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December's Birthstone

"Here's a wonderful thing,
A humming-bird's wing
In hammered gold,
And store well chosen
Of snowflakes frozen
In crystal cold.

Black onyx cherries
And mistletoe berries
Of chrysoprase,
Jade buds, tight shut,
All carven and cut
In intricate ways."

~ The Fairy Goldsmith, Eleanor Wylie (1885-1928)

Onyx primarily refers to the parallel banded variety of the silicate mineral chalcedony. Both agate and onyx are varieties of layered chalcedony that differ only in the form of the bands: agate has curved bands and onyx has parallel bands. The colors of its bands range from black to almost every color. Onyx is the Greek word for “claw” or “fingernail” because the veins is this mineral are said to resemble the colors of a fingernail. According to legend, the goddess Venus was resting on the banks of the Indus River. As she slept, Cupid used the point of one of his enchanted arrows to manicure her nails. The parings of her nails fell into the waters of the sacred river, sank to the river bottom and were metamorphosed into onyx. Onyx has been believed to give strength, banish grief, promote vigor, steadfastness and stamina!

Although the traditional birthstones of December are usually reckoned as Turquoise, Tanzanite, or Zircon, December's "mystical" birthstone is the Onyx.

There are actually several different birthstone lists of different origin. What we think of as the modern birthstone tradition, is actually one that became popular in 15th century Poland.

Birthstones have been attributed special significance since the time of Josephus, a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who believed there was a connection between the twelve stones in Aaron's (brother of Moses) breastplate, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Rather than wearing their personal birthstones all year round, people believed the gems were most powerful when alternated monthly—each stone worn in its corresponding month:

The mystical birthstone list comes from 11th century Tibet and may have origins in Buddhism:

January Emerald
February Bloodstone
March Jade
April Opal
May Sapphire
June Moonstone
July Ruby
August Diamond
September Agate
October Jasper
November Pearl
December Onyx

Onyx is a chalcedony quartz that is mined in Brazil, India, California and Uruguay. It has a fine texture and black color; however some onyx also displays white bands or ribbons against a black or brown background and this variety is known as sardonyx.

The name comes from the Greek word onyx which means nail of a finger or claw. Legend says that one day while Venus was sleeping Eros/Cupid cut her fingernails and left the clippings scattered on the ground. Because no part of a heavenly body can die, the gods turned them into stone which later became known as onyx.

For more on the various birthstone lists, click the black onyx.

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