Christmas has meant so many different things to me over the years. Sometimes joyful, sometimes a time of deep disappointment. We all know that Warm and rosy picture of families surrounded by love and laughter can be in another stratosphere, and many of us struggle, trying to fit in like the proverbial square peg.
I have come to love Christmas as I am now in the privileged position where I only spend time with those who bring me immense joy. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. How wonderful that we have a beautiful addition to the clan in the form of our grandson this year. The people I choose to spend time with won’t define me by the catastrophic year that Bi polar disorder has gifted us with. There will be laughter, there will be songs, there will be games and there will be so so much love. The key words there are ‘I choose to spend time with’ There is not a hint of obligation around Christmas for me. It took a lot of therapy and self-love to get here.
It has been a long time since I have engaged in the Catholic traditions that I grew up with and I love the history around the Midwinter celebration. Today is the 21st December. It is usually the shortest day of the year and the longest night. The midwinter celebration was traditionally a solar event and I am proud of those that still dance around stone henge in pagan tradition. The latin for Solstice is Solstitium which means ‘the sun stands still’ . The solstice lasts for a few days usually ending on the 25th December. By the 25th, daylight is usually longer by one minute. This solar event symbolises rebirth and the continuation of life.
25th December has been seen as an auspicious day in many traditions. The birth of the Egyptian god Osiris, the Roman god Sol invictus and the Greek god Apollo were all to have taken place on this day. Jesus was given this date of birth 400 years after his actual birth. You can see why King Constantine, a new convert to Christianity would want to do this. This was an egocentric decision to overpower the pagan celebrations, he did pretty well didn’t he?
According to Gillian Monk (Guardian, 2018) the midwinter celebration was all about the celebrating the preservation of life. Only the strongest animals could be kept and the weaker ones were slaughtered and preserved. Food was monitored to see if people could survive the winter months and seeds were sown. January to April were the famine months. 25th December would be the last celebration before the famine set in. Mead and wine that had been fermenting since the summer was free-flowing.
Trees and yule logs (not the chocolate kind) were brought inside to symbolise the protection of fragile life till it could be reborn. A belief was held that the spirit of summer, life and growth all went to shelter in ever green foliage. apparently early Christian leaders wanted a ban on ever green foliage in churches, but they were unsuccessful. The Holly and Ivy remains my favourite winter hymn. The Germans and Scandinavians would bring in the largest log, sometimes a tree trunk and burned it indoors.
As for good old Santa, the germans took him to America in the form of a bad-tempered elf called ‘Pelznickel’ he symbolised the wild side of life in midwinter. Mix him up with Norse god Odin, who rode an eight legged horse across winter skies and good ole St Nick…and bingo, we have our santa.
Lights were used to encourage the warmth of the sun to return and misletoe was believed to possess mystical powers to bring good luck and ward off evil. Misiltoe also symbolised love and friendship and can be blamed for those germ swapping kisses beneath said plant..blame those Norse folk for that.
I love the way that pagan celebrations bear no relevance to colour, creed or class. Nothing to do with getting yourself into debt after consuming nauseating perfume ads filled with a perfection nobody can attain. It’s not about judging the people around you by how much money they spent or how well they have progressed in the year passed. It’s about being grateful for the year we have had and being hopeful for the world yet to come. The Jesus I choose to think of was all about love, and I think many a pagan would have welcomed him to their fire side to share a glass of wine and a song. Happy Christmas everyone. Each and every one of us was once an innocent new born child, each and every one of us deserves love and connection. May you be blessed with both.
Reindeer – Sally Godden
Holly – painters-online.co.uk