Friday, December 4, 2015

Holiday Highlights & How to Celebrate: An Egyptian’s Guide

Ah, the most-wonderful time of the year…

One of the benefits of living in a Kingdom like Trimaris is you get to learn all about the holidays celebrated by different cultures and religions – fascinating stuff! For reasons beyond my understanding, the 12th month of the Gregorian calendar is positively stuffed with feasts, festivals, and high holy days! This colorful array of spiritual and civic events can be confusing to those not native to the original culture; fret not however! As your noble High Priest and Scribe, I, Amenhetep, have endeavored to catalogue some of the largest and most-important holidays for you!

I’ll be sharing my interpretations of these holidays based on personal research and interviews with the actual people who celebrate them! So polish up your feast platters and get your holiday lights burning – it’s time to party (and pray)!

Yule: Celebrated by the fierce Norsemen and certain other barbarian tribes of northwestern Europe, this holiday is a great feast meant to stave off the eternal winter. Magical logs are burnt and animals are slaughtered and consumed as part of the celebrations. So wild is the feasting that it continues until the sun rises – which I am told might not be for days at a time in the far and frozen north! Needless to say, mass consumption of alcohol is not only allowed, but encouraged, and features elaborate toasts dedicated to the gods and ancestors. During Yule, the Norse gods Thor, Freyr, and Odin are honored to ensure protection against the cold, and a return to warmth in the spring.

Christmas: A very prominent holy day observed throughout much of Europe and certain parts of the Near East, this celebration marks the birth date of Christ – the mighty divine son of the Hebrew god Yahweh and a mortal woman. In France, Christmas is a time of much prayer and joviality; a special midnight ceremony is held in the temples which involves candle-lighting, singing, and dramatic plays about Christ as recorded in the holy books of the faith. After this ritual, a special feast of cakes and game fowl is eaten. Of particular note is a strange custom wherein the children leave empty shoes by the fire, believing that Christ will magically fill them with small gifts! Fascinating!

Hannukah: A major holiday of the Hebrews, this celebration takes place in the Near East, but can be found throughout Europe as well. Hannukah is an eight-day festival commemorating a great Hebrew rebellion and the rededication of their temple; according to legend, the Hebrews only had enough holy oil to burn in their ritual lamp for one day, but the oil magically lasted for eight! As such, festivities center around lamp-lighting, recitation of prayers, and consumption of foods prepared with oil. Because the Hebrew calendar uses both the sun and moon, Hannukah may occur any time in the 11th or 12th Gregorian months.

Saturnalia: If anyone knows how to throw a festival, it is the Romans! A seven-day festival honoring the Roman god Saturn, this celebration begins with public sacrifices at the temples and a grand feast hosted by the Senate. As a rule, no work is allowed on this holiday, and roles and values are relaxed for a time, with such things as drunkenness and gambling being the norm. During the festival, Romans adorn their homes and gardens – and sometimes themselves – with wreaths, garlands, and golden ornaments. During Saturnalia, certain days correspond to certain lesser gods, and so may see unique rituals or celebrations. Naturally, this festival occurs in lands occupied by the Romans.

Dongzhi: Far to the east, in the mighty Chinese Empire, this festival celebrates the winter solstice. Its origins lie in the philosophy of Yin and Yang – because it is the shortest day of the year, each day after it will grow longer, resulting in a slow and subtle shift in the energy of the cosmos. On this day, all work ceases among commoners and officials, and the people go home to be with their families and make offerings to the ancestors. As part of the festivities, special ear-shaped dumplings are eaten to ward off the cold, said to be invented by the famous physician Zhang Zhongjing. Unfortunately further details are difficult to come by, as the way to the Far East is long and dangerous…

Of course, there are many, many more festivals and holidays I could mention, but it would be almost impossible to detail them all! If you are interested in learning more, consult your local monks, scholars, and traders.

Special thanks to Lords Rurik Ulfhamar & Artemidore St Jean, and Countess Dulcia MacPherson OL, OP for their time and knowledge.

Amenhetep is the High Priest of Amen-Re’s temple of Karnak. He administers the temple’s vast bureaucracy and holdings, as well as the functional day-to-day governance of Thebes, the capital city of Egypt. He also is responsible for maintaining Amen’s shrine and performing important rituals on behalf of the entire country.

Amenhetep has advanced education in all manner of magic, religion, and other esoteric knowledge. He studied at Karnak’s top scribal and priestly schools, and has extensive experience in purity rites, love spells, and death curses.

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