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Author Topic: Winter Solstice Festivals  (Read 1852 times)
Carnelian
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« Topic Start: December 13, 2009, 03:07:37 pm »

The ancient Greeks used lunar calendars, so the festivals relating to the solstice and equinoxes were held during the appropriate moon phase closest to them. For example, the City Dionysia occurred in the few days before the full moon before the vernal equinox, the Adonia and the Panathenaia occured around the summer solstice, a bunch of festivals for Demeter and Persephone such as the Thesmophoria and the Eleusinian Mysteries occur around the autumn equinox, and the Country Dionysia begins on the full moon closest to the winter solstice and goes until the following new moon.

The Rural/Country Dionysia is the main winter festival on the Attic calendar that modern Hellenes can celebrate by honouring Dionysos around this time. It was celebrated in antiquity with a procession of phalloi (objects shaped like erect penises) and the performances of tragedies and comedies, but in modern times, honouring Dionysos and incorporating phallic symbolism into one's devotions to him suffice. It was a smaller version of the City Dionysia, which occurred around March. Some groups equate it with the Lenaia festival held a month later, where comedies were put on, and this festival possibly celebrated the rebirth of Dionysos after being dismembered by the Titans.

A modern winter solstice festival celebrated by some Hellenes is the Heliogenna, which celebrates the death and rebirth of the sun. It's not a celebration I personally feel the need to celebrate, as I view Helios more as a personification of the actual sun than a true deity, but it might be of interest to some people: http://www.iskios.com/page109/page114/page114.html.

Another way to celebrate the winter solstice which I've been thinking about recently is as the time of the rebirth of Adonis. This was not observed in antiquity, to my knowledge, but I think it's appropriate. His Orphic Hymn pretty explicitly describes him as a solar deity (http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hoo/hoo60.htm), and the winter solstice is a traditional time of celebrating the sun's renewal. Celebrating his birth at the winter solstice is nicely parallel to celebrating his traditional death and descent into the underworld at the summer solstice. Not only that, but it fits in more easily to Christmas celebrations that the rest of western culture is celebrating, with the concept of divine birth. It's just a suggestion.

Hopefully this is helpful to people and starts a discussion on various Hellenic ways to honour the gods during the winter season.
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