Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice; Yule


The winter solstice occurs when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane as the observer. It is the shortest day/longest night of the year. Interpretation of the event varies from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time The word solstice derives from Latin sol (Sun) and sistere (stand still), Winter Solstice meaning Sun stand still in winter.

The solstice was a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since neolithic times. This is attested by the layouts of sites like Stonehenge in Britain and Brú na Bóinne (New Grange) in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line framing the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange)and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not assured to live through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January to April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was nearly the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.


Yule is an ancient winter festival associated with the winter solstice.

Christian missionaries sent to proselytize among the Germanic peoples of northern Europe were instructed to superimpose Christian themes upon existing pagan holidays to make conversion easier by allowing the people to retain their traditional celebrations. Christmas was created by associating tales of the birth of Jesus with existing pagan Yule celebrations. Yule traditions include decorating a fir tree, burning a Yule log, hanging mistletoe and holly, giving gifts, and general celebration and merriment.

Neopaganism has many forms and they don't all celebrate the same way. Some celebrate Yule as they believe the Ancient Germanic pagans observed the tradition. In Germanic Neopagan sects, Yule is celebrated with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving.

For Wiccan's, wreaths, Yule logs, decoration of trees, decorating with mistletoe, holly, and ivy, exchanges of presents, and even wassailing are incorporated and regarded as sacred. The return of the Sun as Frey is commemorated in some groups. In most Wiccan traditions, this holiday is also celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun.


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