Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas, Yule, Solstice, Saturnalia and the Traditions of Light

Celebrations of the light at this time of year have been natural developments for humankind since ancient times. By the time of the Harvest Moon in September every year, the Fall Equinox begins the shift of the time into the longer nights, the colder weather and the transition into winter.

You can see how all this began. During the deepest, darkest, coldest time of year, the Sun pauses for a moment and then begins to shine more light on us in doses that seem imperceptible at first, then increase. It is for that reason that we express hope for the coming year by bringing evergreens into the home to affirm that even now, we know that the world will warm up and turn green again and that the bonds that connect us will help us survive and prosper.

Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a week long tradition of holiday parties from December 17-23, which encompassed the time of the Winter Solstice. People were celebrating their abundant harvests and successes and bringing light and joy into their homes and their towns and giving thanks to their god Saturn. There was much frivolity, drinking and sexual play, mischief, music, dance and feasting. Today, many of the old pagan customs have survived as folk lore.

Ancient Germanic people give us the word Yule, which was a 
12 day celebration held at this same period of time. It was from these people that we got the traditions of the wassail, yule log, bringing evergreens inside the house, wreaths, garlands and trees, as well as the roast boar, which is why some people prefer ham as a holiday meal. The toast Wassail! means "to your health" and was usually made with a hot cider, often spiked with alcohol, of course.

It was in the 4th century that the new religion of Christianity had tried unsuccessfully to get the people to give up their old pagan traditions, so they moved the feast of Christ's birth to the same date as these old pagan holidays. So they simply declared all celebrations at this time of year to be celebrations of Christ's birth. The church used the psychological ploy of "if you can't lick 'em, join 'em."

Metaphorically, it all fit together. Saturnalia, Solstice and Yule were all celebrating the return of the Sun, because technically, from that day forward, the amount of sunlight in a day begins to grow, although it is not really visible until February 1, Groundhog Day. For Christians, the holiday was about the return of the Son, referring to the son of God. 

The parallel traditions work well together, because from both perspectives we bring light into the darkest time of the year by bringing light and joy into our homes. We light candles and fireplaces, decorate with lots of electric lights, and we invite family and friends into our homes to bring the light of good spirits and warmth. In the better aspects of Christianity, the holiday is about sharing love and good will and lighting the way with positivity and a giving spirit. The addition of Christmas to the previous holidays continued the concept of the spreading of light.

The themes in all of these traditions were about lighting the way for others, giving and receiving, and great expressions of joy. 

The holidays in the quarter of the year that encompass Halloween/Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Yule, and New Year's are the most emotionally charged holidays of our year. 

Everything from traditional family recipes for treats and special food and drinks, to gift giving to seasonal songs are a part of this combined heritage. 

Just as the predominance of Christmas overshadowing Yule, Saturnalia and Solstice while absorbing elements of them, during the last century or so, various commercial enterprises came to overshadow spiritual elements of sharing the light. In a way, it is easy to understand how our bubbling over with expressions of joy, love, friendship and generosity at this time of year gave birth to the slew of Christmas themed movies and popular music.

However, as we return to the core of the traditions, we share light with others, lighting the way with not only decorations, music and special treats but the humor, open heartedness and sense of connections, welcoming and helping each other.

As we revel in the celebrations of light at this time of year, it is an optimum time to reflect on what old habits, relationships, and difficulties we want to burn off in our fires, and what kinds of light, love and joy we want to continue to expand in our lives during the coming year. 

May you enjoy all of the ways we energize each other's lives in the spirit of this season, and may we continue this throughout the year.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lighting the Way

One of the beautiful aspects of this time of year are all the lights that decorate both public places and our residences. The lights work a sort of magic with us, inspiring us to simply enjoy moments of visual beauty and also trigger moments of reflection.
Reflection then lights our way forward, just as lanterns along a path do. Thoughts prompted by the winter evenings and lights find us making ourselves cozy at home in the evenings, and as we relax with a warm beverage, a fire or candles, we may suddenly find our minds recalling a person we have not seen in a long time, or things that we did long ago.

At these moments, remember what the best aspects of that person are (or were) and how that helped you on your path. When recalling something we have done that we are proud of, and things that brought us great joy, notice how our hearts fill with love and the warmth we feel is directly related to those memories.

Now as we contemplate what we are about now and what we are going to do and wanting more of in our life, keep that same warm feeling of joy, pride, satisfaction and peace permeating those thoughts about what we really want now. This is the fire in the belly that fuels our engine and propels us forward.

So in this way, the outer lights lead to our inner light and propels us forward. Bear in mind that when we light the way for ourselves, we also light the way for others. When they see us enthusiastic and enjoying life, they may get inspired to pursue their dreams too, in addition to picking up attitudes from us, like our habit of being grateful and happy every day.

The magnificent holidays that come at this time of year are invested with many fond memories and good thoughts and so we literally and figuratively bring light and joy into our lives during the deepest, darkest, coldest time of winter.

We bring the light inside to remind ourselves that this darkness is seasonal, and that as it passes, we shed burdens and redirect energy as we reconnect with people and create new events. As we dance, sing, tell stories and jokes and the atmosphere is filled with lightened spirits and humor, we light up wherever we are.

In our fires, we can burn off those things we are done with, whether they are things, attitudes, or ideas. And then we can light our way with fresh energy, warmth and light, letting go of what no longer serves us while welcoming in that which will expand our sphere of influence for the better.

There are not just little bits of light reflecting off decorations, windows, ice and snow but off of us as well. When we light up, we invite more people to share in our energy and we see more smiles all around us as we light the way for ourselves and others.