So the winter solstice is tonight (according to my calendar anyway), and I am preparing to celebrate it. I remember celebrating it back home and getting up early in the morning to witness the rising of the new sun. Which is a lovely way to begin, especially wrapped in a warm blanket and a hot cup of coffee in hand. So I may very well do that in the morning once again. It seems like too lovely of a thing to not continue doing.
While I observe the winter solstice, I will admit I don’t put alot of planning into it. Not like I do for the Poseideia or the Dionysia. I still place importance on it, but perhaps not quite as much as others do. Nor do I use the three day ritual that was invented for the occassion. But nor am I of the crowd that feels that celebrating on this day is an entirely modern innovation. I do agree that it is not a ritual that is attested to historically, and as of yet no one has found reference to a worship being conducted. But does this mean I think that nothing was done? No not at all. I look to the fact alone that the Hellenic calendar years began (according to a great article I read some time ago regarding ancient Greek calendar) either on the summer solstice like at Athens, at the spring equinox, at the autumn equinox such as at Delos, or at the winter solstice which I believe was celebrated in Rhodes (if I am remembering correctly) and possibly also at Sparta which either recognized the new year at the autumn equinox or the winter solstice. The point is that these four events are part of a calendric system that places importance on these particular solar occassions, and while we don’t have major solar festivals handed down to us regarding these events, nor do we seem to have a complete list and explanation of every ritual, minor or major, that was part of ancient life. Therefore it is quite possible that an observance was part of ancient life for the occassion, but whether it was treated of any great importance is unknown. It is quite possible that compared to the Rural Dionysia and the Poseideia, such an event was something of a minor annual ritual welcoming back the sun that may be have been carried out in the domestic household or local community (village/neighborhood etc) rather than expressed as a large gathering festival, and therefore was considered of little historical note. But these are merely my speculations on the matter. It just seems unlikely to me that a people who aligned their calendars to coincide with such occassions would have entirely ignored them altogether.
If I am remembering correctly and it was Rhodes that celebrated the new year at the winter solstice this would make a kind of sense considering that Rhodes was considered sacred to Helios specifically, and he was most honored. It would seem natural then that the appearance of the sun after the longest night (which admittedly would not be as pronounced as it is in the far north which is perhaps why in Hellas the solstice isn’t as pronounced as it is in the worship of the people of the far northern reaches), the new sun and the progressive lengthening of days would have been taken as important particularly at this island and therefore honored as their new year.
But regardless of historic speculation, most modern worshipers do include the winter solstice into their ritual lineup, whether they use the three day ritual written by Hector Lugo, or something of their own creation. For myself I have some hymns to read for honoring the winter solstice that will include honoring Apollon who is shedding light from afar in Hyperborea, Helios Eleutherios, Poseidon, Selene and a few other gods. And I will let the light burn at the candles on my altar in honor of the sun on this darkest night and hail Helios the Liberator. I have no special feast planned as I did for the Poseideia and I will for the Rural Dionysia. An offering of light and frankincense to the sun in the evening before, and a libation to him again when I watch the sun rise in the morning.
With the exception of the occassional personification of mother nature, what we see the most in nearly any household of various faith (and this includes some very christian households) is the personification of the sun, and to a lesser extent the moon. We may not think about it much because it is so very common, and most of us have grown up seeing these images. The sun with his happy beaming face, smiling at all of us. Even as a child my grandmother had magnets of the smiling sun and moon that I loved. In the stores and houses everywhere you can see wall hangings of the happy sun. The sun god is everywhere, in households across the nation as common as any other kind of decor. What other deity but the sun could have found his way into every household with such ease, the glorious sun that brightens the day and brings the long hours of summer. His is a familiar face to us all. And where some may see nothing more than a cheerful image, somewhat rustic-country looking, I see the smiling face of Helios bestowing his blessings everywhere he goes. It really makes me wish that I had been able to get that sun that I had found at a mexican import store. But heh maybe I should just make my own, so that the shining face of Helios has his place of honor on the living room wall, and bringing with it the sweet memories of the carefree days of childhood. Hail Helios!
So today I celebrate the second day of Hyakinthia. This is the first day of the real festivities. Yesterday was fairly solemn with an offering into an improvised “tomb” for Hyakinthos (will post pictures later when the festival is finished tommorow). Traditionally this is a nine day festival with the first three days reserved for Hyakinthos, though some sources say that it was only nine days with the first day for Hyakinthos. I gravitate towards the former being more accurate, but the dilemma comes in that doing a really involved nine day festival all by lonesome with a child accompanying is rather difficult. So for the sake of necessity I do the festival in three days. The first day is the mourning for Hyakinthos. This is not the extreme mourning that was done by women for Adonis. It is simply very solmen. There is no festivities. A quiet meal is eaten, no bread, and offerings are presented into the tomb of the hero.
On this the second day it is the celebration of the “resurrection” of the hero, or rather the deification of the hero to a god. Thus the tomb of Hyakinthos is also one together with the throne of Apollon. The soul is freed from its mortal bonds. Now here is how it fits beautifully with Helioguennia. In my book I put approx June 21 for the festival, but that is meaning that this is the midpoint of the festival rather than the beginning. In any case it is at this point that the festival is actually directed towards Apollon whereas the first day is all about the hero.
As we know from myth, Apollon with his disc (ie the sun) accidentally struck Hyakinthos, and the paian was believed to have been part of his attempts to bring back the youth and save him from mortal death. For this reason the paian is particularly important during this festival, most especially on this day as far as I see it. Heliguennia on the other hand marks the longest day of the year, when the light of the sun is utterly victorious over the night. Thus we celebrate Helios Eleutherios, Helios the god who is freeing, for the sun it at the very pinnacle of its strength today. It is also the first day of summer and marks in and of itself an important seasonal transition. Soon the flowers of late spring shall wither away beneath the hot blasts of the sun. So we say goodbye the innocent season of youth, and greet the royal summer. Therefore at the same time we are saying goodbye to the mortal youth, who was so loved by the wind of spring, and is now in the adulthood of divinity. Heliogennia merely marked the beginning of this beautiful day as I celebrated with a ritual at sunrise.
Khaire Apollon! Khaire Helios! Khaire Hyakinthos the risen!