We’re all out enjoying the holidays, but we also wanted to celebrate with you! So we did a quick round up this week about a bunch of different ways the Winter Solstice is celebrated around the world. We got recipe ideas, talked about death and darkness a lot, and talked about poetry. Y’know, all the Spirits classics.
- Audible, the best place to get audiobooks and more. Go to audible.com/spirits or text spirits to 500-500 to start your free trial and redeem your free audiobook. This week Julia recommends Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory.
- Poshmark is the easiest way to buy and sell fashion items from millions of closets across the U.S. Download their app and use promo code spirits5 for $5 off your first purchase.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is Episode 109, Winter Solstice.
Julia: I am very excited, it's all cozy at my house right now, the tree is up, I got mistletoe hanging out on my fireplace, it's real nice.
Amanda: I have some sugar cookies in the shape of sweaters that we decorated, and are leftover from Christmas, which I'm very stoked about, and I'm just living my life by Christmas light this whole week.
Julia: What more could you want? Really. Except a new episode of Spirits.
Amanda: And some new companions to share it with. So, welcome to our newest patrons, Justin, Vinny, Emily, Marielle, Alyssa, and either Lada or Lada, I'm sorry.
Julia: Of course we are always joined by the fire with some eggnog by our supporting level producers, Philip, Julie, Christina, Eiore, Sammy, Marie, Josie, Mara, Neal, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Debra.
Amanda: I love how Phil is the only patron whose full name we say, because Phil Fresh is such a fresh name.
Julia: It is, it's so sweet.
Amanda: And thank you to those patrons that are always hung like stockings on our mantle. Jordan, Jess, Zoe, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Leanne. Sorry, that made Julia laugh and laugh, it was so bad.
Julia: I didn't want to put my dirty, dirty mind on the intro, but you called me out, so I have to now.
Amanda: Julia what were we drinking during this episode?
Julia: Spiked eggnog, what else.
Amanda: It's true, it's true.
Julia: [crosstalk] eggnog.
Amanda: Very good.
Amanda: Soy Delicious makes a pretty good blend.
Julia: Also, there's some pretty good almond milk ones out there.
Amanda: That's true, [crosstalk] renaissance-
Julia: Bailey's an almond milk one.
Amanda: For non dairy products recently.
Anyway, Jules, what do you have to recommend to us this week?
Julia: Amanda, I'm gonna recommend a great podcast, that I think either you or one of our other podcast [inaudible] recommended to us, but it's called She Done It.
Amanda: Oh, yeah, no, that's me, and our good friend Caroline Crampton.
Julia: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about the show, Amanda? Because I've just started recently listening to it, and I love it.
Amanda: Yeah, She Done it is a really well done podcast. Weekly in December actually, so you have a nice archive to catch up on.
Julia: A lot of Christmas mysteries.
Amanda: Oh, yeah, and it's about women's detective fiction, detective fiction by women, consumed by women, read by women, about women from the golden age in the mid 20th century, and Caroline Crampton is an excellent podcast reviewer and journalist, has an awesome newsletter, and she, no surprise, is great at podcasting.
Julia: Yeah. The most recent episode that I listened to was the one on Agatha Christie's Disappearance.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: And it was fascinating. Highly recommend it, it's like that level of kind of creepy, kind of cool that our listeners love.
Amanda: Most definitely.
Julia: Totally listen to it, it is great.
Amanda: Also great, our two sponsors this week. Thank you to Poshmark. It's a wonderful app that you can buy and shop for clothing, not from unsustainably sourced shops, but from people's closets. The code SPIRT5 gets you $5 off, and Audible. Audible.com/Sprits or texting Audible to 500500 will get you a free audiobook with your 30 day free trial.
Julia: Yeah, hey, welcome back, Audible, it's been a minute. How are you doing?
Amanda: Yeah, what's up? We missed you, how are you, nice haircut.
Julia: Here, have some eggnog, it's gonna be great.
Amanda: Oh, and speaking of great things, we also wanted to share not just are we having a live share in January in Seattle, we're also performing with our friends at Horse and Potterless at the Listen Up festival in Portland in February.
Julia: That's Portland, Oregon, by the way.
Amanda: Portland, Oregon, I also love Portland, Maine, but this time it's Portland, Oregon, and that's February 14th through 17th, and you can get tickets at ListenUpPortland.com.
Julia: Yeah, I am so excited. I am excited to be doing these live shows. We might be doing more than one. We'll let you know. But, we're definitely going to have a meet up, too, for all of our Multitude friends to kind of hang out, and maybe have a drink or two.
