Winter Nights (Vetrnætr) the Asatru Holiday of Love, Loss and Memory
"Winter Nights/Winternights" is a holy tide we celebrate in Asatru/Heathenry/Norse Paganism at the end of the fall season and the beginning of the "Winter Nights." Winter Nights is mentioned by the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlusson as one of the three major holidays on the Pre-Christian calendar in his chronicle "Hiemskringla" alongside Sigrblot ("Victory Sacrifice", celebrated between Spring and Summer) and Yule (celebrated on Midwinter moon, the first full moon after the new year).
Winter Nights marked the beginning of a series of sacrifices (Blot), two of which that are mentioned in Snorri's chronicle are "Alfarblot" and "Disablot."
So "Winter Nights" was likely more of a period of time than a celebration in and of itself. Just like Yule was more of a period of time than any one particular celebration.
The way Norse Pagans celebrate Winter Nights today is as a holy tide of love, loss and memory.
- Love for our family and friends
- Loss of those we held dear who have died
- Memory when we celebrate their lives and keep them with us
When do you observe Winter Nights?
Heathens celebrate Winter Nights in the Fall, sometime after the Autumnal Equinnox. Usually beginning the first full moon afterwards (usually in October), but others begin observation of the holy tide the second full moon afterwards (usually in November), or it goes from one full moon to the other.
Other Heathens celebrate Winter Nights based on observation of the trees. When the leaves turn colors on the trees, it's the beginning of the Holy Tide. When the leaves are all off the trees, the Holy Tide has ended.
For our example, we will use the Moon-to-Moon dating for next year's Winter Nights
Heathen Holidays more often refer to a period of a few days with multiple activities going on each day rather than one specific day.
We'll use the example of Christmas. For a Christian, Christmas is one day: December 25th. But to a Heathen, they would think Christmas began as soon as the decorations went up and that Mariah Carey song started playing on the radio all the way until you finally take the tree down in March.
Now, you don't need to go asking the boss for the whole month of November off, but just keep in mind that this is a Holy Tide, and lots of things can happen during it.
Things like Alfarblot and Disablot.
|Winter Nights Tide Begins (Alfarblot)||October 14, 2023|
|Winter Nights Tide Ends (Disablot)||November 13, 2023|
Why do Heathens celebrate Winter Nights? Love, Loss and Memory
"Deyr fé, deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn, at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern."
"Cattle (Weath) die, Friends die,
You will die yourself,
I know one thing that never dies,
the judgment on (memory of) those who died."
This is one of the most famous verses from the Old Norse poem "Havamal" which is a poem featuring some "sayings" of a wanderer who arrives at a house and offers wisdom in exchange for a warm fire and a hot meal. Through the course of the poem, the guest is revealed to be Odin and the host receives practical, philosophical and lastly esoteric/magical wisdom as the poem reaches its conclusion.
Winternights is the Holy Tide where Heathens remember our lost loved ones.
There is no other way to put it. This is the time where we remember our dead. It is after the Harvest parties are over and we think of the people who weren't there. We think about the people we miss: our grandparents, our parents, our friends and relatives. We think about the cold season to come and those we wished we could share the coming Yule with.
If Midsummer and Harvest were our party, Winternights is our afterparty.
Winternights is where we reflect on an important truth about human life: it ends.
There isn't any avoiding it. At some point, we will be separated from the people we love. We will miss them when they are gone, just like they will miss us when we are gone. We will watch our loved ones get old, become sick and die. We too will become old and sick and we too will die.
Our wealth is transitory. No matter how hard we work or how much we carefully save and plan, eventually our wealth will do us no good. We might be able to buy expensive medical treatments. We might be able to buy things that make our lives more enjoyable. But we can't buy more life.
But, the poem reminds us, we can count on our memory outliving us. This phrase can be heard like a blessing or a curse depending on how you lived. Our words and deeds in life will outlive us. They will be reflected in how people remember us, just as what our loved ones did are part of our memories of them.
Winter Nights grounds us in this truth and invites us to live our lives in such a way as to have our memories be a comfort and a blessing.
Is Winter Nights like Dia de los Muertos or Halloween?
Winter Nights in spirit is closer to Dia de los Muertos than Halloween in that the spirit of remembrance in both holidays is essentially the same, though the way they are celebrated differs. The problem, of course, is that Dia de los Muertos is a living tradition and Winter Nights is a reconstructed one, so we don't know exactly how similar they would have looked. Halloween derives from an English Christian tradition of "All Hallows Eve" which celebrated the lives of the Saints.
Samhain was a Celtic holy tide around this period which Wiccans have adopted in their Wheel of the Year, and we are in a similar problem because we are all reconstructing those traditions rather than carrying on a living one.
Many Heathens incorporate an altar to their loved ones in their homes which may resemble an "offierenda" that you might see in a Mexican home. Much like the offierenda, offerings and decorations may come into play during the Winter Nights Holy Tide that you wouldn't see in the rest of the year.
So in short, in spirit Winter Nights is more similar to Dia de los Muertos, though Winter Nights is celebrated typically more sober and somber than what we typically think of when we think of Dia de los Muertos.
How do you Celebrate Winter Nights?
Alfarblot: the Sacrifice to the Elves (Alfar)
Alfarblot isn't a "holiday" as much it is "a thing one does during the Holy Tide of Winter Nights." Much like "Eid al-Fitr" isn't a holiday in itself but rather it's a thing one does during the Holy Tide of Ramadan. Some Heathens think of it as an offering for one's male ancestors. Others think of it as an offering to honor the protective spirits of that land and community (as opposed to the protective spirits of the family).
In our example, we open the observance of Winter Nights with Alfarblot.
Disablot: the Sacrifice to the Disir
Just Like Alfarblot, Disablot is a thing you would do during the Holy Tide of Winter Nights. Some Heathens think of it as an offering one's female ancestors. Others think of it as an offering to honor the protective spirits of your family (as opposed to the protective spirits of the land).
In our example, we close the observance of Winter Nights with Disablot.
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