In Christian tradition, this is St Barbara’s Day. Barbara is said to have been imprisoned in a high tower by her father to discourage her many suitors, but when he found out she had converted to Christianity, he handed her over to his henchmen for torture and eventually beheaded her himself, whereupon he was immediately struck dead by lightning. Therefore she is invoked against lightning, tempests and explosions. Finding no evidence for her existence, the Catholic Church removed her from the list of saints in 1969.
Her real origins lie in earlier Pagan goddesses. In Dutch Pagan tradition there were three chief goddesses, Anbet the earth, Wilbert the moon and Barbet the Sun. In Germanic lore, there were three sister goddesses, Einbet, Barbet and Wilbet, and in some areas, these were the names given to the Norns, of three fate goddesses.  Slavonic art portrays both St Barbara and St Catherine with the solar haloes which are usually reserved for important male saints. St Catherine is associated with the fiery wheel and Barbara with lightning, and both may originally have been solar maidens.
In many places, the Christmas season begins with the feast day of Saint Barbara, and it is especially associated with wheat and omens for the next harvest. In the Lebanon a special dish of grain called kahmie is served. In southern France, especially in Provence, wheat grains are soaked in water, placed in dishes and set to germinate in the warm chimney corner or a sunny window. If it grows fast, crops will do well in the coming year.
There is an old custom of cutting cherry branches on December 4th and putting them in water to encourage them to blossom. They are commonly called St Barbara’s boughs. If they bloom in time for Christmas, it indicates a good harvest for the coming year, if not, it portends bad luck.
To honour the goddess today, bring in a fruit tree branch and encourage it to blossom by putting it in water in a warm place. The flowering is a blessing for the coming year.
© Anna Franklin
 Nigel Pennick, The Goddess Year, Capall Bann, Chieveley