Amanda: This festival has been super fun to get together with, and to plan, so I think it's gonna be really well run. There are a lot of other great shows performing, so check it out at ListenUpPortland.com.
Amanda: Oh, and I also made a page on the Multitude website with all of our shows on it. So-
Julia: Oh, sweet.
Amanda: Multitude.productions/live will get you links to all of our places.
Julia: You're so organized.
Amanda: Thanks. All right, well, without further ado, we hope everybody had a very happy Christmas, if you celebrated, and is looking to the New Year, we know that we are. So, enjoy. Spirits Podcast episode 109. Winter Solstice.
Julia: Amanda, you know that I love summer with a burning passion, 'cause it's hot.
Amanda: You do, you're a summer child.
Julia: I am, I am a summer child. But I also kind of love winter. I actually kind of love-
Julia: All of the seasons. I'm a weirdo. I don't know. They all have merit.
Amanda: Being from the North East, they do all have merit, and I would miss them if they were gone.
Julia: Yeah, but I genuinely love winter. I like when I can cozy up by the fire with a nice book, I like when there's snow outside, I like making heavy stews. I made a dope Beef Bourguignon last night, it was incredible.
Julia: So, I'm really excited. I don't know how you feel about winter.
Amanda: Well, I like it. I like the holiday time, I like when it's snowy outside. Basically, I love everything about winter, except when I have to be outside in the winter. Living in the city, you have to trudge through knee deep sludge piles, the wind is really bad, you have to wait outside for the Subway, so those things aren't as nice, but aesthetically, and family and holiday wise, also my birthday is at the end of winter, so that part I appreciate. Yeah, I feel pretty good about it. I like that it's here. I don't want it to go away, because global warming, so, yeah.
Julia: Yeah. I thought today, why don't we talk about winter, and more specifically, the Winter Solstice, because then this episode comes out, we'll have just celebrated the Winter Solstice.
Amanda: I like it.
Julia: I also want to give a shout out to friend of the show, Katie, who suggested this topic. Thank you, Katie.
Amanda: Thanks, Katie.
Julia: You're a wonderful human being, you're a great mod, and we love you. Let's start with one of the older Solstice celebrations in Europe. That sound good?
Amanda: All right. Place of many old things.
Julia: Yeah, this is Brumalia from Ancient Rome, because you always gotta start in either Greece or Rome.
Amanda: Fair enough.
Julia: This was a Winter Solstice tradition honoring Saturn, Sarus, and in some instances, Bacchus, so you know it was gonna get wild.
Amanda: Listen, it's the middle of winter, it is the darkest ... I say middle of winter, I guess, wait, the Winter Solstice celebrates the start of winter.
Amanda: But, it's also, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest day of the year because sun.
Julia: It is the shortest day of the year, yeah.
Amanda: Yes. So, anyway, I guess that kind of confuses me, because I think of December as being like mid-winter time, but the Solstice actually marks the start of it.
Julia: Yes, correct, because seasons are weird.
Amanda: In that case, whether it's the beginning of winter, or the middle, it is dark and cold, and you need some celebration, so why not throw an orgy?
Julia: Yep, why not? Just drink all the wine, thank you. Typically Brumalia starts in late November, and lasts for about a month until Saturnalia, which we'll talk about in a little bit.
Amanda: Oh, damn.
Julia: The festival consists of a month of feasting, drinking, general merriment all throughout the night.
Amanda: A month?
Julia: A month.
Amanda: I feel like I'd get pretty tired of it after like day three of feasting, come on.
Julia: I wrote this down later, but counter point, don't you wish that we had more month long festivals of things? We have Christmas, we have the holiday season, that kind of lasts from the end of Thanksgiving onward until New Years, I guess. I wish there was more collective celebration of these things, rather than just capitalism telling us to buy more presents.
Amanda: Yeah, I do like the fact that black history month, or women's history month, pride month are month long things, but you're right, I think it would be nicer to have more holidays that stretch for longer. I'm sure, if you're a rich person that can participate, I'm sure you get tired of the feasting, and if you are people who make the feasting happen for the rich people, then I'm sure you're like "Oh, god, oh no." It's like working Black Friday at Target every day for a month.
Julia: I'm glad you brought that up. Hold that thought in your head, Amanda, for like five more minutes, okay?
Julia: Prophecies are also told during Brumalia. Basically they were kind of-
Amanda: You know what?
Amanda: I'm on my third bottle of wine, and I think you're gonna get married.
Amanda: Is that how the prophecies go?
