It’s the first day of winter! The winter solstice occurred today at 04:49 on the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) time clock, the time standard that the world regulates its hours by. Beginning today days will get longer, and shadows shorter. It is also Yule (in Estonia jõulud), the winter festival with roots in the pagan solstice celebrations and the precursor to modern Christmas. Jõulud and the winter solstice were of great importance to the Baltic peoples, as many of the pagan traditions and rituals are the foundations of the modern day Christmas celebration.
In ancient Latvia Ziemassvētki celebrated the rebirth of the Sun Maiden. Traditions included the participation in ķekatas, or mumming, when costumed revelers traveled from home to home, singing and dancing. The visitors were thought to bring blessings to the homes they visited, frightening away evil spirits and encouraging fertility & bounty. Ziemassvētki was also a time of fortune telling, with all sorts of superstitions and sayings to help predict what awaited you in the coming year.
Another common tradition was the dragging of the Yule log. An oak log would be prepared in the days before Christmas, and on Christmas Eve it would be pulled by a crowd of revelers from one home to another and finally burned. Some believe that the block represents the sun, and that in pulling it up the sun is encouraged to return (the days getting longer), others, that pulling the log collects all the negative energy, adversity and bad luck which then are subsequently burned up. The bluķis need not be pulled through the entire city; it can simply be pulled around the exterior of your house and it will accomplish the same mission.
An extension of this custom is to drill holes in the log, and before the bluķu vilkšanas ceremony, participants write their worries and fears on a slip of paper and slip these notes into the log. As you gather around the fire with your family and friends, you can watch all your anxieties and burdens disappear up into smoke.
This year you can have your own bluķu vilkšana! Visit your local Home Depot’s outdoor section for a “Light ‘n Go Bonfire Jumbo” log. Grown and treated in Estonia, these birch logs are all-natural, kiln-dried fire starters. With pre-cut slots for your slips of paper, a paperboard wick for lighting and a rope handle for easy carrying, the log is an all-in-one bluķis; all you need to do is pull it and burn it!
Bluķa māte bluķi vēla
Pašā Bluķa vakarā.
Lai veļ bluķi trīsi reizi,
Nenāks mošķi caur sienmāli.