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Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

Tuesday, 25 December 2012 (All day)

The 25th of December is associated with the birth of Christ and the celebration of the nativity, but it is also an amalgamation of pagan festivals and traditions dating back before the birth of Christ.

To our ancestors the shortest day (21st December) marked the lowest ebb of the year, but it also marked the day when the sun was reborn, gradually growing in strength to the Midsummer Solstice. Many ancient standing stones, stone circles and other monuments are aligned with the winter sunrise on the 21st of December. The most famous being Newgrange in Ireland, where a finger of sunlight shines along the dark entrance through a narrow aperture above the monument's entrance. Other sites are correspondingly aligned to the Midsummer sunrise, highlighting the importance placed on these two dates.

Ghost of Christmas: John LeechGhost of Christmas: John LeechYule was the traditional name for the celebrations around the 25th; the festival lasted for twelve days, which are now the twelve days of Christmas. The origin of the word Yule seems originate from the Anglo Saxon word for sun and light. Most likely regarding the rebirth of the sun from the shortest day. In many places fires or candles were kindled to burn through the twelve days that marked the festivities. Another fire tradition was that of the Yule log, lit from the remains of last years log at sunset on the 25th of December. The Yule log was often of Oak or Ash, and the burned remains of it were thought to guard a home against fire and lightning. The ashes were also sprinkled on the surrounding fields to ensure good luck for the coming years harvest. The largest remaining part of the log was kept safe to kindle next years fire. Fraser in his book 'The Golden Bough' suggests that Midwinter was a major fire festival in ancient times, and it is highly probable that the Yule Log was a remnant of that tradition.

Many of the symbols of Christmas echo its aspect of rebirth and hope in darkness. Holly was thought to be important because it retains its greenery right through the winter months, and as such is a symbol of summer life in the winter starkness. Holly was the male symbol of this greenery, and Ivy was the feminine, the two often placed together as a symbol of fecundity at the dark end of the year. There was also a belief that evergreen plants and trees were refuges for the woodland spirits through the winter months.

The Christmas tree may have also been a symbol of the above aspects, although Whistler in his 'English Festivals' suggests that the tree is a carry over from the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when pine trees were decorated with images of Bacchus. The tradition of setting up a Christmas tree within the home is generally traced back to Prince Albert who started the practice in 1841. Mistletoe is another plant associated with Christmas; sacred to the druids, its importance can be traced back to Celtic times, although the original reason for their significance is now largely forgotten.

The 25th of December was also reputed to be the birthday of the Roman god Mithras  and the Greek hero Dionysus. Mithras was known as the unconquered sun, hence his association with the solstice time. Early Christianity adopted the 25th as Christ's birthday around the 3rd or 4th century AD, as the early scriptures do not record the day of Christ's birth. This is generally accepted to have been a way of amalgamating Christmas with the older festival of the sun, which was still being observed by the Pagan community.

Today Christmas has many other associations and traditions dating back through the centuries, and stemming from different cultures and influences. It has always been a time for celebration and merry making at the dark end of the year.


Father Christmas or Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas who is the patron saint of children, canonised after resurrecting three boys after they had been murdered. He was associated with the giving of gifts to the poor and needy, and was widely famed for his generosity. Over the centuries his image became amalgamated with other archetypes to become Father Christmas.

Daniel Parkinson
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Re: Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

Christianity is in many respects a pagan religion, simply by dint of the fact that it grew out of paganism; Mithraism was its stable mate. Christianity is a form of sun worship which is why most churches face east and place a huge frequently beautifully stained glass window display ritually in that direction. The sun is everything to us, if it went out tomorrow we would inhabit a benighted piece of dark rock circling in eternity. Pagans still observe the winter solstice, the turning point of the solar calendar which reassures us, as it did the worshippers at Stone Henge, that winter will indeed end and that the summer sun will return to us in a matter of months. Imagine the sun as a deity and there you have it

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Re: Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

the American economy depends on Christmas sales....I know of one Dianic Wiccan who buys Solstice presents...but she was A Christian for most of her life and old habits are hard to break. Even the staunchest atheists...while not celebrating it themselves understand that many of their jobs depend on Christians going out and buying junk.
Even China profits from Christmas sales.

and I remember how important it is to Bethlehem's economy for Christians to come visit. The year so many stayed away made national news.