Julia: I mean, usually they're about military and harvest success, but listen, maybe. The month would also always feature some sacrifices. Farmers would sacrifice pigs in order to win the favor of Saturn and Sarus, while goats were sacrificed to Bacchus by vine growers, which vine growers is such a great title, by the way.
Amanda: Oh yeah, I love that.
Julia: I like that so much better than ... What's the term we use for people who grow wine now? Nothing good. Not as good as vine growers.
Amanda: Winery owners?
Julia: Not as good as vine growers. Military and government officials would also bring the first fruits, which were basically like the first harvest of the season, and they would bring those to the priests of Sarus to thank her for a successful harvest. Then Brumalia ends on Saturnalia, which itself is December 17th, and is celebrated through December 23rd. Again, multiple days of celebration. A sacrifice is made at the temple of Saturn, and there is private gift giving, and a bunch of partying, and just a carnival atmosphere in general. Everything leading up to it, right, pretty calm, feasting and merriment, and then we get buck wild.
Amanda: Fair enough.
Julia: This is also a series of days where societal expectations were turned on their heads. Gambling was made legal during Saturnalia, and masters would provide table service to their slaves.
Amanda: It's like the purge, but a socialist utopia.
Julia: Yeah, but this is what I was talking about with "Oh, those poor people who feel like they have to do all the service during the holidays are actually the ones who are being honored the most during the holiday.
Amanda: Okay, okay, okay. I can see it.
Julia: They would also elect a king of the Saturnalia, who presides over the merrymaking.
Amanda: Amazing it's like the prom king, but the version of that where the prom king is the coolest and most generous, and hospitality giving person.
Julia: Yes, I like it. Actually, a couple of western European traditions mimic this with the idea of electing a Lord of Misrule, which is a part of English and Scottish tradition called the Feast of Fools that is tied to Christmastime traditions over there.
Julia: I love it. Saturnalia gets a thumbs up from me. I'm into it. Next we're going to head over to the Slavic holiday of Korochun, which is the day that Chernobog, the black god, and other spirits of death, decay, and darkness are at their most powerful.
Amanda: All righty, bring it to me.
Julia: So already a little bit different.
Amanda: I don't mind.
Julia: Already a bit more of a different tone there.
Amanda: I just really love, as you know, Julia, moments where it seems like the gates to the underworld, or the other worlds, are at their most open. The spiel is like "Okay, well, it's the shortest day of the year, it is some sense of rebirth, the world is in hibernation." That, to me, sounds like you would get some Winter Queen of Narnia type shit coming through.
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's absolutely what this is. It is celebrated, again, on the Solstice, which is December 21st or 22nd, depending on calendars align and what not, and it is obviously the day that is the shortest, and the night is longest, therefore Chernobog can get out there and do his darkness thing.
Amanda: It's like redeeming your Starbucks reward for a venti iced caramel macchiato with extra stuff, and soy milk, and two more shots. I want to get a $9 drink out of this, I don't want no grande tea, which is my general order. You want to choose the night to rule that is the longest and gives you the most opportunity for mischief. I totally respect it.
Julia: You gotta, you gotta. The celebration also features [inaudible], which means radiant, and he is the old sun god, and he becomes smaller and smaller as the year comes to an end. On the Solstice, that is when he is said to be defeated by Chernobog and all of his dark powers, but the next day, he is resurrected and becomes the new sun [inaudible].
Amanda: That is precious. I just pictured him like Benjamin Buttoning all the way down to a small baby on the Winter Solstice.
Julia: What a small, small child that gets murdered by a dark god.
Julia: To celebrate, Slavic people usually light fires in cemeteries in order to keep their loved ones warm, and feasts are held in order to honor the dead and keep them fed. Very similar, honestly to [inaudible] and that tradition over in England, and the Celtic stuff.
Amanda: Yeah, and some of the Day of the Dead traditions we learned about in October, too, where giving people food, and welcoming them while they are here.
Julia: I love that. Speaking of England and what not, I have Welsh tradition for you next.
Amanda: Oh, I bet it's gonna be good, and maybe involve dragons.
Julia: It does not, but it does involve some cool stuff. Hold on one second. It is called Alban Arthan.
Amanda: Amazing already.
Julia: I hope I pronounced that, I am sorry Welsh, just the Welsh people in general, your language is hard to say sometimes.
Amanda: Yeah, the first time I took a train from England to Wales, and saw all of the street signs printed in both English and Welsh, I blinked, I thought my mind had buffered and the words had just become longer than they should be. I was like "Oh, oh no, oh, that's the word. Oh, man." So, mad respect, Wales, I could not speak a language with that few vowels.
