Tuesday, December 21, 2010



I'll leave it to our astrologers and other bloggers to interpret 2010's Solstice (Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice in the soutern hemisphere). Related planetary doings make this year extraordinarily special, with a lunar eclipse adding more spice to the occasion. I'm going to take a look at some other aspects and motifs of this time of year.

In some ways it's a pity that Christianity got itself tangled up with Yule, instead of making for itself a festival closer to the date of Christ's real birthday, inasmuch as that could have been established. Although the idea of goodwill and peace at what we call Christmas does reflect the true Christian message, even so, the traditions of the season do not necessarily stem from that message - it's a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Traditions of giving, loving and helping others pre-date Christianity by thousands of years.

In Europe, and later in the USA, traditions rooted in the pagan Norse and Celtic Yule, from long before the time of Jesus, have persisted over many thousands of years. Yule represented the moment when the days would again become longer, when light would return to the land, and people had reason to be thankful as spring was on its way, with the birth of new animals, and the softening of the soil for planting. Such winter festivals exist in most other parts of the world too, each with their own motifs and traditions, all rooted in the past.

Our western traditions and their roots:

Giving to the Needy- This tradition may have come from the Saxons who had 2 tables at the door of the banquet hall during their feasts. One was for all to take food, and the other was to leave alms for the poor. This meant to symbolize the unity of all human lives and to remind the Saxons that what one gave was returned 3-fold. Even today it is a Christmas custom to give food to the needy and for this act of kindness we can thank the Saxons.....~Tala~ (Robin Paladino)

Gift Giving- seems to originate from the Winter Solstice holiday, Saturnalia (which honored the God Saturn) which was long established by the Romans before they invaded Britain and was celebrated from December 12-17th. It was a time when Masters waited on servants at mealtime, gifts of light were given, particularly candles. Other traditional gifts included coins, honey, figs, and pastry. Gifts were also given in honor of loved ones who died the previous year. Early Roman explorers carried this tradition throughout Europe.

Feasting- had several purposes: to acknowledge the return of the season of growth, to give physical expression to the hope for abundance in the year to come, and finally to alleviate boredom and depression. As Christianity gradually usurped Pagan ways of worship, the custom of Advent (a month long fast before Christmas) reflected the times when people had to survive on eating very little. It became custom to feast on the 25th and to mark this day with acts of hospitality and generosity. The rich were expected to open their doors for all, and this could well have been the precursor to the tradition of helping those less fortunate.

Yule Log- is a small log of usually oak, with a flattened bottom that is decorated with evergreen and holly, after it is inscribed with symbols that represent wishes and what you want to bring into your life in the coming year. It is than burned on Yule after it is charged, or "wished upon." It is kept in the house all year to protect its inhabitants from illness or any adverse condition, and than it is used on the following year to light the new Yule log. Some Yule logs today are usually the same except for 3 holes drilled down the center, to place candles, as many people today do not have fireplaces. Cakes in the shape of Yule logs are a 20th century nod to this tradition.

Christmas Trees- were originally Yule trees. The Celts believed they stood for the everlasting life because the trees did not "die" in the winter. They stood for protection, prosperity and were the symbol of renewal and the hope for the sun to make the earth green again. Because of their massive height, they were a symbol of eternity. It was from these beliefs that the decorating of Yule trees, now called Christmas trees by many, evolved. Yule trees were decorated with images they wished the coming year to bring for them: nuts for fertility, love charms for happiness, fruit for a successful harvest, and coins for wealth.

Lights- on houses and Christmas trees is a modern version of the Pagan custom of lighting candles and fires to "lure back the sun." The Saxons may have been the first to put candles on Yule trees.

Red candles- symbolize the fire and heat of the returning sun.

Wreaths- signify the "wheel of the year," a circle with no beginning and no end.

Pine cones are the male aspect of fertility, and the fruit signifies the female aspect. They were initially used by Scandinavian Pagans 4,000 years ago.

Mistletoe- symbolized peace, prosperity, healing, wellness, fertility, protection and rest. It was placed around the fire and helped women to conceive. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac (magickally, not medically, its poison!), and if left hung up all year, it would bring good luck. It was also dubbed the "golden bough" by the Druids. Kissing under the mistletoe was originally a part of hand fasting, and all legal matters were sealed beneath its boughs. Hence a couple who kissed beneath them, were announcing their intent to get married. Then they would kiss under it again after the official ceremony, to further seal their vows.

Holly- symbolizes the old solar year, the waning sun, and good luck.

