Holidays and Calendars

I enjoy reading people’s lists of holidays. Some are very simple, like mine, while others are stunningly complex and may even require a different calendar system in order to calculate dates. But most people’s lists come from publications of  the Asatru Free Assembly or The Troth, whether they know it or not, and these lists are often ahistorical.

The AFA’s original list was relatively simple, as it was based on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year:

  • Yule — 21 December
  • Charming of the Plough — 2 February
  • Summer Finding — 21/25 March
  • May Day — 1 May
  • Midsummer — 21 June
  • Freyfaxi — 1 August
  • Winter Finding — 21/29 September
  • Winter Nights — 31 October

The Troth’s Our Troth (2006) has a longer list:

  • Yule — winter solstice
  • Þorrablót — late January to early February
  • Disting — late February to early March
  • Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi — 9 February
  • Feast of Váli — Valentine’s Day
  • Ragnar Lodbrok’s Day — 28 March
  • Remembrance for Haakon Sigurdsson — 9 April
  • Ostara/Sigrblót — April
  • Remembrance for Guðröðr of Guðbrandsdál — 9 May
  • Einherjar Day — Memorial Day
  • Remembrance for Sigurd — 9 June
  • Midsummer — summer solstice
  • Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded — 9 July
  • Lammas/Freyfaxi — 1 August
  • Remembrance for Radbod, King of the Frisians — 9 August
  • Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan — 9 September
  • Remembrance for Leif Ericson and his sister — Columbus Day
  • Winter Nights — mid October
  • Remembrance for Erik the Red — 28 October
  • Remembrance for Sigrid the Haughty — 9 November
  • Wayland the Smith’s Day — Thanksgiving
  • Remembrance for Egill Skallagrímsson — 9 December

This was hardly the first version. Stephan Grundy’s Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition (1993) had a similar list:

  • Yule — 20 December to 1 January
  • Remembrance for Raud the Strong — 9 January
  • Feast of Thunar — full or new moon of January
  • Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi — 9 February
  • Feast of Váli — Valentine’s Day
  • Charming of the Plough — new moon of February
  • Eostre — near the Spring Equinox
  • Ragnar Lodbrok’s Day — 28 March
  • Walpurgisnight — 30 April
  • May Day — 1 May
  • Einherjar Day — Memorial Day
  • Remembrance for Sigurdhr the Völsung — 9 June
  • Midsummer — solstice
  • Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded — 9 July
  • Death of Olafr the Lawbreaker — 29 July
  • Loaf-Fest — 1 August
  • Radbod’s Day — 9 August
  • Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan — 9 September
  • Winternights — near the Autumnal Equinox
  • Remembrance for Leif Ericsson and his sister — Columbus Day
  • Remembrance for Erik the Red — 28 October
  • Remembrance for Sigrid the Haughty — 9 November
  • Wayland Smith Day — Thanksgiving
  • Remembrance for Egill Skallagrímsson — 9 December

Still others have a “Feast of the Einherjar” or a “Feast of the Fallen” on Veterans Day. And let’s not get into the Asatru Alliance’s list of holidays, which is largely plagiarised with a splash of self-congratulatory nonsense and a lot of funny names.

With a start in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, there’s been little hope to see the US organisations admit to the error of their ways. All of them are trapped in cults of personality that don’t permit them to say that they made mistakes. To do so would dispel the public image that they’ve worked so hard to create over the decades.

The Troth’s beloved remembrances are silly at best. I’ve seen few of them ever actually practiced, though lots of people like to have them listed in order to show their piety. And I’ll never understand why they’re largely placed on the ninth of a month. If there was ever a reason for that, I’ve missed it or it’s been lost to the sands of time. I would almost bet that there was some numerological meaning behind that with no basis in Germanic polytheism, as the early days were filled with people interested in magical numbers and hidden meanings.

The glossing of US holidays is hilariously bad. These holidays already have meanings, even if one doesn’t care about them. The Feast of Váli? That’s not Valentine’s Day at all. Grundy says that it’s folk etymology, but it’s not. He clearly doesn’t understand that term. Stuff for Leifr Eiríksson and his sister, who is oddly never named in these lists? I get the idea behind putting it on Columbus Day, but it’s foolish. Americans are mildly obsessed with Columbus and they don’t even understand the history surrounding him, let alone where he actually sailed. Finally, Grundy openly says that he doesn’t know why Wayland Smith Day is magically on Thanksgiving, so why do some do it at all then?

I’ll never get over the idea of having “Feast of the Einherjar” placed specifically on a holiday about veterans, dead or alive. That creation was definitely a mixup with Memorial Day and thus why there’s a similarly named event on that holiday. How that persists is beyond me.

I find “Charming of the Plough” to be woefully misguided. It’s definitely an attempt to bring Plough Monday into Heathenry, although a month later than traditionally celebrated. But many places are not like England. Many places are frozen solid still, so the agricultural year can’t start by any means. Here in New England I laugh at the idea of doing any meaningful outdoor work in February, let alone January. But my main contention is simple: most people aren’t farmers these days. Why have an agricultural holiday when you have no relation to the event at all? People celebrated things that mattered to them. In the past, everyone was involved in farming in some way. That’s hardly so nowadays! Most can’t even describe what a crop rotation is or how soil drainage is important for some species, so why bother? It’s a hollow gesture.

Equally problematic is the fact that these calendars are a mixture of cultures. These events were not all celebrated side by side. Lammas did not happen seven months or so after Þorrablót, as Lammas (< Old English hlāfmæsse “loaf-mass”; mæsse < Vulgar Latin *messa < Late Latin missa “mass; Christian eucharistic liturgy” < Latin mittere “to send, announce, yield”) is attested in Anglo-Saxon England onward, while Þorrablót was first mentioned in extant records in the early thirteenth century, didn’t come to its current popularity until the late nineteenth century, and is in Iceland.

These calendars are also invariable for the most part. For a bit in the ’90s people were realising that setting exact dates for things that don’t have exact dates didn’t especially make sense. It seems that the last decade has seen people reverting to rigid dates again. It causes them to celebrate things that have no bearing. Midsummer isn’t on the same day every year, after all. Equinoxes move around. Seasons aren’t precisely the same everywhere. Why are people celebrating Winter Finding at the end of September in subtropical regions? Worse yet, why do people celebrate Yule in the middle of the Summer in the Southern Hemisphere?

Modern people forget a key fact about the past: people were often very pragmatic. If it didn’t matter, it was far less likely to be done. We’re accustomed to having edicts from far away officials who decide legal holidays for us. Our ancestors didn’t especially have that and were far more localised. This is exactly why we encounter such variation in relatively small areas. One village did one thing, while the neighbouring village did something potentially very different. Priorities and interests varied, so outcomes changed.

We’re very dogmatic about how things should be done. We want everything to line up neatly, even when evidence says otherwise. It’s important that we adapt and accept that we have differing needs and cares. I don’t farm, so I don’t do farming rituals. I do, however, value my female ancestors, so Mothers’ Night is celebrated every December as Yule begins.

Don’t blindly accept what some person far away pushes onto you. Learn your heritage. Find out what your ancestors considered important and see where there’s overlap in your life. Research locally important dates. We don’t need to be fully unified in our holidays; doing so would erase what matters to us and our kin. And, if you really want to make a new holiday entirely, go ahead, but admit to it and make it something meaningful because it matters, not because a poorly written book without citations says so.

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