Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Celebrating the Solstice
I am now preparing for a Yule celebration. I grew up celebrating Christmas, but its really hard to get my extended family together. This is because my three grown and married sons, and their wives, all have divorced parents who have remarried. That means there are eight parental families that these young people feel duty bound to divide their time and efforts to. Christmas Day and Eve are in high demand. Nobody else in the family has even considered the Solstice but me! Happy Day! They probably never will either, as I live deep in the "Bible Belt."
If you are celebrating any of the traditions of Christmas, remember that you are actually enjoying the rituals and activities of several ancient religions whose traditions have been borrowed by Christians over the years for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Winter Solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. This start of the solar year is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, “sun” and -stitium, “a stoppage.” Following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.
Long before Christ was born, Romans held the celebration of Saturnalia, however, this probably predates even Roman history. In ancient Rome, Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in the year 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus. The early Christian church had gotten tired of unsuccessful efforts to stop people celebrating the solstice and the birthday of the sun god. So the pope at the time decided to make Jesus’ official birthday coincide with the other. No one knows what time of year Jesus was actually born but there is evidence to suggest that it was in midsummer.
This year I am designing a scavenger hunt for my grandson, that will educate him (and the rest of the family) to the history and rich traditions of the season that countries all over the world have contributed to. The symbols we love and use every season are rooted deeply in spiritual tradition.. The Yule log, "Christmas" Tree, holly, ivy, gifting, Wassail, feasting, fires and candle lighting, wreaths, mistletoe, singing, worshiping, etc., go back into antiquity, and all represent abundance, good fortune, love, peace, continuity of life, prosperity, and more. As each clue is followed, a brief description of each symbol will be read and a few "olde" carols will be sung by all.