Jingle bells- were used by the Norse to herald in the dawn after the long dark night. They also used them to ritually frighten away the powers of darkness that they felt reached their peak at Yule.

Santa/Father Christmas has multi-cultural roots with characteristics of Saturn (Roman Agricultural God), Cronos (Greek God known as Father Time), The Holly King (Celtic God of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian Winter God), Thor (Norse Sky God, who rides the sky with a chariot drawn by goats), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic all-father who rides the sky on an 8-legged horse), Frey (Norse Fertility God), Tomte (a Norse land spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year),. Santa's reindeer can be viewed as forms of Herne (the Celtic Horned God), and Frau Holde (a Goddess from Germany that was believed to ride on the wind in a sleigh on Yule eve and give gifts to her followers.



Gian Paul said...

If Christianity got entangled with Yule and so many other pre-christian places and traditions it must have been a question of expediency - or the places where today so many cathedrals stand were and still are special, telurically speaking.

I personally experienced a very strong "vibration" when visiting the criptes underneath the cathedral of Bourges (France). And again had a similar feeling, though not as strong, when I walked the ground at Stonehenge.

Which is for here and now a link to solstices and eclipses: A solar eclipse, one can imagine, is when Lua "weds the Sun". Intensive, but of - oh so short a duration - (half an hour, more or less).

When Earth get's herself in-between the two, creating what happened yesterday, a Lunar eclipse, it's a bit longer and it happens at night (for those seing it). A more "obscure affair", less impressive as the night is half in the dark anyway. And also occuring more frequently, so of lesser importance.

Only astrological meaning I see: helps to "situate the passage of time", at least for whom assisted to the celestial spectacle.

P.S. Marry Christmas to you all!

christmas said...

beautiful post with lots of info that explains a lot of what we do without knowing why. and, really love all the signs' xmas trees ^_^!
merry christmas twilight, and a healthy prosperous new year to you, your family and to all your friends at learning curve on the ecliptic!

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ Yes, those in power at the time no doubt thought the new religion would be more widely accepted with "a spoonful of sugar" via some existing celebrations and festivals.

Cathedral sites are connected to the Ley Lines belief too I think.
I've never really got to grips with that theory. I've never visited Stonehenge, although my maternal grandfather was born not very far from there, he migrated north to Yorkshire as a young man.
The only time I've had a goosbumpy feeling from an ancient site was in Rome - near the Forum - back in the early 1960s. I've never forgotten that feeling.

Re the eclipse - well, I've become a little jaundiced about eclipses and their astrological effects having lived through a solar eclipse directly on my natal Sun and nothing of note occurred, it'll take a lot to convince me. However I do think there's often a related physical effect on the planet - an earthquake in Japan (7.4) has already been reported today.

And a Very Happy Christmas to you GP....and to your 4-legged friends too. :-)

Twilight said...

christmas ~~~ hi there!
Thank you kindly - I'm glad you found it enjoyable. :-)

Happy, peaceful and healthy Christmas to you and yours also!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bit of a foodie and food historian sleuth - love traditions - and, surmising its origins a bit older than 20th c, found this online re buche de noel:
One of the famous stories behind this French dessert is that the great Napoleon Bonaparte of France issued a proclamation stating houses in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter because of the cool air that caused medical problems. This prohibited Parisians to use their fireplaces. But ingenious French bakers then invented this dessert as a symbolic substitution around which the family could gather for story-telling and other holiday happiness.
I'd prefer to verify to my own standard, but it makes a nice story anyway.

R J Adams said...

Fascinating and well researched, article.

It's believed that Yule logs were originally whole tree trunks, brought into the house with great ceremony and one end laid in the hearth, while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room. A bit inconvenient, if you ask me.

A Very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year to you and yours, Twilight.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~~~ Ah! Thanks for that - it adds nicely to the rest of the bits and pieces about Yuletide traditions.

My Dad had a small bakery when I was young and "chocolate logs" as we called them, were one of the several annual specialities he used to make for the Christmas rush - one of my favourites too!

Happy Christmas!

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Indeed! LOL!
thank you kindly - the research we more or less ready-packaged so I cannot claim it as my own - I claim only stumbling across it and finding it fascinating, then being able to re-assemble it to fit my purposes. :-)

Sending you and Mrs.RJ wishes for a wonderful Christmas, peace and good health - and many hours of happy anticipation of your upcoming move to a lovelier part of the country.

Twilight said...

Should read "the research was....."