A candle lighting by Juneau and other Alaska residents on the night of the winter solstice in 2020 was initiated by state officials as a show of solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were both separated from other community members and experiencing the loss of loved ones. The winter solstice, by tradition a Wiccan/Pagan holiday, also is observed by other people and cultures both spiritual and secular worldwide. (Juneau Empire file photo)

A candle lighting by Juneau and other Alaska residents on the night of the winter solstice in 2020 was initiated by state officials as a show of solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were both separated from other community members and experiencing the loss of loved ones. The winter solstice, by tradition a Wiccan/Pagan holiday, also is observed by other people and cultures both spiritual and secular worldwide. (Juneau Empire file photo)

The 12 days of not Christmas

December has lots religious and winter solstice holidays; here’s how some are celebrated locally.

For Katrina Lee the reason for the season is a traditional family gathering on the longest night off the year centered around circles.

Lee, who 20 years ago was an organizer for the Alaska United Pagan Alliance, also celebrates Christmas annually and Hanukkah in some past years with family members observing the occasion. As she sees it, the period of the winter solstice is a time people and cultures have celebrated together, yet in their own ways, worldwide throughout history.

“Practically every religion in the world has a taking back the light ceremony in December,” she said.

Her family solstice gathering this year will include gathering in a circle, and incorporate the traditional basic elements such a earth, water and fire. As with Christmas gifts, it’s the spirit of how those traditions are observed rather than any grandiose feats that are meaningful.

“The energy is what matters most,” she said.

That’s also the focus of the one gathering the Bahá’í Community of Juneau is planning this month, on the “traditional” New Year’s Eve rather than the faith’s official new year during the spring equinox, said Adam Bauer, a member of the local group. He said members and invited friends will gather at a local community hall as a way of getting together for an occasion during a month when they have no official holidays.

“We’re always looking for a reason to celebrate,” he said.

For some there are cultural conflicts that result in one-or-the-other choices. Pagey Scheytt, a counselor and founder of Magickpath of Juneau, said she interacts with local Pagan residents interested in a traditional solstice celebration, but putting one together this year wasn’t feasible.

“There’s a lot of people that are straddling,” she said. “They’re still celebrating Christmas or some other thing, or their family members are.”

Scheytt said she hopes to begin a full calendar of Pagan holidays next year starting with a fire festival on Feb. 1, and “next year there will be something for sure for Yule or something to celebrate for solstice.”

As for her plans during solstice, she intends to “vanish into the woods.”

“It’s the darkest night of the year, so being out in it is a big deal,” she said.

Winter solstice – as with the many ways Christmas is celebrated spiritually and secularly worldwide – is among the December holidays in particular observed in a multitude of long-standing cultural ways.

A public solstice gathering hosted from 2-6 p.m. Dec. 21 by Haa Tóoch Lichéesh, for example, celebrates the traditional Alaska Native observance of the turning of the darkness, which among other aspects includes adding adding seal oil to a fire in the belief it helps show the sun how to come back. The event at the Tlingit and Haida’s Generations Southeast Community Learning Center at 3239 Hospital Drive will feature an opening solstice ceremony, potluck, making of items such as cottonwood salves and and woven zipper pulls to give as gifts, and music and dancing.

The following are other traditional holidays in December based on faith and the winter, with local community celebrations beyond Christmas-based observances at individual churches listed where known. Traditional in this sense means longtime cultural observances, not pop culture, so so occasions such as the born-on-TV holiday of Festivus on Dec. 23 with its “airing of grievances” and wrestling of the head of household are not included.

Dec. 6: Saint Nicholas Day — Christian

This holiday honors the birth of Saint Nicholas, the saint who serves as a role model for gift-giving and is commonly known as Santa Claus, according to Interfaith Calendar.

Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day) — Buddhist

This holiday celebrates the day Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni) is said to have attained enlightenment. Activities include meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts, and traditional meals of tea, cake and readings.

Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception — Catholic

Catholics celebrate the day of Immaculate Conception to honor Jesus’mother Mary.

Dec. 12: Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — Catholic

A celebration by Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent honoring the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary in Mexico City, according to Interfaith Calendar. St. Paul’s Catholic Church hosted a local feast Sunday afternoon (Dec. 11) featuring tamales and Mexican chocolate.

Dec. 13: Saint Lucy’s Day – Christian

Lucia of Syracuse, an early-fourth-century virgin martyr under the Diocletian Persecution who according to legend brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a candle lit wreath on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible.

Dec. 16-25: Posadas Navidenas — Christian

Another primarily Hispanic Christian holiday commemorating Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus, according to Interfaith Calendar.

Dec. 18-26: Hanukkah — Judaism

An eight-day Jewish festival of lights celebrating the Maccabean revolt in Egypt. Eight candles are lit with a menorah to honor the holiday. Congregation Sukkat Shalom will host its traditional sharing of latkes and lighting of menorahs (attendees are encouraged to bring and share both) on the first night of Hanukkah (Dec. 18) at 5 p.m. at its synagogue at 211 Cordova St. It will also host a kugel culinary competition.

Dec. 21: Winter Solstice — Wicca/Pagan

Pagans and Wicca believers celebrate this event through Yule, which also honors “the winter-born king, symbolized by the rebirth of the sun,” according to Interfaith Calendar. The local celebration by Haa Tóoch Lichéesh based on the Alaska Native traditions of the solstice is noted above.

Dec. 26: Zartosht No-Diso— Zoroastrian

A day after the month’s most-known celebration of a birth, this holiday for one of the world’s oldest faiths is an observance of the death of Prophet Zarathustra, an Iranian whose existence dates back to sometime between 500 BC and the second millennium BC. The occasion is marked by attendance at the fire temple, lectures and discussions about the life of prophet, and prayer — but not mourning, which in not a part of the faith.

There are no known events related to the faith or occasion in Juneau.

Dec. 28: Holy Innocents Day — Christian

Honors the deaths of children killed by King Herod, who was attempting to kill Jesus, according to Interfaith Calendar.

Dec. 30: Feast of the Holy Family — Catholic

A day to honor Jesus, Mary and Joseph, according to Interfaith Calendar.

Dec. 31: Watch Night — Christian

Christians thank God for the safety received during the year, according to Interfaith Calendar.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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