After Krampus has ransacked Alpine villages and the celebrations around the Winter Solstice have left us with new hope and a full belly, the Alps experience a time called Raunächte there. Its kind of the 12 nights of Christmas, in a sense.
Raunächte is a word that is not easy to translate, since we cannot be sure what the term “Rau” means. Some say it’s rooted in the word for smoke (today’s German: Rauch) or the word for raw or rough (today’s German: rau.) The smoke hypothesis is based on that it is a custom to cleanse houses with the smoke of herbs such as Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, from the same plant family the prairie sage in the USA.) For the rau-interpretation speaks that these nights are simply rough; the weather, the wild hunt being out and about; and all kinds of other spirits roaming mountains and valleys in this time of intermission.
It’s also a grand time to do divination work, sometimes as simple as the following instructions tell us:
In some areas, young women who are thinking about marriage call out the question, what kind of husband they will marry, three times during the sacred night (that would be Christmas Eve.) From the sound that follows they divine the future. A shot indicates a hunter, when they hear a carriage passing it foretells a carter, and a screeching door a farmer.
I will go deeper into the various divination customs as we progress through the Raunächte, but first a relief for all who are at home with their kids over the holiday break.
An interesting particular of the dos and don’ts during this time period is that one shouldn’t do laundry during these days. Well, not washing your teenage kid’s favorite new sweater for twelve days might become unbearable but hey, I take it…
So, why that very specific household chore? I think it is connected with the Goddess, through Frau Holle, a German faerie tale character representing the Goddess. Frau Holle is all about people being busy throughout the year, not the least told in a story about a girl visiting her in her cloud home, helping Frau Holle doing household chores. The girl is then quite literally showered with gold.
During the Raunächte, however, the Goddess wants us to reflect on her and our life in relation to her. And not busy ourselves with mundane matters (talking about the frantic shopping for and exchanging gifts?)
Another “task” people have during the Raunächte is shooting fire crackers to expel the bad spirits of the old year. Nowadays, this noise-making is concentrated on New Year’s Eve, but in more remote areas in the Alps, you hear fire crackers going off every night between the solstice and January 6th. A special night I will also explain when that time comes.
In the following blog entries until then, I will go deeper into the specialties of the particular nights.