The hype around the Mayan end of days predicted for December 21, 2012, is nothing new in the superstitious realm. Ancient cultures including the Druids, Aztecs and Mayas created rituals to entice their gods to continue the world as they knew it and their lifestyles.
Ancient cultures believed that as the sun gradually sank lower into the horizon during the autumn season, it would not return. Saturnalia, or as we know it - the Winter Solstice, usually occurs around December 21, the shortest day of the year.
In order to entice the sun god to provide warmth, light and an abundance of crops, they created annual rituals and celebrations. Often wild and riotous, they were held to thank the gods for returning the sun to them. The winter solstice restored faith in the future as the days became longer.
Greenery played a special role in these festivities because the color represented eternal life, coming from plants that remained green throughout the year. Greenery was also used as protection against witches and other evil demons believed to be present and especially active and powerful during this time of the year.
Ancient cultures believed that bringing greenery into the home was a lucky charm that would guarantee the return of vegetation and growth in the spring. This is where our tradition of decking the halls comes from. Some people even adorned themselves with springs of greenery to further atract personal luck an good fortune.
There were superstitions giverning when to bring the greenery into the house; it was considered bad luck to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve, and equally unlucky to remove it before the Twelfth Night, or January 6th. Many people still observe these traditions.
The Druids celebrated the winter solstice with sacred rites involving the mistletoe. They gathered in the forest for the ritual of cutting mistletoe from the trees and sharing it among themselves as a symbol of peace and prosperity. They also hung it over their doors to ward off evil spirits, to ensure fertility and to encourage enermies to bury past grudges. They expected guest to embrace under the mistletoe - a custom we have adapted to our times and traditions.
On this Solstice night, take time to connect with the Power that is greater than you and reflect on the gifts and blessings of the season. In the darkness of the longest night, the stars twinkle with a light that gives us a glimpse of the promises of the future.
We all walk in the dark and each of us must learn to turn on his or her own light - Earl Nightengale
Adapted from Decking the Halls - The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants.