First, happy holidays to all! We had a nice time this year and changed some traditions - the only thing I cooked was this:
A few years ago I read the following excerpt from Caitlin Matthews (who has wonderful books if you're interested in mythology and symbols and all things Celtic).
In the medieval liturgical calendar, the festival of Christmas Day stood alone by itself as a supreme holy day, and so the counting of the twelve days began from 26 December which is the 1st day of Christmas until the 6th January which is Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas. What has this got to do with anything?
Well, in Brittany and in Wales, the Twelve Days of Christmas, which mark the intercalary days of the year, are called ‘the Omen Days,’ and they have a special purpose. ‘Intercalary days’ are really the days left over from reckoning up the solar year and, in calendars throughout the world and at different times, they are special because they are considered to be ‘the days out of time.’ It is in this interval between the ordinary count of days that gods are born or conceived in many different mythologies, including the Irish one, where Oengus Og, Young Angus, is conceived, grown and born at Brúg na Boinne within this time, all in one day, by the magical workings of the Dagda.
Within these twelve days lies a wonderful secret that those dismissive of the Christian tradition might well miss, for each of the twelve days is assigned to a month of the coming year, with the first day of Christmas the 26th December as symbolic of January, the second day or 27th December representing February and so on, right through to 6th January which represents the December yet to come. It was the custom of many to go out on each day of the Christmas festival to observe the signs in nature and divine from them the state of the year to come. The omens experienced on each of the Omen Days indicate the nature of each month in the coming year.
The divining of oracles from nature has a long tradition in Celtic lore. The Scots Gaelic tradition of the frith or the augury from the signs of nature is well established. The listening to bird’s calling was a critical part of druidic lore, as was the movement and behaviour of other animals. Some of these auguries have come down to us, like the little white book of meanings in a tarot pack: some people used them, but others did not. The real skill is to read the signs in accordance with your understanding at the time, and as it relates to the question that provoked the augury in the first place. I’ve been teaching this skill for over 25 years and not yet found anyone who couldn’t do it, as long as they first asked a well-framed question.
In this case, you treat each day of Christmas as the opportunity for an augury for the month it represents in coming year. This might be experienced during a daily walk, or perceived in the nature of the day itself and how it falls out. Personally, I like to make a frame for each Omen Day, by asking to be shown an augury from nature and allowing the next thing I experience, see or hear to be the sign I am expecting. It helps to find the right place to do this on a walk, to close your eyes, to spin around on the spot and then be attentive.
And I write:
I wanted to do this last year but got caught up in daily life and simply forgot until it was too late. This year, on Christmas Eve day, my husband and I drove into town to do a few last-minute errands, and as we left the driveway saw three young deer cavorting up our lane. They were frisky and playful, unafraid of the car even as they gamboled out of our path, then ran up into the neighbors' yard and turned to look back at us before resuming their game. For me, seeing deer always means something special. Deer summon us to journeys and the number three is magical as well. Thinking about this got me thinking about the Omen Days, and so today, December 26th, I begin the countdown to January 6th and the 12th day of Christmas in this tradition.
Today I drove my son back to his apartment in a North Carolina mountain town. I was in our car, but enjoyed the cloudy, gray day and as we approached the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a treat to see them banked in cloud cover. The road was at times foggy and although driving was more difficult, it was lovely seeing the mountains shrouded in what looked like cloaks of fog. I noted as I drove down the mountain approaching the town that while the fog limited visibility it also made it easier to go the speed limit. I often come down that particular spot with my foot hovering on the brake, but the fog felt in an odd way safe. I think sometimes only being able to see what is right in front of us is a good thing. The ridge lines were amazing too, the bare trees like sketches done in black ink. It was one of my favorite kinds of days and if this augers a foggy, mysterious, and beautiful brake-free January then I am very happy with the first day of Christmas! It has been a peaceful, low-key day, and I can use a month of that.
I invite you to join me for the next 11 days as I count them down, looking for signs of what is to come in the year ahead.