Season’s Greetings!

SUBHEAD: Winter solstice is a time for celebration
By Linda Pascatore on 24 December 2006 in Island Breath - 
The makahiki ceremony at Windward Community College began with the blowing of the pu 

Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Makahiki -- now is the season of celebrations in many parts of the world. There is a seasonal native Hawaiian celebration at this time of year, the Makahiki. In the star-based Hawaiian calendar, winter starts in late November when the Makali’i, or Pleaides star cluster, begins to rise at sunset, stay visible most of the night and set at dawn. The winter season lasts about four months, until the Makali’i begins to rise at dawn, and is no longer visible at night. 

The rise of the Makali’i at sunset also marks the beginning of the holiday Makahiki, celebrated from ancient times by the Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiians). It was a harvest celebration. Harvest tributes were paid to the kings, and the people bid farewell to the god Lono, who would journey back to ancestral Tahiti during this time, and return later in the new year. 

All wars were stopped or put on hold during this season, and kapus were relaxed. All work such as fishing and farming was also halted, and the people, the land and the sea rested before the beginning of the next growing season, after the winter rains. Makahiki was a time of peace, relaxation, purification, and celebration. 

Sporting competitions were held between neighboring villages, including surfing, boxing, sliding on sleds down the mountains, canoe races, swimming and foot races. There was storytelling, dancing, and feasting. 

Last year, my hula halau had a beautiful purification ceremony in January as part of Makahiki. All the families of the halau gathered on a cold, rainy morning at a beach. We stood in the dark before dawn looking to the ocean, as our kumu chanted. Then we joined hands in a long line with men, women, children and babes in arms. We walked into the ocean, then separated to each do our own ceremony. 

We released all bad feelings, first towards the community, then towards our families and close relations, and finally within ourselves. At each release, we dunked under the salt water to purify ourselves. After each person had taken their own time to release, we gathered back on the beach, joining hands again for another chant and ritual by our kumu. We finished by turning the line back along its length, hugging and wishing aloha to each person in our halau. 

The sun had risen, and the sky had cleared during our ceremony. We all left the beach feeling freshly renewed, rejuvenated, and spiritually clean and cleared. I carried the feelings from that ritual for many days after the ceremony. It was an experience that touched me deeply, and brought me the joy and peace of the season as no Christmas or New Year’s celebrations had. There are many other seasonal celebrations all over the world at this time of year. Most of these were probably derived from the Winter Solstice, which was on December 21st. 

The days shorten and nights lengthen from the Autumnal Equinox until the Solstice, when we have the longest night of the year. From then on, the days will lengthen until Summer Solstice, the longest day. Many people traditionally celebrated solstice as a festival of light marking the return of the sun. During the longest winter night, people would light candles or light fires to conquer the dark in their hope for the coming spring. The ancient Persians celebrated the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, in honor of Mithra, the God of Light, and lit fires for their New Year. 

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia at this time, and feasted, gave gifts, and decorated with evergreens and holly. The Scandinavians celebrated the god Odin, probably the precursor to Santa Claus, who rode an eight footed horse to dole out rewards or punishment to men. His son, Thor, conquered the gods of ice and snow, and allowed the return of the sun. The Jews celebrated Hanukkah and light candles on the Menorah, in honor of a miracle of the light in a temple that burned throughout a siege. The date of Christ’s birth was unknown, and set at this traditional time of hope, light, and new beginnings near the solstice, for Christ, the “Light of the World”. 

Kwanzaa is a newly created festival that has roots in ancient celebrations of the first fruits of the harvest. In Africa south of the equator, the first harvest would be during their summer, which is our winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Kwanzaa is now used as a celebration of African principals of community, family, and culture: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. The creation of Kwanzaa to help Africans and African Americans celebrate and honor their culture shows us that we can create our own rituals and holidays. 

Many people are not religious in a traditional sense. However, we can all benefit from setting aside a time to honor our spirituality, whatever form it may take. It is very liberating, and fun, to create your own personal or family traditions during this celebratory time of year. 

So, May your Spirit experience a Joyful Solstice, a Happy Hanukkah, a Wonderful Kwanzaa, a Peaceful Makahiki, and a Happy New Year!

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