“O Winter! King of intimate delights, fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness…” William Cowper
The long ago December night is cold and quiet. Wise men and shepherds journey to the birthplace of a child of wonder; a child born to a mortal woman, yet of divine origins, who will one day bring hope and inspiration to mankind.
It’s a story many people are familiar with, though surprisingly this was first the birth story of Apollo and then later Mithras, long before it became the birth story of Jesus.
Since ancient times, midwinter has been considered a sacred time of year, so it is no wonder that the birth of Christ would be celebrated during this season. Yet long before the birth of “the Son,” people celebrated the birth of “the Sun” at the time of the Winter Solstice.
During this time of year, in the northern hemisphere, the days grow shorter and shorter. The Winter Solstice marks the point when the day is as short as it can get, and then the sun is reborn, and starts to overtake the darkness once again. This is a cause for celebration and a reminder that out of darkness comes renewal.
Yule is the ancient, European, celebration of the return of the light. Originally a family oriented holiday of peace, it was celebrated over 12 days, and included feasting and merry-making. Yule is now celebrated by Pagans around the world, usually on the Winter Solstice, and is a family holiday that includes feasting and gift-giving.
Saturnalia – a chaotic, gift giving and laughter filled holiday, originated with the Romans around 217 B.C.E., and inspired many of the traditions that surround the current midwinter holiday celebrations.
Christmas, by far the most popular festival of light, is celebrated on December 25 and commemorates the birth of the Christ child. This holiday is filled with feasting and gift-giving, along with many “borrowed” traditions of mistletoe, pine trees and holly!
Hannukah / Chanukah – November or December – this eight day festival of lights is celebrated in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C.E. by lighting one candle on the menorah each night for eight nights. The story is that the Greeks had taken over the temple to worship Zeus, and demanded that the Jews worship as they did. The Jews eventually regained control of their temple, but as it had been defiled by the Greeks, it needed to be purified, and to do this the Jews needed enough oil to burn the temple menorah for eight days. To their dismay, they only had enough oil for one day, but miraculously the menorah stayed lit for the entire eight days. It is this miracle of light that is celebrated every year.
Kwanzaa, first celebrated in the 1960s, is a weeklong celebration (December 26 – January 1) that includes feasting and gift giving. During Kwanzaa, seven candles are lit, which represent the seven principles honoring family and community. It is a time for African Americans to reconnect to their history and culture.
Out of darkness comes renewal, and each of these festivals offer the opportunity to celebrate the return of the light, the season of giving, and a time of love.
“Make thou my spirit pure and clear as are the frosty skies.” Lord Alfred Tennyson
“Check out Deanna’s song, Snow and Twilght.”