As for Mithra....I wonder if he and Midir of the Irish are the same guy. And if it's too cold for Shepherds to visit Jesus....wouldn't it be too cold for shepherds to visit Mithra? Just an odd thought.
I know the founder of Zoroasterism was a staunch monotheist and hated Mithra for the cattle sacrifice he did...and I've often wonder if the guy started out Hindu. His obsession with the poor cow makes me wonder. Of course all the old IA religions would have some similarities.

And why do witches dress up like Zoroaster fire priests? Someone I know speculated that was Disney's fault.

My final comment is on the three wisemen. I love this legend personally and the early Christians would have understood well what I am going to say. the Parthians  were Rome's great enemy...but the Jews liked them because they drove Herod out of Jerusalem. They didn't stay long and herod came back and was made king. The Parthians and later Sassanids were always taunting Rome...and they had a saying that went when you see a Parthian charger in front of a tombstone...later the temple of will know the Messiah has come.

The Magi rode Parthian easy would it be to include that in the Christmas story. Like I said early Christians would have known this saying and understood the significance of the wisemen. Plus I've got the Martin Sheen movie The Fourth Wiseman forever implanted in my memory. 

I am a Christian but not a literalist...and I believe in the fae...I think the old gods were just another class of people who are still with us and driving folks like me nuts by making crop circles and trying to pass themselves off as ETs and crash test dummies.

There's a Texas singer named Ray Wiley Hubbard who has a line in a song he wrote called Conversation with the Devil about going to hell that says Buddha wasn't a Christian but Jesus would have made a good Buddhist.

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Re: Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

 The Germanic Yule Tide:~

The Yule Tide Winter Festival falls with the Anglo-Saxon month of Geola or Giuli, in Old Norse it was the month of Ylir, the month that the Father Christmas character referred to as Lapland Man, a bearded man, who's description resembles many deities of Germanic mythology, rode his reindeer sled acrossed the frozen waste land, dressed in a hooded long brown fur coat. He carried a wooden staff when he walked, this staff of ash was adorned with various nuts, respectively symbolizing fertility and non-perishable but yet substantial nourishment in the harsh mid-winter. Could the Lapland Man be Jolnir? Jolnir, the main figure of Yule and another name for the All-Father Odin, the deity strongly associated with Yule, who on his eight legged steed Sleipnir followed by hunting hounds, rode acrossed the Nordic skies in the winter months of The Wild Hunt, perhaps chasing Sonargoltr, the Yule Boar. Germanic tribes hunted wild boar in the winter months, if the hunt was successful, the huntsmen would lay hands upon the boar and make a solemn vow dedicated to Freyr, for a good harvest for the forth-coming year, the hunt would take place on Yule Eve.

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Re: Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

The Germanic Yule Tide 2:~

Odin as the figure of Yule, his steed Sleipnir could leap great distances, Odin and his flying horse lead the great hunting party through the night skies, bestowing gifts upon the mortals below. Yggdrasil, the world tree, could it be a celestial tree, Yggdrasil translates as Odin's horse which is a rather strange name for an earth-bound great ash tree!
Below the Nordic skies the Germanic tribes had now roasted the boar on Yule Eve and now performed the traditional three toasts in the great hall bedecked with winter greenery, the first toast of beakers of mead was for Odin, the All-Father that he might give power and victory to their king Harald Fairhair. The second toast was dedicated to Njord and Freyr for a good harvest and for peace whilst they gathered their crops. The last toast was dedicated to Harald Fairhair for a long life because long life of a monarch gave great stability. After three days of feasting they would strip the hall of its green decoration and return the holly and the ivy to the great outside releasing the woodland spirits back into the wild, not to do so would result in agricultural disaster for that years harvest. Holly and Ivy symbolised fecundity in the harshness of winter.

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Re: Christmas, Yule and the Winter Solstice

 Hi Celestial Elf,thanks for sharing such beautiful work!



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