Posts Tagged ‘Winter Solstice’

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.

You can keep Christmas, I’ll celebrate the Yule!


Many folks don’t realize this, but Christmas is a distorted echo of an ancient pagan, or witchcraft, celebration of the Winter Solstice.  The Yule, or YuleTide, was begun on or about December 25th, which is the first day that it is always possible, no matter which day the solstice falls upon, to measure the shortening of a shadow cast at noon.  The celebration lasted weeks, or even months, as the primitive people of Western Europe gathered together to face their greatest enemy, the winter.  The evergreen tree was a symbol of Life carrying on through the Death of winter.  Candles were symbols of the Sun, which made life possible.

In a time when nothing was taken for granted, and gods peopled the heavens and earth, the idea that the Sun could just keep going South was not uncommon.  To believe that the world could end up in eternal night gave great cause for celebration when it was determined that the Sun was coming back.  Because people had lots of spare time during the months of Autumn, they could make handycrafts, which they shared with each other when they gathered for YuleTide.  An animal would be slaughtered, the thinning of the stock to ensure that some survived the winter, and a feast would be held.

Thus, the traditions of the Yule have been passed down, but the celebration has been distorted by Greed.  In order to get people out shopping, buying the things that they can no longer make, decorations go up early, special occasions are held, and people are encouraged to spend money on their loved ones.  A countdown to the day is held, and the anticipation builds, aided by commercials.  When the day finally arrives, it is a let down.  Soon, people are unhappy with the whole thing, and decide to take down the festive lights.

Killing a tree every year was never part of the Yule celebration, only decorating one outdoors.  For one thing, there was no room in the huts that families shared for a tree, and the idea of killing an evergreen at that time of year was like heresy.  Gift giving was not a given, (ha ha) but no one was expecting anything.  An article that someone has worked on for hours has that persons energy in it, and it has power emotionally.  Simply handing out gifts would have diminished the impact that gifts had, I believe.

because the celebration of the Yule was so deeply ingrained in the native population of Western Europe, the Christian church gave up trying to stop the celebration, and incorporated it into the Christian calander.  Because the populous believed that the Sun was reborn at the solstice, the church held that the Son was born at that time.  (This in spite of it being generally believed by scholars at the time that Christ was born during the Spring or Summer.)  The emphasis was placed on the religious meaning of the Christian celebration, and the Yule was not mentioned.

To me, Christmas has come to represent the worst of American culture, with Greed being the major offender, followed by Materialism.  People have been lead to believe that the celebration goes on before the fact, not after, so that they will buy more.  I embrace the Yule, because it does not have the materialistic trappings, and it spans the time when it is first noticeable that the days are getting longer.  That is the promise of another Spring, and Life returning.  That, to me, is the Reason For The Season.