As Christmas Approaches…

December 9, 2014


The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.

Our ancient ancestors were hunter gatherers and spent most of their time outdoors and as such the seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. So it is not too surprising to learn that our ancestors had a great reverence for, and some even worshipped the sun.

The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, from which we believe the word Yule is derived. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.

The pre Christian Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents.

The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year, now the 21st December but before the calendar was adjusted this would have been the 25th and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of the Romans or Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Giant Oak tree were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was seen as a potent symbol of life in the darkest of the winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the Yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

A casual look around will show that many of these customs are still followed today, now incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas for so long many Christians accept them as being of Christian invention.

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Fire, light and evergreens

Pre-Christian, northern societies used to enliven the dark days of the winter solstice with a celebration of fire, light and jollity, to create relief in the season of nature’s dormancy and to hurry along the renewal of springtime.

Further south in the Mediterranean regions it was believed that the Sun God lived for but one year, born on the 25th December and childlike grew in strength as the year advanced until waning into old age as the winter approached. Like many Gods the Sun God Mithras was born of a virgin and in pre Christian artworks is often depicted carrying a lamb.

Therefore it is not too difficult to see the similarities between the Sun God Mithras and the Biblical descriptions attributed to Jesus, from the Sun God to the Son of God.

No one knows when Jesus was born, again because the calendar has been messed around with several times, a month added here and there, days added and or taken away. Additionally, a fact often ignored by the faithful, is that two thousand years ago no one kept track of births, or deaths of the poor so it became easy for the leaders of organized religion to pretty much say what they wanted, who was going to argue ?

For the record it was around 340AD when Pope Julius the first officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December, after all this period was already a period of celebration why not just hijack it and make it your own ? After all I doubt the people were going to let anyone take away the Winter Solstice party.

Over time the early church tried their damndest to outlaw and banish Pagan practices wherever possible. Where they couldn’t they just took over the established Pagan festivals and claimed them as their own. As a quick aside, anyone ever wondered why the dates of Easter wander around so much ? One set birthday but the supposed day of his death is all over the place ???? ( PS Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny are Pagan as well ).

The tradition of decorating the home with native evergreens is a truly ancient one, since early pre religious times evergreens have been valued for their ability to retain signs of life in the middle of winter – even in some instances producing berries and flowers.

Early Christians retained the Pagan tradition of displaying evergreen plants in the home in winter to Pagans this symbolized the promise of coming life in the depth of winter, later adapted by Christians to symbolize, everlasting life.

Holly, ivy and evergreen herbs such as bay and rosemary were the most commonly used, all with symbolic meanings that were familiar to our ancestors. Rosemary, for remembrance, and bay, for valour, are still well known. Holly and ivy were a particularly popular combination, the holly traditionally thought to be masculine and ivy feminine, giving stability to the home.

A kissing-bough was often hung from the ceiling. This would consist of a round ball of twigs and greenery, decorated with seasonal fruit, such as apples. This was the precursor to a bunch of mistletoe, under which no lady could refuse a kiss. Mistletoe was sacred to the Druids and was once called ‘All Heal’. It was thought to bring good luck and fertility, and to offer protection from witchcraft.

In the medieval period, the Yule log was ceremoniously carried into the house on Christmas Eve, and put in the fireplace of the main communal room. Often decorated with greenery and ribbon, it was lit with the saved end of the previous year’s log and then burnt continuously for the Twelve Days of Christmas, providing much needed light and warmth.

So please, as you prepare the feast, wrapping up all the presents and placing them beneath a living tree brought into your house especially for the occasion. As you are kissing loved ones under the mistletoe and hanging a holly wreath upon your door you are in fact celebrating the Winter Solstice with us Pagans….
What’s missing ?

At what point the Christians did away with the final orgy that ended the celebration is unclear…. No wonder the Romans didn’t get on with them !



2 Responses to “As Christmas Approaches…”

  1. Raani York Says:

    Thank you very much for the history lesson, Merlin. This was quite interesting, I have to say. Who would have thought this kind of celebration goes back that far – and to what roots? I haven’t seriously thought about the historical aspect of Christmas, where it came from and when and how it started. To read this now is not only interesting, but kind of gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. 🙂

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    To give ladies a warm fuzzy feeling is my special goal in life,
    Thanks for stopping by Raani

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