Julia: That reminds me of one of my favorite things I've ever heard you say, is "To a Spanish speaker, Portuguese is just Spanish while you're drunk."
Amanda: Yeah, it sounds that way.
Julia: All of a sudden you're like "This sounds right, but not quite? Don't know."
Amanda: Yeah, it's like you're tuning it. It's like your camera is trying to focus on an object, but it keeps unfocusing the moment you're close. That's how I experienced listening to Portuguese.
Julia: Anyway, so, Alban Arthan, it's a Druidic practice, mainly celebrated in Wales, and it literally translates to "The quarter of the little bear." So good. It is meant to commemorate the death of the Holly King, who is one of two kings that represents half of the year, so he is the winter half. In the tradition, he is constantly doing battle with the Oak King, who is both his son and successor, so the battle of the Holly King and the Oak King is reenacted at rituals every year, and it can be told in the form of words and poetry, but sometimes is done through actual ritualistic battle.
Still ceremonial, but also swords. Another part of the festival involves a ritual in which practitioners would gather around the oldest oak tree in the area as long as it had mistletoe on it. The leader would then climb the tree, and cut the mistletoe from the tree while others below would hold a sheet open in order to catch it so it wouldn't touch the ground. The leader would also use a golden sickle, which was a symbol of the Holly King, and would cut the mistletoe with one chap.
Amanda: That's awesome. The Oak King is the son of the Holly King, right?
Amanda: I kind of like that. It's almost like an optimistic implication, like the world is not getting colder, but it's trending toward richer, and more fertile, and warmer, and nicer.
Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it also really fits with the idea of the winter court and the summer court that we talked about in the [Faye] episode.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: I'm very much into it, I like the representation, I like the symbolism, it's very good. The ritual that I just described, the cutting of the mistletoe from the tree, doesn't quite have the historical roots that some of the other ones have on the list here, the first mentions of this ritual for Alban Arthan as a Winter Solstice festival only date back to the 19th century, but the ritual that I described there as just a general ritual, not tied to the Solstice, was actually first recorded by our boy, Pliny the Elder, but not specifically tied.
Amanda: Yes. Pliny just had to have an idea about everything, and sometimes when I'm listening to people speak, and I just feel like I need to add something, but I realize that it probably is not constructed to the conversation, I think to myself "Would Pliny chime in? Then probably I shouldn't."
Julia: Pliny would. Pliny would chime in. Pliny is the kind of guy that you go to a party, and you're having a discussion. I'm basically gonna say that Pliny is a mansplainer.
Amanda: Yeah, or he's the guy at the bar who's like "One more round." And you're like "Pliny, I called a cab, come on."
Julia: "Just, I want to go. Uber's gonna keep charging me for every minute it's waiting." Please, please, down that beer so we can leave. The next one on our list is Yule, which is actually an interesting example of the combination of old and new traditions meeting.
Julia: Synchrotism, synchrotism. This is a Germanic festival. It is connected with the Wild Hunt, which we talked about, again, in our Faye episode, and is connected to the god Odin. Traditionally Yule lasts from mid November to early January. Again, I love multiple month festivals.
Amanda: We need it.
Julia: Give me more of those, I want them.
Amanda: Yeah, it's cold and not a ton of snow, at least in this area, and so we just, we need a little something to get us through.
Julia: Yeah. Like a lot of the European and Western Solstice traditions that we've talked about, it focused on feasting, drinking, and sacrifice, and we actually see some of these traditions still today with stuff like the Yule goat, or Yule boar, which has turned into our Christmas ham.
Amanda: Okay, that's very disturbing.
Julia: The Yule log, which symbolizes the battle between good and evil, and now we just burn fires on Christmas.
Amanda: Or turn on PBS to watch the Yule Log television show.
Julia: There is also one on Netflix that you can put on.
Amanda: There is now one on Netflix. Hang on, how did it represent good and evil in the log?
Julia: The burning of the flame represents the brightness of good piercing through the darkness of night.
Amanda: Oh, okay, okay.
Julia: I got you. There's also Yule singing, or wassailing, which is singing in exchange for gifts or drinks of cider.
Amanda: Sounds like caroling.
Julia: Wassailing is still a thing, but just we're not doing it as often, and also we're not bringing cups of cider out to people who are singing. We should.
Amanda: I mean, that sounds wonderful, we totally should.
