"Life on Earth has been a history
of interaction between living
things and their surroundings."
As the year draws to an end, the days grow short while the nights lengthen and the month grows cold. December is marked midway by the longest night of the year. This Solstice was a powerful occasion for the ancients. Stews rich with roots accompanied by hearty breads warmed the village while wassail and cakes raised spirits. This mid month point was a time of celebration, a time to pay homage to the cycle of life, and has been honored for millennia.
Long before Rome came into power, the Germanic peoples celebrated Yule. This midwinter festival was a time for feasting and merriment as they honored Odin at the Winter Solstice. Traditions such the decorating a tree, wassailing and the baking of the Yule log can be traced back to antiquated Norse customs. In fact many of the old ways have slipped into our modern celebration. Gathering together for the feast, the giving of gifts, putting up lights and the hanging of wreaths are all symbols of the Yuletide and these symbols of the season have origins dating back as many as 5,000 years. It is in these symbols we find the basis behind the celebration of Christmas and the earlier pagan rites that celebrate the turning of the season and the rebirth and everlasting life told in the stories of the birth, death and resurrection of the Sun King and again in the Egyptian story of Horus, in stories of the Persian Mithras and in the tales of Dionysus, Hercules and Arthur and again in Jesus.
Christmas’s holly and mistletoe are also holiday symbols with ancient pagan roots. Romans made gifts of holly during the Winter Solstice to ward off evil spirits. While Druids harvested mistletoe from sacred oak trees five days after the New Moon following the Winter Solstice to use in charms against lightning and to ward off evil. Norse people also considered the plant sacred and warriors who met under the mistletoe would uphold a truce until the next day.
Even Santa, the bearded jolly old soul, parallels stories of the god Oden and the Norse Yule Elf who leaves gifts on the Solstice to those who give him offerings, from England he is Father Christmas, from Germany Kris Kringle, from Holland St. Nick and from Russia Father Winter.
With the rebirth of the Sun God, the world is infused with hope. Yule is a time for new beginnings. This is the time to gather together, to feast and renew relationships, to strengthen the bonds of friendship and family ties. This is also the time to forgive, a time to abandon the things that did not serve us, to make peace with the troubles of the past and to look ahead with hope, each of us aspiring to be better as we pay homage to the cycle of life.
This Yule spend some time in meditation. Within each of us lies the spark of the Devine and as the sun meets this darkest night, quietly consider the story of the Sun King and his renewed light. Meditate on renewing your light, the spirit of your being, as the sun itself renews. Consider the year behind and put it to rest. Now look to the year ahead and let your heart swell with hope.