December 21st 2009 was the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of 2009. When the earth's axial tilt is furthest away from the sun, and when "traditionally" in Great Britain we would celebrate Yuletide....
But what is tradition? How many years does it take to make a tradition?
In 46 BC Julius Caesar established Dec 25th as the date of the Winter Solstice (now we know exactly what day is the shortest), since then the date has moved with varying calendars established by the church, and its strange to think, when we think about Christmas and the date of the solstice, that its not just the date of the pagan festivals that Christmas is celebrated on, but the existence of the date that is 25th December on the calendar which was dictated by the church.
I ask what makes a tradition - now its a tradition that Santa Claus wears red - and we've all heard that this was because Coca Cola dressed him in red - but Sinterklaas in dutch folklore wore red robes and Tomte, who started to deliver Xmas presents in the 1840's in Denmark wore a red cap. The urban legend that Santa Claus wore red because of Coca-Cola is not infact totally true apparently Santa Claus wore a variety of colours prior to the Coca-Cola campaign but our current depiction of Santa Claus is probably more thanks to this chap:
Anyway, what makes a tradition?
Here we are on the 25th December celebrating Christmas or Christ's Mass, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Christian God born as man from a virgin. But as we dont know his birth, and as all religions subsume other religious practises of the region that went before, Jesus was born on December 25th just as Coca-Cola is associated with Santa Claus.
Old festivals such as Jul/Yule are part of how we now celebrate Christmas - feasting, singing etc.
But I can't help but feel a bit fraudulent
A tradition doesn't have to date back centuries, but to someone who isn't Christian, its hard to tell what we're actually celebrating, don't get me wrong i'm grateful for a break. But i like to do it right.
Mean Geimhridh, Celtic Midwinter "The point of roughness" is when in Welsh mythology Rhiannon (The horse Godess) was supposed to give birth to Pyderi. Interestingly enough Pyderi (after disappearing) appeared outside some stables.
Mummer's Day - on Dec 26 - you could blacken your faces - Wren day on Dec 26th in Ireland - you could kill a wren and take it from house to house stopping for feasting
Alban Arthan - a Neodruidic English festival from 18thC gave gifts to the needy
Yule - from the Vikings and Germanic cultures began on the lunar midwinter and culminated on the arrivale of Juletid on midwinter. The Yule celebrations amalgamated alot of the traditions from all over Europe. A Yule log was burnt for Thor and feasting would continue as long as the log was burning (talk about heart burn).
Wiccan Yule, which i would love to explore more, is i suppose a neopagan amalgamation now. It is observed as one of the 8 solar holidays or Sabbat. Celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God and the newborn sun.
So here we have a load of festivals all together to basically try and give hope in the dark and cold time (i assume realistically the opposite should be celebrated in Australia!). A missing birth certificate of Yeshua of Nazareth (what would they put for the father anyway?), an adopted date of 25th December and some adopted rituals - yule log, holly, ivy, mistletoe, giving gifts - celebration in a Bacchian style, celebration in a Pagan style and now celebration in a commercial style. Its funny to think that in Early USA in Massachusetts Puritans band Christmas because it was too heathen.
Now we have an amalgam not only of Pagan, Christian, Celtic celebrations but also a mixture of stories from Dickens and films and all sorts that make Christmas what it is now. Not to mention adverts, commercial pressure and family pressure. (family love!)
Strange to think that commerical pressure now has the same effect on us that religion once did.
I like the idea of Alban Arthuan - the end of the month of the Elder tree, and the start of the month of the birch. The Elder and Birch stand at the entrance to Annwn the Celtic Underworld where all life was formed. What i would do with an Elder and a birch i dont know? Burn them like a yule log?
These things are what you make of them i suppose. In every sugary sickening Christmas movie they talk about "The spirit of Christmas". The spirit of Christmas seems to me to be the spirit of many things and the spirit of none.
December 8th this year was Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu. (Beginning of every December) The day that celebrates Buddha's enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in 596 BCE. He sat under the Bodhi tree for 8 days and on the morning of the 8th day he realized that everyone suffers due to ignorance, and that ignorance can be overcome through the Eightfold path.
I don't know what ignorance at Christmas does but maybe on this day that most people have off work and that is relevant in so many paths, where familial and financial situations are highlighted it is important to remember those who are less fortunate to try to give hope for the future.
The Eightfold path is:
DivisionEightfold Path factorsAcquired factorsWisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)1. Right view9. Right knowledge2. Right intention10. Right liberationEthical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)3. Right speech 4. Right action 5. Right livelihood Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)6. Right effort 7. Right mindfulness 8. Right concentration
Bodhi Day is maybe the birth of Buddhism (although its origins were laid down way before), the day where Buddha suggested a way out from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth and became Enlightened
Strange that the way out that most of us are offered today is at the shops, and especially at Christmas.
Anyway, whatever and however you celebrate i hope you have a peaceful, hopeful and enjoyable time. With or without faith, but hopefully with feasting and maybe a Yule log.
And maybe you may enjoy SSS's witty Xmas ditty
Bodhi tree in Bhutan, Sept 2009
and Birch tree
And a whole load of Holly