Julia: I want to do more of that. More alcoholic cider for everyone. Everyone. Speaking of seeing these traditions today, of course we see Yule reflected in Christmas traditions, but neo Paganism is also claiming Yule as its own. Their celebrations, people gather, and share a meal, and give gifts. Most of these traditions mimic the kind of 12 day period of Yule, which we do now as the 12 Days of Christmas. There's a famous song and everything about it.
Amanda: There is.
Julia: The 12 day period actually, instead of being before Christmas, starts on the day of the Solstice and continues on the. The first day of Yule is on the Solstice, and then it continues past that.
Amanda: That's awesome, and it takes you into that week between Christmas and New Year, which if you're out of school, it's like "Thank goodness, the holiday I most needed." And as a working person, it's also a holiday because no one is doing any emails, so it's very exciting for me.
Julia: That is true, I do appreciate that. I'm so glad. I was about to say I'm so glad I don't have to work a retail job this year. I'm so glad I don't have to work a retail job where I have to answer phones and have angry people yell at me because their Christmas gifts aren't there.
Amanda: Yeah, mad respect to those working customer facing roles, especially in the gift buying season, that must suck.
Julia: I don't miss it. Not at all. Anyway, also, some Wiccan traditions, again, I say this kind of as a broad statement, obviously these traditions are extremely personal, and can vary depending on who's practicing, and we shouldn't lump them all in one category, but some Wiccan traditions use the Yule holiday as a celebration for the rebirth of the Horned God, who is represented by the new Solstice sun, kind of similar to the Chernobog story in the Slavic culture.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: All right, Amanda, we are going to head to Asia for a moment, and talk about a couple of Winter Solstice celebrations there, but first, let's get a refill.
Amanda: Let's do it.
Julia: Amanda, you know what I love more than anything in the world?
Amanda: Sitting by a fire with your feet in those camping socks with the feet right on the hearth?
Julia: Yes, but also doing that while listening to Audiobooks.
Amanda: It truly is so meditative.
Julia: We are sponsored this week by Audible. Audible is the place to listen, because Audible members get exclusive audio fitness programs, audio books, audio originals, and more. They have the largest selection of audio books on the planet, and now, with Audible Originals, the selection has gotten even more custom for content made for members. I, this week, was browsing my Audible, and I came across an editors list, because you know I love editor's list. Tell me what to read, editors.
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Julia: I feel like I might have wrote it myself.
Amanda: Oh, like you manifested it into being? Or you sleep wrote it?
Julia: Yes. It's called Six Dysfunctional, Loveable, and Magical Families in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and I was like "Oh, Audible, you've reached into my soul, and you know exactly what I want."
Amanda: There is nothing more I love. Which one did you start with?
Julia: Spoon Benders, by Daryl Gregory, and I'll ready you the synopsis.
Amanda: That is very good.
Julia: It is very good. It says "Once a powerful dynasty of psychics, mind readers, and other paranormals, the clan once known as the Amazing [Telemakesis]," great name, "is now a bit down on their luck and out of touch after a tragedy tears them apart. Years later, they're once again tapped to wheel their uncanny abilities to save their family. Which, yeah, give me all of that.
Amanda: That book sounds amazing, I want to check it out, and to do that, I'm going to go to Audible.com/Sprits and or text Spirits to the number 500500 to get a 30 day trial with a free Audiobook.
Julia: Plus, the best part is, all the books that you get through Audible, they're yours to keep, you can go back and listen to them any time, even if you cancel your membership, and if you don't like your audio book, you can exchange it no questions asked. Like Amanda said, you can start that 30 day trial and get your first audiobook for free by going to Audible.com/Spirits, or texting Spirits to 500500.
Amanda: You can do it with Audiobooks. Thanks, Audible.
Jules, this week I was also listening to 99% Invisible, one of my very favorite shows, one of the first ones to get me into podcasting, and they had a bonus episode with Avery Trufelman, who made this wonderful mini series, its own podcast, in the 99 PI feed called Articles of Interest, about the history and design, and sourcing of clothing. It was so cool. The history of blue jeans, and Hawaiian shirts, and punk style, the punk episode was so good. In this Q & A, she was talking about how making that had changed her buying habits, because she learned how unsustainable the clothing supply chain is. Every designer and manufacturer she talked to was like "Yeah, just, everyone, if they could just buy less, that would be really good."
