Posts Tagged ‘nenewal’

Why isn’t Christmas on the solstice?


Some people are aware that Christmas is the de-secularized version of the Yule celebration of ancient times, which is a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  But the Winter Solstice happens anywhere between the 20th and the 23rd of December, and Christmas is on the 25th.  Why isn’t Christmas celebrated on the solstice?

In ancient times, when the Yule was THE celebration of the whole year in terms of scope and duration, people did not take things for granted, because that was tempting the gods to do their worst.  So, every year, the shadow cast by a stone was measured, during the days close to the solstice.  Every day, the shadow would be longer, until one day, there was no difference.  Was this the solstice?  Or was it just a taunt from one of the gods?  The next day, the shadow might be the same again.  Finally, the shadow would change, growing a tiny bit shorter.  Only then did the celebration begin, only then did people feel relief.

December 25 is the first day of every year that on can be sure to see the shadow cast by the Sun at noon get shorter.  December 25 was the first day that people could be sure that the Sun was going to return to the Northern sky, bringing warmth and life back to the world.  Even though Winter was just beginning, it was a time of merriment and feasting, because Summer would come again.  The Yule Tide celebration began with a vigil, held overnight from sunset to sunrise, to attend the Sun in its rebirth, after its journey through the land of the Dead.  Revitalized, renewed, it began the new year.

The celebration of the Yule was long because travel was difficult, and there was little else to do.  People would allow their hearth to go cold, take their animals, and travel to another dwelling, where they would spend days sharing in the abundance brought by the slaughter of an animal.  After a time, they might travel to another dwelling, and again feast.  Then, they would turn for home, to relight their own hearth, and prepare for the slaughter of one of their own animals.  Thus, the celebration of the Yule often extended into February, as the days grew steadily longer, even though Winter’s grip seemed unbreakable.

The Christian church encountered the Yule when it moved out of the Mediterranean area into the lands to the north.  Both the Byzantine and the Rome branches absorbed the pagan Yule Tide holiday into their calendar, testimony to the widespread observance of this ancient tradition.  Because it was an affront to the leaders of the Christian religion that people would celebrate the Yule and not celebrate Easter,  it was decided to bring the Yule into the Christian religion, by calling it the birthday of Jesus Christ.  Just as was the Sun reborn every year, the pagans could celebrate the birth of the Christian savior at the same time.

This is why Christmas isn’t on the Solstice, even though it is descended from a celebration of the Solstice.


Time to celebrate


If you live in the northern latitudes, you are probably noticing that the days are getting a little longer now.  It is only a few minutes difference from the time of the Winter Solstice, but it is more apparent now, after a few weeks.  This is what the Yule Tide celebration is all about, the light returning, bringing hope to people who face months of cold and hunger.

We can barely imagine today what it must have been like for our ancestors, who did not have Gortex or Thinsulate, who did not have windows with glass in them, and who did not have central heating.  Winter was one of the greatest enemies that our fore bearers faced, with its cold, and lack of food.  Even today, Winter can kill, but for people huddled around a primitive fireplace, with only furs to keep warm, freezing to death was a distinct possibility.  And hunger was a constant companion, because food had to last until more could be found.

This winter, freezing to death is not a likely end for most people in the United States, but the economy is bound up in ice.  And the sad part is, everybody wants things to go back to the way that they used to be, in spite of the excesses and greed that brought about the problems that we face now.  We are so addicted to material, worldly wealth that we don’t know how to cope without it.

Credit was almost unherad of just 100 years ago.  If a company could not afford to buy new equipment, it had to make do with what it had.  If people needed to buy a home, they had to put up most of the money.  Cars were bought for cash, and the government did not spend more than it had.  We have forgotten those times, aided by people who grew fat off of lending money out.  Now, we all want those days of quick and easy credit to come back, to make our lives easier again.

Instead, we are going to have to learn to live without credit, without the benefits of borrowing money at the drop of a hat. We have borrowed so much that it is going to take us years to pay off our debt.  In the meantime, we are going to have to get by with what we have, unless we can manage to save up enough to buy what we need.

In a time when hardship becomes widespread, and just about everybody is having to do without something which they really need, we would do well to cultivate the kind of wealth which cannot be taken away from us.  Spiritual wealth is all around us, in the willingness of a friend to help us out, or the outpouring of support from a community for a family suffering homelessness.  This has nothing to do with religion, or faith, but is the simple belief in one another that enabled the human race to rise above hunting animals and gathering grubs for sustenance.

The Yule Tide was a time of spiritual renewal, when people gathered together to share what they had, so that all would survive the winter.  We must learn from our ancestors the lessons of spiritual credit, of believing in one another.

I’m so confused!


Here in the United States, we use a celebration of Death to kick of the celebration of Life.  What am I talking about?  Thanksgiving and the Christmas Shopping Season.  Although Thanksgiving is dedicated to the Pilgrams landing at Plymouth Rock, it is really a harvest celebration, just a little late in the year.  (I for one never believed that people ate outside at Thanksgiving ever! Especially in Massachuesetts.)  The roast beast, the trimmings, the goodies, the pies, the whole production is a celebration of the bounty of the land, and the sacrifice made so that Life can go on.  Everything on the table will be dead, and that is what the celebration is all about.  We give thanks to that which has died so that we can continue.

Unless you live in some place without electricity, you will probably notice that the sky glows at night a lot more than usual in the days after Thanksgiving.  Some people already are burning their Christmas, or Yule, lights, and the day after Thanksgiving in the ‘official’ kick off of the Christmas Shopping Season.  The Yule Tide was a celebration of Life, of re-birth, of renewal.  It started a few days after the Winter Solstice, and ran for days or weeks into January.  (What else is January good for, except partying?)

Because merchants want us to buy our gifts, instead of making them ourselves, as was done in the old days, they sponser concerts, public events, lighting displays, and anything eles that they can think of to get people out shopping.  Gradually, the Christmas season has swung around from the weeks after the Winter Solstice to the weeks before the Winter Solstice.  Inadvertantly, we have moved a festival of Life into a time when the LifeForce is ebbing from the land, leaving nothing for when the days begin to get longer.

To make things even more unsettling, late autumn has always been a time when people tried to conserve their resources as much as possible, by staying close to home, eating very little, and sleeping a lot.  For thousands and thousands of years, what food we had would have to last until Spring, at the earliest.  So, getting out and being extra active in late autumn just feels wrong somehow.

We must remember our instinctual heritage, what cultures practiced before written history, when analyzing our motivations and emotional responses to modern societie’s demands.  There are ample reasons for feeling confused and out of sorts in the weeks ahead, and some we don’t even acknowledge.

Have a wonderful Harvest Festival!