But there are just a few days left to wish people a Happy Solstice, so don't leave that one in the dust!
Then...let's see..."Gode JÃƒÂ¼l!" or whichever language you choose for the ancient practice of the Yule log: as long as the Yule log burned--and it could be several days, as the Yule log was "supported" by many other pieces of wood and was itself quite grand--there was to be no fighting, no feuding. Knives and bladed weapons only used at the table, not even for games (sorry, men, bones and dice will have to do). It was a holiday from spinning (for women, this was a Big Deal) but, obviously, not from cooking or cleaning up!
As in many traditions, the "real" heart of Yule was to see who could outdo whom in terms of hospitality offered (cf. Potlatch). Bits of this information are available here
; the rest is from my own independent reading over many years.
Christmas as celebrated in the United States contains strands from these traditions as well as from the better-known Christian faith.
But let's not forget that the earliest Christians, due to the threat of persecution and martyrdom from Imperial Rome, most likely moved their great feast day to late December so that their comings and goings would be masked by the greater commotion of the Saturnalia
, a multi-day festival of games and revelry from approx. December 17 to December 23 of the Julian calendar.
In later Imperial Rome (when to be an emperor one needed to be a general, more or less), the cult of Sol Invictus
, the "Unconquered Sun," whose day of birth was December 25, was quite strong and even officially endorsed by multiple emperors.
Our Christmas tree descends from a combination of the Germanic Yule log and the tradition of bringing greens indoors in the dead of winter to "deck the halls with boughs of holly," an evergreen in the northerly climates. It was given a more Christian, and thus respectable, reputation during the Reformation, as briefly described here
, but considered primarily a Germanic custom until the late 18th and mid-19th centuries.
But, in the Northern Hemisphere, millennia of evidence show that people have carefully observed the position of the Sun as the days grow shorter this time of the year, whether they watch with knowledge or foreboding about such short days and long nights and such cold (traditionally). The gradual warming after the Solstice and the gradual lengthening of the days "proved" that life would continue for another year. This joy spilled over into festivals whose vestiges are now remembered (if at all) during Carnival and May Day/Beltaine, with some underlying layers at Easter.
For me, the question has always been:
Ewes birth their lambs in early spring, by our calendar anywhere from late March to early May. If "shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night," it was lambing season. Sheep were in a fold overnight during cold weather to protect them from predators--wolves primarily. But the shepherds wanted to be right there at hand in case a ewe needed assistance with her lamb(s). Thus: Spring.
Also, the Romans were experienced at running an empire. They had been at it since 753 BCE (but the first couple of centuries under the Etruscan kings don't count) by the time Quirinius's census on behalf of Augustus was undertaken. They knew better than to expect people to travel during the rainy, cold, sleety, mucky winter. Spring was a much better travel season; it would provide a **more accurate** count. (And we know how the Romans valued accuracy.)
So why December 25? Unless, of course, the festival was moved very early on.
Regardless, Yule, Solstice, Christmas, or Hanukkah (Festival of Lights based on a historical event), "Happy Holidays" has a bland feeling about it. So...
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9