The Winter Solstice , December 21, 2013 is the day when the distance between the Tropic of Capricorn and the sun is the shortest. Because of the earth’s tilt, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning farther away from the sun than at any other time during the year. This makes the Winter Solstice the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere where it marks the beginning of winter.
Because ancient cultures were unaware of the changes in the Earth’s position, they feared that the sunlight would never return. To bring it back, they engaged in many celebrations and ceremonies. In fact, there are more ceremonies and “rituals associated with the winter solstice than any other time of year” .
Hundreds of years ago, a Roman culture celebrated its major festival on the Winter Solstice. When Julius Caesar instituted a new calendar in Rome, the festival fell on December 25, a date that was retained for many years. About 1600 years ago, Pope Julius I chose this date for Christmas in order to replace the pagan tradition with a Christian one.
Many Christmas traditions, including the Yule log, evergreen, and mistletoe are rooted in ancient Yule traditions.
For ancient Germanic and Celtic people, the impulse to celebrate solstice was the same as for their neighbors to the south — a celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life. But the style and substance of their celebrations took very different shape.
It’s cold, it’s dark many more hours than light, and snows cover the fields where your herds might forage. What is there to do but make a delight of necessity, with a great slaughter and feasting? What better time to do it than at the point that marks the return of the sun’s light and warmth?
Just imagine living in, say, Scandinavia a thousand years ago in time of Vikings.
At solstice, the sun rises around 9 a.m. It sets about 3 p.m. A mere six hours of daylight. Even if you sleep for eight hours, you spend much more of your waking time in darkness than in light.
What a relief when the days begin to lengthen again!
Many of the ancient traditions surrounding Yuletide are concerned with coping with the darkness and the evils it was thought to harbor, and helping the return of light and warmth.
Holly Evergreens were cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces because of its prickliness — to either ward off or snag and capture evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.
Scratch the surface of Christmas folklore in Scandinavian countries, and you find images and traditions that probably go way back. Perhaps this is because Christian missionaries didn’t reach these countries until the 10th and 11th centuries, so the old traditions had longer to settle in.
There’s the Julbock or Julbukk, or Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, who had his beginnings as carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge.
The Yule elf is called Jultomten in Sweden, Julesvenn in Norway, and Jule-nissen in Denmark and Norway.
The YULE CAT
From Iceland comes the legend of the sinister and gargantuan Yule Cat, who, it seems, is ready to eat lazy humans. Those who did not help with the work of their village to finish all work on the autumn wool by Yule time got a double whammy — they missed out on the Yule reward of a new article of clothing, and they were threatened with becoming sacrifices for the dreaded . This tidbit from a lovely Web site on Yule in Iceland, complete with a poem on the Yule Cat.
And from the Celtic tradition comes mistletoe. There’s so much to share about this amazing evergreen that it needs its own page.
Of course, there’s the tree, so layered over with folklore and speculations about its origin that one could write an entire book about it. Indeed, someone already has. California writer Sheryl Ann Karas brings us The Solstice Evergreen, highly recommended. One historical note about Christmas trees I found most odd–originally in many places, they were hung upside down.
And there’s the famous Yule Log, immortalized in carols and in a delicious French dessert.
And from time immemorial, Yule has been a time of peace and charity. In Norway, work had to be reduced to a minimum, and no wheels were to be turned, for that would show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. As part of this time– called Julafred, or Peace of Christmas–neither bird, beast nor fish is trapped, shot or netted.
HAVE A BLESSED YULE with your soul!
Wisdom source: http://thegic.org