Winter Holidays: From Darkness to Light, Year After Year

24 December 2023 | Curiously Intercultural, Lifestyle Expeditions

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One may wonder why our ancestors chose to celebrate hope and new beginnings at the gloomiest time of the year in much of the inhabited world. Yet, the darkness and cold that people must endure during their holiday shopping and commutes to and from parties are exactly the point of winter holidays.

Around the world, some lovingly decorate trees, and some “feed” their dead trunks until they “poop presents”; some get their thrills from dancing lion-monsters, while others wonder how reindeers get down the chimney. But ultimately, all pay their symbolic tributes to the same hope: that winter chills eventually give way to the arrival of new beginnings.

For thousands of years, winter rebirth rituals were reminders that humans, these strange creatures without natural fur and claws to protect them, who unlike many mammals do not hibernate but live with an unprecedented clarity of consciousness all year round, – these marvellously miserable creatures can pull through the winter despite the terrifying forces of nature.

Gratitude stands out as a primary winter holidays theme that permeates across nations and their traditions worldwide. For example, Caga Tió, a curious Catalan tradition of beating a log with sticks until it “poops presents” (it does, I checked!) is a reenactment of trees magically helping people across the winter with their flames, thus bearing the gift of life and livelihood. Christmas trees are close cousins of Caga Tió with their gift-bearing branches, as are the Chinese cylindrical fireworks that come from dead rice stems in dormant paddies.

During  a months-long party that sweeps across the globe from the winter solstice on December 22 onwards, humanity pays tribute to the heroes who were bestowed upon the people to help them overcome the threatening forces. Numerous festivities on December 25 celebrate the births of a number of deities and remarkable historical and religious figures such as Horus, Osiris, Mithras, Dionysus, Buddha, and Jesus, among others.

Interestingly, the 25th of December has always had some mystery to it, – so much so that there are still speculations on whether the Warner Brothers company changed the date of their famous star actor Humphrey Bogart, as the New York Times put it “to promote the idea that “a guy born on Christmas Day can’t be all bad”.” Whether it is true or not, there is clearly a meaningful significance to this noteworthy date, not least, perhaps, due to the fact that days gradually get longer symbolically denoting the triumph of light over darkness. The joyous rituals of the winter holidays tell the dark forces of the season: “We are not afraid of you anymore. We are well equipped, and soon your reign will be over.”

In line with these sentiments, we, as members of the SIETAR Europa network, believe that there is a lot to look forward to during this holiday season. Let’s bravely face the Asian dancing lions, which once represented the “Nian Monster” of the outgoing year, and scare them away with merrymaking and fireworks. Let’s welcome unusual heros and dieties ready and willing to guide us into the light, – be it an endlessly knocked down but resiliently getting up again and again Daruma figure from the country of the rising sun; or Zwarte Piet merrily spreading the East’s abundance in the gloomy Dutch winter and the peculiar elderly man, previously known as Poseidon, carrying the sea gifts, who has undergone rebranding, thanks to  Coca-Cola’s anti-fatigue drink.

Wherever the inspiration comes from, let’s gratefully huddle around burying logs, drink refreshing toasts, and guide and support each other towards the Light.

Happy Winter Holidays!

Gabor Holch


Photo by Kristina Paukshtite

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