The Twelve Holy Nights are a mystical time „in-between the years“ to wrap up the old year and make room for the new one.
Why are they called “Twelve Holy Nights”?
I have to admit that the term “Twelve Holy Nights” is not a direct translation of the tradition I’d like to talk about here. I wanted to make it more accessible to non-German speakers and found the closest expression to be that of the Twelve Holy Nights. I’ve also found “Sacred Nights of Winter” or “The Twelve Nights of Christmas” which corresponds to the same period of time, but the tradition I write about dates back to pagan culture and I didn’t want to bring in Christ/Christianity.
The German term for this time in-between the years is “Rauhnächte”. Its origin is not 100% clear: It could stem from “rau” = “rough”, because wintertime often brings with it rough weather, storms and snow. It also alludes to “Rauch” = “smoke” and “räuchern” = “smudging”, a longstanding tradition of that time to energetically cleanse and bless house and homestead. And there is also the Middle High German word “rûch”, meaning hairy or furry, that could play into the term, because it was said that during the time of the “Rauhnächte”, demons were roaming about, making trouble.
A time „in-between the years“
The phrase “in-between the years” (a literal translation of what we call it in German, “zwischen den Jahren”) stems from the time difference between the formerly used lunar calendar and the Gregorian solar calendar that we use today. A moon month (Dark Moon to Dark Moon) counts 29.5 days, which make 12*29.5 = 354 days in a lunar year. The solar year counts 365 days. The difference of 11 days or 12 nights is a time with great magical potential, that exists outside of our “normal time” – the time “in-between the years” so to speak. And quite literally, this time can sometimes feel as if it doesn’t really belong anwhere, the old year not quite over yet, the new not yet begun.
And that’s what it’s about. It’s said that during this time, Nature’s Laws are suspended, the doors to the Otherworld are open and we can feel the influence of the subtle energetic world around us more clearly. It’s a time that connects us to our ancestors, light beings and spirit guides and it’s traditionally a time for oracles/oracle readings. As the veils to the Otherworld are thin, it allows us to get a glimpse, a small taste, of the New that’s coming.
When are the Twelve Holy Nights celebrated?
Celebrating the Twelve Holy Nights as „Rauhnächte“ has a long tradition in the Southern German and Austrian area, but also the Celts and the Germanic Peoples knew about this special time. That’s why there are different dates for the beginning of the Twelve Holy Nights. In some traditions they already start on December 13 and go until Christmas Eve. Others start with Winter Solstice on December 21. Personally, I like to start with the beginning of Christmas Eve (the night from December 24 to December 25), like a lot of people do, continuing to January 4 to January 5 of the new year.
Every Holy Night has its own theme, its own energy and stands for one month of the upcoming year. December 25 stands for January, December 26 for February and so on, until January 5 for December. Everything that happens on the respective day/in the respective night, can be a sign for what’s to come during the new year in the respective month. That’s why it’s worthwhile to pay attention to details that stick out. Did you have a specific dream, an extraordinary encounter or has an old friend reached out to you?
We can take it lightly. During the new year we look back every now and again to see what happened during the corresponding day/night and compare if it’s related to the respective month. I don’t think that everything that happens has or must have special meaning. But more often than I thought, an oracle card drawn for a certain month fit extraordinarily well to what really happened during that month :-)
Let work be work …
As the veils to the Otherworld are thin, all wheels should stand still during this time (spinning wheels, mills, washing machines etc.). This avoids tempting fate and disturbing or even displeasing the Goddesses of Fate while they’re spinning their threads. Additionally, we shouldn’t put up (white) laundry outside, to avoid roaming demons get caught in it and bring misfortune and harm into the house.
Granted, in our current time it can be impractical or even impossible to keep that up for 12 consecutive days. But we’re very much invited to let the household chores be household chores at least for the Christmas days and New Year’s Eve/New Year’s, to relax and recharge. Because even the never-ending wheels of daily tasks and chores can use some downtime every now and then.
The natural Cycle of Life
The Twelve Holy Nights are a time of rest and going within, also energetically speaking. It pays off to wrap up the old year mindfully, before the new one begins. In today’s time and society, we love to start new things all the time, have the next great idea ready, tirelessly focus our attention on progress and are magically drawn to the New. Unfortunately, we often forget that the natural cycle of all life also comes with a phase of decay and closure, a phase of stillness and regeneration.
It’s from this creative pause that the best new ideas arise. How can we expect to bring something new into the world, if the old hasn’t been released, is still sticking around? Only through consciously letting go of the Old can we make room to invite the New into our lives.
How can you prepare for this mystical time?
Use the time until December 24 …
… to declutter and clean. Let the old and disused stay in the old year. Let go of things (or even people) that (who) don’t bring you joy (anymore), that don’t uplift you and feel more like a heavy load.
… to return anything you’ve borrowed, pay back debt and outstanding invoices. To start freshly into the new year it’s advisable to “clean” anything outstanding. This way, you can transition into the new year without (physical) debt, have really released the old and can start anew.
… to write down your wishes for the new year. For the “Ritual of 13 wishes” you write down 13 wishes onto different pieces of paper before you begin with the Twelve Holy Nights, fold them and put them into a box. Every night you draw a piece and burn it (without looking at the wish you’ve drawn) – the Universe will take care of their fulfilment. At the end of the Twelve Holy Nights, there will remain a single piece of paper. This one, you open on January 6 – it contains the wish you have to take care of yourself.
Are you interested in celebrating the ritual of the Twelve Holy Nights yourself and would like some company along the way?
Here you’ll find my course “Mystical Twelve Holy Nights”:
After a live ceremony to tune into the energy of this magical time, you are going to receive daily e-mails with inspiration for little rituals and journaling and have opportunity for sharing, before we complete this time in a closing circle in the new year.