She actually shouted out two of her favorite places to shop second hand, one of which was Poshmark, who was our second sponsor this week. I was like "Yo, I'm so excited because Poshmark is where you can not contribute to the incessant buying and land filling of the world, but instead, you can shop from other people's closets, and get clothing, including clothing that's new with tags, that other folks want to resell. I genuinely really love this, and I love that you can have that feeling of buying a new item, or buying a gift, and you don't have to worry as much about contributing to that environmental impact.
Amanda: You can download the free Poshmark app on any phone, they have women's clothing, kid's clothing, men's clothing, and they have a bunch of brands including legit really high end ones, and use the code SPIRITS5 for $5 off of your first purchase. That's an invite code that you put in once you download the app.
Julia: Yeah, and the best part is, Poshmark is a super easy way to buy and sell stuff, they make shipping really easy for both the buyer and the seller. It is super fast shipping, and you can also make an offer if you see something you like but you're like "Yeah, I don't know if I want to spend that much money.
Amanda: Yeah, it is really easy, and I think it's just a great idea. I felt so excited when someone else shouted them out. That's Poshmark, where the code SPIRITS5 gets you five bucks off your first purchase.
Julia: Thanks, Poshmark.
Amanda: And now, let's get back to the show.
Julia: We are going to make a pit stop in Iran, actually, first to talk about Yalda Night. It is celebrated on the longest and darkest night of the year, AKA, the Winter Solstice, and it is a night between the last day of Azar, which is the ninth month, and the first day of Dey, which is the 10th month in the Iranian civil calendar. I like when there's different calendars for things. I don't know. It's kind of dumb that we all have the same calendar in the West.
This is an evening that is spent with family and friends, eating, drinking, and reading poetry until after midnight. This is the holiday for you, Amanda.
Amanda: Heck yes.
Julia: Usually they enjoy fruits and nuts, with pomegranate and watermelon being traditional. I'll talk about that a little bit more, why pomegranate and watermelon are traditional. The celebration ties back to Zoroastrianism, probably one of my favorite ancient religions, super into it.
Amanda: I think we wrote a paper on it, didn't we? In world history?
Julia: Probably. It's one of the really first instances of an almighty being in Western culture.
Amanda: Like a monotheistic type religion.
Julia: It's monotheistic in the way that Catholicism is monotheistic, but there's still a devil.
Amanda: Got it. Okay.
Julia: In Zoroastrianism, they saw the solstice as an inauspicious day, so rituals of Yalda Night were designed to protect people from evil forces that were at work. People would stay up late because they were more susceptible to the whims of evil forces if they were asleep, and they were safer if they were surrounded by other people, which is why you celebrate with friends and family.
Amanda: That's awesome.
Julia: Pomegranate and watermelon, told you I would talk about this a little bit more. They are the fruits of summer, and by sharing in the last of them, they are able to drive the darkness away with the symbolic gesture of summer.
Amanda: I love it.
Julia: The meal is typically shared under a corsi, which is a low table with a heater underneath, and then blankets thrown over it to keep people's legs warm, which, side note, doesn't that sound amazing?
Amanda: I need it.
Julia: Japan has something similar called a Kotatsu, and I've always wanted to have one, or sit at one, because it sounds so comfy, and I love winter so much.
Amanda: My version of that is just sitting in bed under my electric blanket with the covers up to my chin as I do email or read my tablet.
Julia: Jake and I just got a gravity blanket, and it is the greatest thing I have ever invested money on in the past, because it's so comfortable, and I feel like the weight of the world is not on my shoulders, despite the fact that there is weight on my body.
Amanda: Oh yeah, that sounds really lovely.
Julia: Yalda Night, there are some little superstitions that go along with the night as well, such as consuming watermelon on Yalda Night will ensure the health of a person throughout summer, and protect them from the heat, so you're less likely to pass out from the heat if you eat watermelon on Yalda Night. If you eat pomegranates or green olives, they will help prevent bites from insects, particularly scorpions.
Amanda: That is very useful.
Julia: Garlic is eaten through the night to help stop your joint pain for the rest of the year, I am so sorry Amanda.
Amanda: That's okay, that's okay.
Julia: Kaf, which is a type of sweet, is also prepared for Yalda Night, and it's traditionally exchanged between newly engaged couples. They'll send it to their fiance, and the fiance's family on Yalda Night.
Amanda: That is super sweet, and I know it kind of has fucked up origins, but some courting rituals I think are really sweet.
Julia: I do, I really like those as well. Story telling is a key element to the night as well, after the food is eaten, often people will read poetry written by Hafez, which is a Persian poet. Some say that you can tell the future for the rest of the year by what the poems say when you read them at random, so if you're flipping through the book, and you select a poem, that can tell what your future is going to look like but if you attempt to do it more than three times, you anger the spirit of the poet.
