Saturday, December 21, 2013
The longest night is done and the light and the sun are reborn. Eat, drink, and be merry!
This event has been celebrated with feasts and festivals in cultures the world over into antiquity.
My ancestry is weighted with Germanic and Nordic lines and Yuletide was the pagan Germanic/Northern European mid-winter festival that lasted anywhere from the solstice to the new year or mid-November to mid-January.
People gathered for the festival bringing food and ale. Livestock, which often starved in the fields during the winter, was sacrificed and the meat boiled and shared. Toasts were made to the gods, to the king, for good harvests and peace, and to the ancestors.
Wandering groups would go door to door singing songs of good cheer and blessings and were rewarded with cups of cider or ale.
Bonfires were lit and a large log or whole tree was brought into the houses and burned in the hearths to provide light and heat, representing the return of warm days and growth during the long festival. Evergreens, symbols of life since they stayed green and 'alive' all year, were decorated with fruits and small ornaments depicting the gods and boughs were brought into the house as was mistletoe, a symbol of fertility, the continuation of life.
Solstice was the time of the Wild Hunt when Odin would ride through the sky leading a hunting party on his horse. Children would set out their boots by the door filled with hay and other food for his horse and small gifts of fruit and nuts were left in gratitude.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because these are the ancient traditions and celebrations that have come to be associated with the celebration of Christmas. The fledgling christian church was not having much success convincing pagans and even it's early converts into abandoning it's heathen celebrations so it did what every conquering nation did. It absorbed the popular festival and rededicated it to their god.
For many of us though, it is still the pagan mid-winter festival that celebrates the end of the long nights and the coming of the light.