Ah, winter has arrived! Tis the season of parties, parties, and parties! The winter solstice has arrived and whether that event is a reminder to get your garlic planted so that it matures in time to pair with next summer’s tomatoes, or is your time for a Feast of Juul in tribute to Thor (didn’t he just star in a movie?) and the return of the sun’s cycle of life, light and warmth; it is a time of anticipation, sharing, fellowship and celebration.
Yes, we honor the shortest day/longest night of the year in many different traditions. The Inuits have their Quviasukvik or winter feast where everyone brings some meat and drink, and all is shared by everyone simultaneously while contemplating their favored deity (Bless this food, Father), later exchanging gifts in quiet family gatherings (sounds like my house).
Western Europeans burn a Yule log and scatter the ashes on their farm fields as fertilizer each day until the Twelfth Day (On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Ashes).
Our Wiccan friends celebrate twelve days of the Lesser Sabbat known as Alban Arthan (12 days again?), or the rebirth of the sun god (Son of God).
The Romans had their feast of Saturnalia, where all grudges and arguments were temporarily forgotten, warring armies issued a cease-fire (peace on Earth, goodwill toward men), slaves became the masters, and all businesses, schools and government offices were closed. This eventually degenerated (as only the Romans could do) into an annual period of debauchery, gluttony and greed (hmm? Kind of sounds like mall shopping).
The Mayans came to celebrate the solstice with polo voladore (or Flying Pole Dance). They climb a fifty foot pole while playing a drum or flute, then tie a rope around one ankle and jump off. To land on one’s feet was considered a sign of good luck -- well, duh! (I have no idea what that has to do with modern traditions, but it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?) It’s no wonder why their calendar stops right before the solstice of 2012 -- it wasn’t predicting the end of the world, they were just tired of bungee jumping.
I don’t mean to shortchange the celebrants of Hanukkah, Brumalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Jól, Chaomos, Gody, Kwanza, Festivist or the Norse Boar’s Head Feast (nothing to do with the lunchmeat), but there are only so many parties I can get to.
You can see how this all ties in. It wasn’t until 354 AD that the Church fathers realized that the birth of the Christ Child was an important event to be remembered in worship and praise. With little historic or Biblical guidance, they set December 25th as the date of the Nativity of the Savior. It did, and I’m sure not by accident, coincide with the winter solstice and the myriad of long-held traditions that existed worldwide across so many cultures and allowed for an easy conversion and transition for those of us who came to believe.
This snidbit of anthropological history is not meant to debase any ancient or modern tradition or belief, but the next time you hear, “Tis the season,” whether you share my religious beliefs or not, I hope you’ll understand that it IS, and always HAS BEEN, the season; the coming of the Son and the coming of the sun.
However you celebrate, may Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, or the Holy Spirit of God grant you and yours, a Very Merry Christmas.