As you may have gathered from some of my posts I am a Pagan. If you wish to be pedantic and point out that pagan in an umbrella term for many different belief systems then you would probably further classify me as a Pantheist. I'm not a fan of such labels, but giving me that one puts me in the same pile as Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh, Carl Sagan, Walt Whitman, and Stephen Hawking among others - I think thats a pretty good pedigree!
I celebrate the turning of nature through the year, and the two most important festivals to me personally are the summer and winter solstices. I do emphasise that its a personal choice as every pagan will have their own ideas and favourite festivals.
So whats it all about this winter solstice? It's the shortest day of the year. Celebrated to welcome the return of the sun and the coming of longer days and better weather in the months ahead. As with many religions and belief systems there are lots of areas where these same ideas can be seen to crossover. Yule/Midwinter/Winter solstice in Paganism, Diwali in hinduism, Christmas in Christianity, and Hannukkah in Judaism are all festivals of light celebrated at similar times of the year and generally all symbolise a triumph of light over the darkness.
B-Man and I were discussing the idea of this correlation between Christianity and Paganism in particular earlier today which got me thinking...
Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, the son of god. Pagans celebrate the "birth" of the Sun.
The Three wise men of the nativity followed a star to bethlehem. The Sun is the closest star to our tiny blue planet.
A Christmas tree, an evergreen to symbolise the light and life with its needles pointing up to heaven. A Yule tree (again an evergreen) a symbol of summer life in the winter starkness. (There was also a belief that evergreen plants and trees were refuges for the woodland spirits through the winter months.)
Candles represent the light the Jesus brought to earth. Four are often lit from each other in the four weeks running up the Christmas in an advent ring. Candles are used to represent the light of the Sun returning to the earth. Yule logs lit from the remnants of the previous years log were kept burning throughout the festival - the ashes then spread in the fields to ensure a good harvest the coming year. (Anyone who has ever spread the ashes of a bonfire over their lawn will know how nourishing ash is to plants.)
Thats just a few to start with and thats only one religion! Coincidence? No probably not. There are many arguments relating to the origins of many traditions and its a point that will never be agreed upon - a chicken and egg situation really. It is a widespread view for many however that major religions adopted the festivals of earlier religions in order to make it easier for the followers of the earlier religions to convert. That does make it sound a bit manipulative though doesn't it? Surely theres always a possibility that converts to a new religion simply chose to integrate their old traditions into their new religion themselves? What actually happened we will never know but doubtless the arguement will rage on regardless.
Anyway, if I carry on I'm a bit scared I'll get spammed by some offended party or another. Rest assured thats not the intention. I'd like to think this post as a Yule101 for anyone who's bothered to read, and I hope that everyone, whichever festival they choose the celebrate, has a happy one.