The Rauhnächte (the twelve nights after Christmas) were Holy Nights for our ancestors. As far as possible, they did not work during this period, but only celebrated, reflected, and spent time with their families. These twelve “nights” always lasted from night to night. Thus, the first of the nights lasted from midnight on Christmas Eve, “Mother’s Night”, until midnight on 25 December.
They are called “nights” because, according to the Celtic yearly cycle, this period is the night of the year. Thus, the whole day is “night”. And the final, Twelfth Night ends at midnight on 5 January. This is likewise a special night, known as “Perchten” night, when, in many places in Bavaria and Austria, people dressed as devil-like evil spirits parade through the streets. This is followed by the Feast of the Three Kings, also known as Epiphany, Theophany, or Little
But there are also variations that involve, for example, 13 Rauhnächte nights, presumably because the old Celtic tribes based their calendar on the moon and had 13 lunar months.
And then there is also the special variation in which the Rauhnächte nights begin on the winter solstice, i.e. on 21 December, on the Feast of St. Thomas. The name Thomas means “twin”. This is interesting because the apostle Thomas was also considered to be Jesus’ twin. And are the solstices not also twins of a kind: summer solstice and winter solstice? And above many church doorways you can still see 2 wolves or “wolf dragons” (= twin wolves), which stand for the solstices. They face each other, one representing the time before the solstice and the other the time after the solstice.
In his book Naturrituale (“Nature Rituals”), Wolf-Dieter Storl writes about such an encounter in this Wild Army in wintertime: “We live in a remote place, far from any village… During the winter, when we are snowed in and it is very quiet, strange beings occasionally show up in the moments between sleeping and waking…”
By letting the Wild Hunt pass by and giving them a copper pfennig on their way, you could protect the house from disease and misfortune. Lights were lit and incense was burned in the house. Our custom of Christmas lights and, since the 19th century, the decorated Christmas tree have evolved from this nature ritual.