Yuletide or Yule time was a religious festival observed by the Germanic people (before the country of Germany became known). The people are of the Iron Age (years of the 8th Century BC) whose origins are obscure. They lived in northern Europe and were Indo-European or authentic Celts like Saxon or Norse who later became Christianized.
Winter festivities included ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting presence of the Norse god, Odin (also known as Wodin) and his night riders. One particularly durable Soltice festival was “Jol”, also known as “Jule” and pronounced “Yule”. The god Odin also had another name “Jolnir”. Since this god was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death, Yule customs varied from region to region, There was a sacrificial ale to drink, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts.
Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others, stem from the Yule festival of the Germanic people. The Yule boar is still reflected in the Christmas ham. The Yule goat is remembered in Sweden through a custom of burning a straw goat to mark the beginning of Christmas. A number of Germanic neopagan sects, who worshipped nature, introduced their own rites; such as, Yule singing and gifts in addition to a meal. The meat was boiled and served at the banquet. Some English-speaking countries use the name Yule to refer to Christmas.
In England, the large Yule log was dragged home by oxen while the people walked alongside and sang merry songs. In Yugoslavia, the Yule log was cut down before dawn and carried into the house at twilight. To all European races, the Yule log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for as long as twelve days. It may have been sprinkled with cider or wine before being set ablaze. A different sacrifice has to be offered on each of those twelve days. The songs that were sung asked for blessings for their crops and flocks. The ashes from the Yule log were scattered over the fields to bring fertility or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. They were sometimes also used for the health of their cattle or to ward off hailstorms.
For more, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule
The birth date of Jesus the Christ was determined by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and former president of the Catholic Biblical Association, when writing in the Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament, as follows: “Though the year of Jesus’ birth is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1. The Christian era, supposed to have its starting point in the year, is based on a miscalculation introduced ca 513 by Dionysius Exiguus”. The DePascha Computus, an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa (possibly Egypt) around 243 CE, placed Jesus’ birth on March 28. Clement, a bishop of Alexandria (d. ca 215 CE) thought Jesus was born on November 18. However, based on historical records, Professor Fitzmyer determined the birth day to be September 11, 3 BC.
Why is Christmas, which is celebrated as Jesus’ birth day, celebrated on December 25? Roman pagans first introduced the holiday called Saturnalia, a week of lawlessness, which was celebrated December 17-25. Each Roman community selected a victim (not known to the victim) whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the conclusion of the festival, December 25, the Romans believed they were destroying the forces of evil by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.
In addition to human sacrifice, the ancient Greek writer, poet, and historian Lucian wrote in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia that other Roman customs were widespread. Intoxication, going from house to house while singing naked, raping, and other sexual things were among the customs. While performing these things, they consumed biscuits shaped in human form. These biscuits are still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season.
In time, the followers of Jesus broke away from existing Roman churches in Rome. The Romans then decided to incorporate the teachings of Jesus into their beliefs, and they declared Christianity to be its philosophy, but they continued to keep some of its practices and festivities to appease the people. In 200 AD, a proportion of this Roman religion became known as Catholicism which means “universal” in the Greek language. More information on Catholicism can be found in the treatise I authored :- http://www.amazon.com/Larger-Spiritual-Universal-Scheme-Simplified/dp/1496012755/. It can be found mainly in Chapter 4 on the journey of religions.
Catholicism distinguished Roman viewpoints of the Christian church at large from local communities who chose to continue to follow past beliefs and practices. Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. However, Christmas, as Jesus’ birth, was and still is celebrated by most Christians.
In the 4th Century CE, Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians. However, there was nothing Christian about these festivities. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named the concluding day of these festivities, December 25, to be Jesus’ birth day. Stephen Nissenbaum, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuing massive observation of the anniversary of the Saviour’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.”
Origin of the Christmas Tree has its roots from the worshipers of nature who had for a long time worshiped trees and brought them into their homes and decorated them. The Christian church adopted this observance into the festivities of the church. Gift-giving has its origin from pre-Christian Rome when the emperors asked citizens to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia festivities in December and January. The general public later included it in their festivities. The Catholic church gave this custom a Christian flavor by using it in the gift-giving of Saint Nicholas.
The Saint Nicholas cult spread north until it was adopted by Germanic and Celtic religious sects. These groups worshiped a host of gods led by Odin (their chief god and father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw. Odin had a long, white beard and rode a horse through the heavens one evening each Autumn. When Nicholas merged with Odin, he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing.
Adoption of the Nickolas cult by the Catholic Church taught that he did, and they should, distribute gifts on December 25, the day of Saturnalia festivities, instead of December 6. In 1809, Washington Irving wrote a satire of Dutch culture entitled Knickerbocker History. The satire refers several times to the white bearded Saint Nicholas and his flying horse as he flew through the sky, and he used his Dutch name of Santa Claus. It shall be left to your imagination how the horses changed to reindeer!
The following are some interesting and unusual Yule time customs:
In Syria, Christmas gifts are distributed by one of the Wise Men’s camels.
In Caracas, Venezuela, the roads on Christmas Eve morning are closed to cars so that people can roller skate to Mass. Also, instead of Christmas carols being sung, people beat drums at midnight shouting “Jesus is born” and, along with other Latin American countries, firecrackers or fireworks light up the sky.
In Mexico, radishes are grown and pumped up to make them huge. On December 23, “The Night of the Radishes” is held, and competitions are held for nativiaty scenes sculptured and carved from giant radishes.
In Japan, sending red Christmas cards is bad etiquette since funeral notices are customarily printed in red.
A funny story for the Communication Era is as follows: A little girl climbed onto Santa’s lap, and he asked her “And what would you like for Christmas:” The child stared at him open-mouthed and horrified and then gasped “Didn’t you get my e-mail?”
The Christmas Season has escalated to a merchandising extravaganza, but let us all have fun!!! Live the teachings of Jesus the Christ everyday, and have fun at Christmas. Give joy to the world. It is a midwinter’s holiday observance.
See you next month:-