Amanda: Very good. You don't want an angry poet after you, that is for sure.
Julia: You would know all about that, wouldn't you?
Amanda: I would.
Julia: Just completely, totally. We're going to take another quick little stop at a Buddhist festival that I want to tell you about called Unduvap Poya. It is observed in Sri Lanka on the first full moon of December, rather than the Solstice, but pretty close in general. It celebrates the arrival of [inaudible] to India in order to establish the order of the nuns, which are known as [inaudible]. Also, it is the same celebration for the day that she brought a cutting from the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka and planted it where it survives to this day. The Bodhi tree, by the way, in case you don't know anything about Buddhism, it is a huge, ancient fig tree under which Siddhartha, who later became known as the Buddha, gained enlightenment.
Amanda: That's awesome. Really significant.
Julia: Yeah. For sure. She took a cutting from that tree, brought it to Sri Lanka, planted it, and it thrives to this day. It's very cool. For Unduvap Poya, 10 nuns initiate the celebrations, and it is observed by Buddhists by following the five precepts, so bathing, shaving, wearing white robes, and then kneeling with clean, bare feet in the shrine before a Buddhist statue. Kneeling and bowing take place, and a memorized poem is recited from sunrise to dawn the next day.
Julia: Do you want me to read the poem? It doesn't take all day, I promise.
Julia: As long as this life lasts, I hereby take refuge in the Buddha, I hereby take refuge in the Dhamma. I hereby take refuge in the Sangha. I hereby seek shelter in the Buddha for a second time. I hereby take shelter in the Dhamma for a second time. I hereby seek shelter in the Sangha for a second time. I hereby request protection from the Buddha for a third time. I hereby request protect from the Dhamma for a third time. I hereby request protection from the Sangha for a third time. I hereby respect these three jewels for the rest of my life. I accept and respect and undertake these five training rules. I hereby accept the training rule to avoid all killing. I hereby accept the training rule to avoid all stealing. I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all sexual abuse. I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all dishonestly. I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all alcohol and drugs. As long as this life lasts, I am thus protected by these five precepts.
Amanda: That's awesome.
Julia: Yeah, and it's repeated continuously until dawn the next day.
Amanda: That's really beautiful, and I like the resetting element, or recommitting, which a lot of us do if we have themes, or resolutions for our year.
Julia: I like that, too. Actually, I didn't think about it as something that's reestablishing your faith, and belief, and loyalty to something, I really, really like the way that you put it there. Aw, Amanda.
Amanda: Yeah, and you're in community, too, there are other people doing the same thing and recognizing that it is hard to do, and you're going to commit and kind of keep each other to that path.
Julia: Yeah, I like that a lot. They also petitioned for the holiday to potentially be changed to National Women's Day, because [inaudible] created the first order of women monks in Buddhism. I mean, that's incredible, and also we should be celebrating her for international women's day. But I kind of like the idea that it's this ever changing day, it's always the full moon of December. I like that quite a bit. I like days that are significant to the movements of the planets, and the moon, and the stars, and what not, you know?
Amanda: Yeah, it feels like you're finding that right rhythm to the year, or to the month, or whatever it might be instead of just like "Oh, well, the calendar that we have to declare our paid time off on says that it's the day for the holiday, so let's just do it." It feels a little bit more, like you said, connected to something bigger.
Julia: It does, I agree. Okay, we are going to finish up with the Dongzhi festival, Dongzhi literally translates to Winter Solstice, and it is arguably one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture.
Amanda: Amazing, I want to hear all about it.
Julia: Its importance lies in the fact that the festival is highly related to the Yin and Yang philosophy, it is tied to the balance and the harmony of the universe. Because after this festival the days become longer, there is an increase in positive energy back into the universe.
Amanda: We need that.
Julia: Yeah, we do. I like the idea, it's like "Oh, after this day, the universe only gets better from here. The universe only becomes more balanced, there is more positivity, there is more light.
Amanda: I really would love to be able to say that.
Julia: Yep, I wish we could, too. This is a time where families get together, and they eat. Typical festival kind of style stuff. They typically eat tangyuan, which are these plump little balls of rice flower, that are either sweet, or can be fried, and they're supposed to mean reunion, so reunion for loved ones, reunion from people who haven't seen each other in a very long time, reunion between the living and their ancestors. Dumplings are also a very popular food to eat during the Dongzhi festival, because a famous Chinese writer and physician from the Han Dynasty, [inaudible], saw these poor children suffering, so he made them these lamb dumplings and distributed them to the poor so that they could keep warm.
