Happy Elbow


For a few years now, I have been struggling to come up with a name for what we, as a family, celebrate at this time of year. I mostly stick to the word Christmas though I have, in the past, tried Yule on for size. I always feel slightly odd calling it Christmas, because we are not a Christian family and Yule never sat right either because we aren't a Scandinavian/Germanic family. Pretending Christmas day is the Solstice has always felt a bit silly too, even though it really is mid-Winter that we celebrate. The Gregorian calendar went and messed that one up on me.

As it turns out, the answer was always right under my nose. It's a word I have used my whole life and not given a second thought to. I always just accepted it as as the Irish word for Christmas - but I recently discovered it is exactly the word I've been searching for this entire time. 

Nollaig



I've been doing a little research and apparently the word Nollaig is not just the word for December or indeed the Irish word for Christmas - which it also signifies. In fact it's not even vaguely related to Christmas. As usual with these things it has a far more ancient meaning, that actually makes sense.

In the olden days - the really, really olden days, before the calendar changed to what it is now - the Winter Solstice would have fallen closer to the 25th of December and a huge party that lasted five or six days would have celebrated the end of the year and the beginning of the new.

The word Nollaig literally translates as 'hinge' or 'elbow' and refers precisely to the turning of the year.



Humans are hard-wired to celebrate the end of the dark days and the return of the sun at this time of year. Even though we are so much further removed from nature than any of the generations that came before us, we still feel this shift and long for the 'stretch in the evenings' again. It's the perfect time to be cosy indoors, to eat and be merry but to know in our hearts that the light has conquered the dark again. Another year, another triumph.

Whatever your beliefs, whatever your background. You are human - and humans have been making merry at this time of year since humans began. So enjoy this festive season and from all of us here at Where Wishes Come From HQ, on this Mid-Winter Day - NOLLAIG SHONA!!

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The original site I found with the essays referencing the translation of Nollaig has since,unfortunately, disappeared but these two articles on the subject aren't bad for a general bit of information on how and why the world celebrates at this time of year. Click HERE and HERE.

You can also see my previous posts on this topic here:
The Shortest Day of the Year
Yule-Tide Greetings

10 comments

  1. Thank you for this and the links I will sit down and read them later this week. I too struggle with the whole Christmas word as like you we are not Christians, it feels very hypocritical to me.

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    1. It's a funny one alright. I was raised Catholic, so 'Christmas' is a hard habit to get out of. But I've always spoken Irish too, so luckily for me Nollaig feels natural too!

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  2. Nollaig shona dhuit. I am not christian, but maybe I'm such a bad non christian that I don't even think of the Christ bit (and my husband has great faith) I just associate it with fun and festivities, family time. I do love calling it Nollaig though. Maybe in time if the rest of my family fall out with their God I can give them this advice.
    A really interesting post. Thanks.

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  3. Love this - love how much sense it makes. I'm happy calling it Christmas but what a great idea for people who prefer something else. Happy elbow Sadhbh!

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  4. I loved this! I find that the Celtic and pre-christian times always got it right. In Tonga tradition times always went by the moon. This would be closer to sowing season where I'm from and people would be celebrating the sun and it's radiance, I love that I'm here now waiting for it to return to this side of the earth.

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    1. Thanks Muuka! The further we moved from being in tune with the earth the weirder things got, I reckon! How fun it must be to experience the seasons on both sides of the planet!

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  5. I LOVE this! What a great piece of information! Thank you.

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