The Winter Solstice has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the Christian holiday of Christmas and the arrival of the man called Jesus Christ, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule, the Winter Solstice, from December 21 through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, families would bring home large Yule logs which they would set on fire.
In Germany, people honored the god Oden. In Rome, people celebrated Saturnalia by honoring the god Saturn and so on. However, between the years of 200-500AD, Christianity had successfully maneuvered into the Roman government which was at that time still predominately Pagan. To the Romans, Christianity resembled several elements of their Roman-Pagan beliefs, particularly Mithraism. Mithra was closely tied to the sun gods Helios and Apollo and Mithras’ birthday was celebrated on December 25th, close to the Winter Solstice which was later changed by the Christians to Jesus’ birthday. Furthermore, shepherds were thought to have witnessed Mithras’ birth and were to have partaken in a “last supper” with Mithra before his return to heaven. The Mithratic Priests’ title, Pater Patrum, soon became the title for the Bishop of Rome, “Papa” or “Pope.” In deed, these remarkable similarities were no coincidence.
Today we, as Wiccans, still celebrate Yule and the Winter Solstice. We honor the birth of the God who was born of the Triple Goddess. Yule is also a time when we look forward to seeing the end of the winter hardships and we can look forward to Imbolg and the on-coming of Spring!
YULE FIRES - by John G. Mackinnon
In ancient days the folk of old
When chilled with fright by the winter's cold,
Did kindle up a great Yule fire
With leaping flames in its' great pyre
So to entice the waning sun
To rise again and wider run;
Its' fiery course across the sky
To warm them so they would not die
So we, whose minds now sense a chill
of anger at the evil will
The human conflict, hate and strife
Which holds a menace over the life,
Would kindle up a flame of love
That we within our hearts many move
In Yuletide joy with love embrace
And thus abide in peace and grace
(For sabbat dates, please see the post, "The Wheel of the Year..." - November 2010)