This is one of my most favourite Christmas decorations - I know her as Tonantzin. An Aztec Mother God who was honoured in a Winter Solstice festival. So much of early belief was about finding something uplifting at this dark time of year, and using what small amount of light there was, to illuminate and raise the spirit, mind and soul. Stone structures were built in line with the low, late rising sun to allow light within to illuminate the gloom.
Tonantzin was much revered and worshiped and many stories surround her great presence. She is often depicted as a terrifying figure, with her head comprised of snakes and her garment a mass of writhing serpents - her eyes projecting fathomless grief. One of her sons believed himself to be omnipotent (all powerful). Tonantzin challenged him to produce mother's milk to prove he could be as generous as he was fierce. He could not, and Tonantzin became known as a protective Goddess - one who answered the prayers of the poorest and who especially watched over birthing mothers.
On the shortest day of the year, four days before Christmas, a chosen woman dressed entirely in white with white shells and eagle feathers. She then danced through the crowds of people weeping and singing. An Aztec priest accompanied her and when her dance was complete, he took the Goddess's mask and ritually sacrificed her. Next day Aztec men struck the women of the community with little bags full of green paper to symbolically renew the life force. The Aztecs were celebrating the return of the Sun with longer days to nourish their life