th because one has the day off-- which means more time for preparation and celebration. I believe that the Gods do not mind this, so long as the holidays are observed. Yule is perhaps the holiest night of the Asatru calendar.

     The last night of Yule is Twelfth Night. If Mother-Night is December 20th, then this holy day falls on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, which is very appropriate. (Christian Twelfth Night is January 6, because it is counted from December 25th.) However, there is support for Twelfth Night being celebrated as late as mid-January in some places. In the heathen tradition, each day begins at sundown as in Jewish and Islamic practice. So, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are really the same "day." It is proper to hold a symbel on Twelfth Night, and make boasts of what one hopes to accomplish in the coming year. This is a possible origin of making "New Year's Resolutions." Because it is the night that the ancestral ghosts depart, Twelfth Night is also considered a good time to rid your home of any unwanted ghosts or sprits. Some Asatruars celebrate this holiday by keeping a vigil all night, followed by a bonfire at dawn.

     After Yule, the other two most important holidays of Asatru are Winternights, celebrated in the fall, and Eostre, celebrated in the spring. Like Yule, we know of these holidays directly from historical sources that have come down to us. They are not invented holidays. Although they are celebrated in the spring and fall, they are not necessarily celebrated on the equinoxes, and many believe that it is appropriate to adjust the dates of these celebrations to reflect local climatic conditions. Many Asatruars celebrate Winternights in mid-October, between the 11th and 18th (although some wait until Halloween) and Eostre somewhere between the 9th and 15th of April. Asatruars in the southern hemisphere usually flip-flop the dates, and also celebrate Yule when those of us in the northern hemisphere would be observing midsummer.

     Winternights, like Mother-Night, is sacred to the disir. Traditionally, it was the time when farm animals that would not survive the winter would be slaughtered for the larder. Eostre, in the springtime, is a festival of rebirth and fertility. The Venerable Bede wrote that the word for the month we now call "April" was "Eostur-monath", believed to have been named for the goddess Eostra. It is well-settled that the Christian Easter festival took its name from the heathen festival or month name. The Easter bunny with its colored eggs is a survival of the heathen festival.

     In the northern latitudes in a time before central heating and electric lights, winter had a stronger impact on the people than it does to us today. (Except, perhaps, those with Seasonal Affective Disorder.) In a low-technology agrarian culture, winter was a time of inaction, of communion with family, and of danger of death from cold or starvation. It is not surprising, then, that the year seems to have been divided into two parts: summer, a time of physical activity; and winter, a time of spiritual activity. Just as Yule is bounded by Mother-Night and Twelfth Night, so is the "spiritual" portion of the year bounded by Winternights and Eostre.

     In addition to the three holidays attested to in the lore, Winternights, Yule, and Eostre, there is also evidence for a midsummer celebration, holy to Sunna, and many Asatruar observe it. Some hold that the lore is actually referring to a midsummer celebration rather than Eostre: Snorri Sturluson wrote in the Saga of the Ynglings, "A sacrifice was to be made for a good season at the beginning of winter, and one in midwinter for good crops, and a third one in summer, for victory." The idea of only three main holidays is also supported in Tacitus' Germania, in which he observed that the German tribespeople had only three seasons: Spring, Summer, and Winter, but not Fall.

     Many Asatru groups (kindreds) feel the need to honor the Gods more often than three or four times a year, and the need to meet with each other more often as well. Therefore, they observe other holidays. Some observe eight holidays a year, some meet every month, and some meet more often still. (I understand that a group in a Minnesota prison petitioned the authorities for permission to hold a blot every day; the prisoners probably have a lot of time on their hands to devote to religious matters!) Other Asatruar, particularly those who are "solitary", may observe fewer holidays-- perhaps only one per year.

     Some of the more commonly observed "extra" holidays are: Feast of Thor, Disting (Old Swedish word meaning "Thing at the time of the sacrifice to the disir" held in February), Feast of Vali, The Charming of the Plough (celebrated at spring planting), Walburgisnacht (May Day Eve), May Day, Loaf-Fest (Freyfaxi), Einherjar Day (to remember fallen heroes-- usually celebrated on Veteran's Day or Memorial Day), and Thing Tide (honoring Tyr), although there are others as well.


Sources:

Davidson, H. R. Ellis, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, Syracuse University Press, 1988.

Edred Thorsson, A Book of Troth, Llewellyn Publications, 1992.

Foley, Daniel J., Christmas the World Over: How the Season of Joy and Good Will is Observed and Enjoyed by Peoples Here and Everywhere, page 26, Chilton Co., 1963.

HeimdallR, Listserv posting to "Asatru-FORN-SED," October 20, 2000.

Kvelduf Gundarsson, Teutonic Religion, Llewellyn Publications, 1993.

Tacitus, Germania, paragraph 26, Trans. M. Hutton, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1970.

Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht, Holy Tides <http://members.soltec.net/~eirini/holiday.html>

The Troth, Our Troth <http://w3.one.net/~dls/kspirits/ot/>

Simek, Rudolf, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Trans. Angela Hall, D.S. Brewer, 2000.

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Trans. Lee Hollander, p. 12, University of Texas Press, 1995.

Internet pages in German (read using AltaVista Babelfish translations):

   Jul-Fest -die Wintersonnenwende, visted October 24, 2000.
      <http://www.lichtfocus.de/themen_jahresfeste_jul.htm>

   Thomastag - Sonnenwende, visited October 24, 2000.
      <http://www.maxpages.com/blama/21_Dezember>


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