At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children’s Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
In the northern latitudes, midwinter’s day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life’s continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.
The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland in U.S.A, is descended from these masked processions.
Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.
In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus’ baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.
In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.
For this years Winter Solstice I have uploaded the third solo LP recorded by Daevid Allen from Gong released on the Charly affiliated record label Affinity in 1977. 1977 was also the year that Daevid Allen and Gilli Smythe were to go on tour with west London freestonia squatters, Here And Now, touring and recording under the name of Planet Gong. The gigs performed and records produced by Planet Gong in 1977, as well as the Here And Now gigs and records released in 1978, helped to inspire a much younger breed of followers that would continue to support the free festival, squatting and traveller movement throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Much more Planet Gong, Gilli Smythe and Here And Now material on this site if you choose to search for it using the search function.
Text below ripped from Wikky P…
In 1960, inspired by the Beat Generation writers he had discovered whilst working in a Melbourne bookshop, Daevid Allen travelled to Paris where he stayed at the Beat Hotel, moving into a room that had recently been vacated by Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. While selling the International Herald Tribune around Le Chat qui Peche and the Latin Quarter, he met Terry Riley and also gained free access to the jazz clubs in the area. After meeting up with William S. Burroughs, and inspired by philosophies of Sun Ra, he formed the free jazz outfit, the Daevid Allen Trio, and performed at Burroughs’ theatre pieces based on Burroughs’ novel The Ticket That Exploded.
Allen travelled to England, renting a room in Canterbury where he met his landlord’s son, 16 year old Robert Wyatt. They formed the band Soft Machine in 1966 with Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge. Ayers and Wyatt had previously played in Wilde Flowers.
Following a tour of Europe, Allen was refused re-entry to the UK due to overstaying his visa on a prior visit. He settled in Paris where, in May 1968, he took part in the protests which swept the city. He handed out teddy bears to the police and recited poetry in pidgin French, and now admits that he was scorned by the other protesters for being a beatnik.
Fleeing the police, he made his way to Deya, Majorca, with his partner Gilli Smyth. It was here that he recorded the first album under the name Gong, entitled Magick Brother (released on BYG Actuel in 1969). They were joined by flautist Didier Malherbe, who they claim to have found living in a cave on Robert Graves’ estate.
In 1970 Allen recorded and released his first solo-album, Banana Moon (sometimes spelled as Bananamoon). On this album he was aided by Robert Wyatt, amongst others.
In 1971 Gong released Camembert Electrique. They became somewhat of an anarchist commune in rural France between 1972 and 1974. In 1972 they were joined by electronics musician Tim Blake and later, by Steve Hillage to record the Radio Gnome Trilogy after signing with Virgin, consisting of Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You.
Allen left this incarnation of Gong and recorded two solo albums, Good Morning (1976) and Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life (1977). In 1977 he performed and recorded as Planet Gong, and rejoined the early-70s version of the group for a one-off show at the Hippodrome in Paris. Portions of this concert (which was several hours long) was released on a double-LP entitled Gong Est Mort? Vive Gong.