Joyous Yule! Today is December 21, Mid-Winter, the Solstice, the start of Saturnalia, the rebirth of
Baldur the Norse Sun god, the return of the Egyptian Sun god Ra, the shortest day of the year. Tomorrow the Sun returns!
The word Yule, from the Norse word Jul, wheel, refers to the Norse goddess Frigga who sat at her spinning wheel weaving the fates. The Christmas wreath, a wheel, symbolizes the cycle of the seasons and the continuity of life in many cultures and religions.
The decision to establish December 25 as the "official" date of Christ's birth was made by Pope Julius I in the fourth century AD, hoping to replace the pagan celebration with the Christian one, since this date coincided with celebrations of Winter Solstice with the Return of the Sun Gods occurring throughout the world.
So why is Yule not on the 25th? At one time it was, but the earth wobbles on its axis, with the date precessing, moving forward. The solstice now comes 3 days earlier than it did relative to our calendars. In a little under 26 thousand years the dates will be the same again.
For many thousands of years this day has been celebrated with emblems of eternal life (palm leaves in ancient Egypt welcoming back Ra, the holly and berry in England, and of course what is now called a “Christmas Tree”) and of the return of the Sun (fire, candles, the Yule log).
The Christmas tree has its origins in the practice of bringing a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell when an appreciative spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat. The German name was tannenbum (fir tree). It was the Germans who brought the custom to this country.
Most of our current customs date back to before recorded time. They all mean the same thing – the Sun is returning!