Amanda: That is really awesome.
Julia: I know, it's really nice, right? I like festivals that are all happy celebrating kind of stuff.
Amanda: Yeah, and I like that theme of reunion, too, because holidays are often when we see our loved ones who we might not see at other times of the year, or gifts, or maybe trying to mend a rift or a distance that has come between people, so having that as an ideal in the celebratory time, instead of just like "We celebrate because we celebrate." I don't know, I kind of like having a focus.
Julia: I do, too. I really like the idea that we can focus on something to celebrate rather than just being like "Well, you know, it's this holiday. We do this, we meet every year to do it." This feels more genuine, it feels like it's coming from a better place.
Amanda: Yeah, and not to minimize the cosmological significance of this time, but for me, listening to these traditions, I also really like the invitation to reflect on myself, and to think about ways that I can add to the positive vibe of the universe. Oh, no, you're shaking your head no.
Julia: I love when you do that, because the next line of my notes is "The festival's also a reminder to celebrators that they are now a year older, and that they have to behave better than they did in this upcoming year."
Amanda: There you go, damn.
Julia: You are just a mind reader.
Amanda: It's almost like I'm a human being, and other human beings have made similar associations throughout time.
Julia: One could say that, yeah, sure. The festival is also celebrated in Taiwan, tangyuan is also eaten, but it is used as a dish to worship ancestors, like I said, and can also be used as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to children. You can get your food blessed and then put it on your doorstep, and that will stop the evil spirits from entering the home. It's very cool.
Another food tradition from Taiwan that is made as an offering on Dongzhi is this nine layered cake that is also made out of that same rice flower, but it is made in the shape of an animal, and then steamed in pots. The different animals mean different things that people are hoping for in the next year, but the symbolism is there, it's very cute.
Amanda: That sounds like it will definitely be a showstopper challenge or a technical on Great British Bake Off.
Julia: Gosh, I hope so. Someday. We got Danish week this year, I think.
Amanda: I know, like Parisian pastry, who cares? I've seen enough French pastry in my life, give me this.
Julia: Give me this, I want this nine layer, adorable animal cakes. Give me. The Taiwanese also tend to eat invigorating foods during the festival, because winter is a time where animals hibernate, and we decrease in activity quite a bit. The body needs fatty and meaty foods to fight off the cold temperatures, so for instance, popular foods are mutton hot pot, and ginger duck hot pot. They also tend to focus on foods that have herbs, that are meant for healing, like ginseng, deer horn, and certain mushrooms.
Amanda: Give me ginger duck hot pot.
Julia: I'm gonna look up a recipe and make you some ginger duck hot pot.
Amanda: Yes. Thank you.
Julia: I don't think I've ever cooked with duck, I feel like it would be a lot of fun to do.
Amanda: I have not cooked with it either, but Moo Shu duck is my favorite dish, which I actually treated myself to on Christmas, so I am just reminded of how delicious it was, and I want it again.
Julia: Aw, I love that, aw, Amanda. I'm a big fan of basil duck from Thai restaurants, that's probably one of my favorite things.
Amanda: That's a good one, too.
Julia: And Duck l'orange. The classics.
Amanda: Duck is just good, people don't tell you how good duck is.
Julia: Yeah, I think people get scared of it because it's a little bit fattier than your traditional poultry, but it's also really nice, and succulent, and it's a good thing to treat yourself to. It's not an every day food, but it's definitely a treat yourself food.
Julia: Treat yourself. If the Solstice celebrations that we've talked about today are any indication, it is that you should, in fact, treat yourself, because evil lurks outside, and also the days are only gonna get longer from here.
Amanda: Yeah, it is the death of winter, existentially in my soul, in the world, who knows. Choose your object to that descriptor here.
Julia: Choose your fighter.
Amanda: Yeah. Exactly. We all need some things to spice up and light up our days, even if the days are currently kind of short.
Julia: I agree 100%. I think that no matter how you're planning on celebrating your winter solstice, or I guess celebrated already, we hope that it involves a lot of friends, a lot of good food and drink, and a hopeful look to the rest of your year.
Amanda: Definitely. It is a time, I think, to celebrate what is going right, and to give yourself an opportunity, and forgiveness, and a plan to change what you might want to change going forward.
Julia: Yeah, like I said, the days only get longer from here. The sun only stays out longer, the days only get brighter, there's so much more coming your way.
Amanda: It's very true, and in the mean time, stay creepy, stay cool.