Monday, December 15, 2014

Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Winter Solstice) and Hogmanay

Fàs is gnàths is toradh
growth, tradition, success 
Image copyright ©2014 Kathryn Price NicDhàna
On Hogmanay morn, we gather water from under the bridge, which became
"a dead and living ford" the first time we brought a deer carcass across,
and which has now witnessed the passage of several of our beloved dead. 
photo copyright ©2014 kpn

The winter snows have come, the nights are long and cold. We gather with our loved ones and hold each other close.

Yes, we've made more Gaol Naofa videos :)  Annie took point on these, and we have her lovely photos from Newgrange and other sacred sites in Ireland and Scotland. For those of Scottish heritage who may not have known why secular/calendar New Year's Eve is a big deal in our families of origin, we have the answer: Hogmanay.

Hogmanay is a time for saining the house and welcoming in the New Year. While the dour Celtic mindset supports the idea of beginning the year at the falling darkness of Samhain, there is something about the Winter Solstice sunrise that lights a spark in my heart: The longest night of the year is broken by the rising sun, shining down the long passage at Brú na Bóinne, bringing light to the ancestors and announcing that now the days will grow longer, bit by bit, until warmth and green return to the land.

As a people who see time as a circle, and spirit as eternal while only matter rises and falls, dies and is born again, I'm not particularly interested in the debates about which day is "The Celtic New Year." Arguments can be made for pretty much any point in the cycle, depending on one's work, where one lives, and which deities and spirits are most important to us. 

The phrase  "Fàs is gnàths is toradh (Growth, custom, and fertility)" is traditionally said by the head of the household as they bring a twig from a local fruit-bearing tree inside to the breakfast feast. It is customary to sain one another and entire house at this time, with water from "a dead and living ford" (a watercourse over which both the living and dead pass), and to fill the house with so much juniper smoke that everyone begins to cough. This means that all your smoke alarms will also be going off. I consider it part of the festivities. But any of the alarms that are hooked into a security system will need to be turned off. Trust me, your local firefighters will appreciate being spared the false alarm. If you forget and they show up anyway, you can consider it a bizarre variation on first-footing. Make sure to offer them abundant hospitality.

As everyone is coughing and the alarms are blaring, it is time to fling open the doors and windows and welcome in the brisk, cold air of New Year's morning. We do a brief welcome and prayer in Gaelic at each door and window we fling open, welcoming the household's guardian spirits and the qualities we hope for in the coming year. It is customary at this time for the hearthkeeper of the household to offer everyone a nip of whisky. As a sober household, we use strong, alder-roasted or hazelnut coffee and espresso chocolate.

Then everyone sits down to a big breakfast, which symbolizes the abundance we hope for in the coming year.

Good Hogmanay to our Gaol Naofa family and extended community!
Fàs is gnàths is toradh!

For an abundance of lore and more suggestions for celebrations, see Annie's collection of links to her articles and research.