The title of this piece may give rise to the belief that I will begin by saying “Put Christ back into Christmas”, However, I must make it quite clear up front, Christ will never be “the reason for the season” Jesus Christ was interjected into an already existing Pagan festival/feast and I’m here to shed a little light on an ongoing betrayal.
Every aspect of the holiday’s festivities predate Christianity entirely. Apart from the giving of gifts, associated with the biblical account of the birth of Christ, the New Testament gives no mention of Jesus Christ and His disciples ever celebrating Christmas or even the day of His birth for that matter. It wasn’t until around the year 355 CE that the first accounts of December 25th being celebrated as Jesus’ birthday began. The origins of Christmas lie in fact in Pagan fertility rites and festivals that predate Jesus by many centuries. Pope Julius I sanctioned December 25th as the birth of Christ for a very specific reason. It was the day that ancient Romans celebrated their winter solstice, being the last day of the Roman festival Saturnalia, when the day’s lengths are at their shortest and the nights are at their longest. For those in the Pagan world, these have always been a great time to practice works of darkness. Saturnalia is (the cult of Saturn) the Roman god of agriculture and of excess.
In Babylon he was called Ninib and was an agricultural deity. Saturn, called Cronus by the Greeks, was, at the dawn of the Ages of the Gods, the Protector and Sower of the Seed and his wife, Rhea, (called Ops by the Romans) was a Harvest Helper. Cronus was one of the the Seven Titans or Numina and with them, reigned supreme in the Universe. The Titans were of incredible size and strength and held power for untold ages, until they were deposed by Zeus.
Yule is also known as the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere due to the seasonal differences. The date varies from December 20 to December 23 depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar. Yule, (pronounced EWE-elle) is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, the sun’s “rebirth” was celebrated with much joy. On this night, they celebrated the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth. From this day forward, the days would become longer.
In many Celtic-based traditions of neopaganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King them rules until Yule.
In some Wiccan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of Cernunnos, the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
To pay homage to their sex and fertility god Yule, a long log (representing a phallic idol) was lit and kept burning for 12 days. Animal and human sacrifices were offered in the fire for each of those days. Wild reveling accompanied the daily sacrifices as drunken participants defiantly strove to make contact with the spirits.
Many witchcraft traditions give that many gods were given birth to during this period.
Mitra, a pagan god from Persia, especially was said to be born on December 25th. Mitra was god of the unconquerable sun. The god of the light between heaven and earth. Worshiped at that time by an influential Roman cult, his birth signified the end of the long nights and the return of the dominance of the sun.
During the month long winter solstice celebration of Juvenilia, later Saturnalia, the courts in Rome were closed. Any and all crimes were allowed. Homosexuality and cross dressing and uncontrolled debauchery reigned supreme. Even children were allowed to join in the drunken orgies.
Masters and slaves swapped clothes, the wealthy paid the month’s rent for the less-well-to-do, Executions were cancelled and, no wars were declared during the festival. Roman soldiers invading Britain brought with them their pagan orgiastic practices. Saturnalia then became “The festival of fools” reigned over by the Lord of Misrule.
By the 4th century, the influential, government sanctioned Church of Rome, unable to stop the growing number of Pagan practices, chose to adopt them into their “so called” official Christianity. The celebration of the birth date of the “sun god” became the birth date of the Son of God, even though biblical scripture itself tells us that the birth of Christ was most likely in the fall because in the winter the shepherds would not be in the fields with their sheep.
During the middle ages, the debased Mardi Gras atmosphere, of what was now known as “Christ’s mass” had reached a fevered pitch. Common practices included sex in the streets, rioting, murder, and a number of Druid Halloween like rituals. This blood drenched ritual got so out of hand, that by the year 1652 following the execution of King Charles I, “Christ’s mass” was finally outlawed.
Odin and His Mighty Horse: Among early Germanic tribes, one of the major deities was Odin, the ruler of Asgard. A number of similarities exist between some of Odin’s escapades and those of the figure who would become Santa Claus. Odin was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies, during which he rode his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. In the 13th-century Poetic Edda, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which some scholars have compared to the legends of Santa’s reindeer. Odin was typically portrayed as an old man with a long, white beard — much like St. Nicholas himself.
Another possible forerunner of Santa Claus is the Biblical figure Nimrod. After his death Nimrod’s mother Ester (the source of the holiday Easter), allegedly had an evergreen tree planted at his burial site and ordered everyone in the kingdom to decorate it on Nimrod’s birthday. Nimrod was described as a “Mighty hunter before the lord,” but was also known for less-than-honorable acts like attempting, and failing, to construct the giant Tower of Babel (which pissed off God to no end) and impregnating his own mother!
Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents. Mistletoe was also hung as decoration. It represented the seed of the Divine, and at Midwinter, the Druids would travel deep into the forest to harvest it.
Evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not “die” thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine. It seems they were not the only ones who considered the evergreen as a sacred promise from their gods. Egyptians particularly valued evergreens as a symbol of life’s victory over death. They brought green date palm leaves into their homes around the time of the winter solstice.
RECAP: Deities of Yule: All Newborn Gods, Sun Gods, Mother Goddesses, and Triple Goddesses. The best known would be the Dagda, and Brighid, the daughter of the Dagda. Brighid taught the smiths the arts of fire tending and the secrets of metal work. Brighid’s flame, like the flame of the new light, pierces the darkness of the spirit and mind, while the Dagda’s cauldron assures that Nature will always provide for all the children.
Symbolism of Yule:
Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.
Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, Christmas cactus.
Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.
Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).
Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.
Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.
Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.
Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule
Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.
Deities of Yule:
Goddesses-Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother. Gods-Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Divine Child, Mabon.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Hosea 4:6