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Leon's Blogs
Christmas  
Yuletide
...and the Winter Solstice ties them both together!

Table of Contents (Click on the pics to go there)

Christmas Traditions

Yuletide Traditions

 

Winter Solstice Traditions

Who was Santa Claus really?

 

 

 

What does the word "Christmas" mean?

Denotatively, "Christmas" means:  "Christ's mass".  It is a word of Catholic-Christian origin, meaning a special mass (worship service) commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.  To the Catholics it still means this, and more.

To the rest of Christendom, it not only represents the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ (whether that was the actual date of his birth of not); but also a time to spend with families, in gift-giving, in merriment, and in giving to the less-fortunate.

To the rest of the Western World, regardless of one's religious beliefs, it is a time to spend with loved-ones.

Christmas has evolved into a whole season that lasts a whole month from around November 25th to December 25th.

What is Yuletide?

The word "Yule" was originally a Scandinavian word (in Finnish: "Joul").  Scholars say that Yule probably means 'feast', and "tide" means time (as in a period of time).  Therefore, "Yuletide" is the feasting time.

It was originally a Scandinavian winter solstice tradition, and parenthetically feasting is a major part of Christmas, probably from Yuletide influence.  Usually both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are accompanied by huge feasts of a usually a big bird, like a goose (UK) or a turkey (US);  Also, possibly a Christmas ham could be prepared, accompanied by such side dishes as: mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, and stuffing.  For desert we would have Christmas cookies, figgy pudding, fruit cake, and pumpkin pie.

Who knows exactly how long the full Yuletide lasted, but the most important time was from December 22nd to December 25th.

On December 22nd,  the winter solstice, when the sun was lowest in the sky (for the Northern Hemisphere), it was thought that the sun was close to death.  It was the tradition to keep a yule log (or yule logs) lit for three days to reignite the sun.  On December 25th, when the sun started to appear higher in the sky, it was thought to be the "Birthday of the SUN".

 


Who was Santa Claus?

Santa Claus?
St. Nick?
Kriss Kringle?
Grand-Dad Frost?

Who were those guys?

Were they the same person?

Where did they come from?

 

The modern-day Santa Claus appears to be a combination of FIVE historical personages:

Here they are (in no particular order):

1.  Joulupukki
2.  The Russian 'Grand-dad Frost' (Ded Moroz)
3.  A  Norse God (Thor)
4.  A Catholic Bishop (St. Nicholas)
5.  Kriss Kringle (Kristkindl)

 

Icelandic Evil Gnome/Ogre

Modern-day Joulupukki

Joulupikki:

There is a very old Finish legend of an evil gnome with god-like powers, named Jouluppukki.  Jouluppukki was ORIGINALLY a really bad guy.  He came from the north, flying or riding on some beast (possibly a goat or a buck, as joulupukki means yule buck).  He would demand gifts from the people of Finland and if these gifts were not satisfactory, Joulupukki would reak havoc upon the people.

There is a similar tradition in Iceland.  There was an family of evil ogres (called Jolasveinar), who would capture and allegedly eat children, if the gifts of the people were not satisfactory.  In time, the story was changed such that only naughty children were captured.  The story was perpetuated to make children behave.

My comment:
The idea that "Santa Claus" was once a bad guy is not a pleasant one.  But, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.  Perhaps over time the story changed to make the Gnome bring gifts for good children, instead of eating bad ones.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joulupukki

http://www.nordicway.com/search/Santas_Nordic.htm

http://www.simnet.is/gardarj/folk/jola.htm

Ded Moroz
(and the Snegurochka)

Grand-dad Frost
(and the Snow Maiden)

Grand-dad Frost brings gifts to good little children on January 1st in Russia, Mongolia, and many of the former Soviet satellites of Russia.

Sometimes Grand-dad Frost wears red, and sometimes he wears blue.  He looks very much like today's Western 'Santa Claus'.  He also performs the same function.

Was our Western 'Santa Claus' borrowed from "Ded Moroz" and used at Christmas time, rather than at New Year's time?

Could be!  Right?

Thor

Thor

 

Imagine this:  A man-like god with bright red hair flying through the air in his chariot being drawn by two goats.  That would be Thor, a benevolent god who would bestow gifts to humans in return for porridge, especially around winter solstice.  He may have worn red, as red is said to be "his" color, and he is also known as the Yule Elf.

Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor

Saint Nick

A Catholic Bishop become Saint:

 

There was a Catholic Bishop named Nicholas, who was stationed in Myra, in present-day Turkey, who was said to have been extremely benevolent to children.  After his death he was beatified by the pope and he became the patron saint of children.  December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in many countries, including Belgium, Netherlands, & Poland.

Source:  Wikipedia

Kriss Kringle:

Kriss Kringle is said to be a modification of the German word: Kristkindl, which means Christ Child.  In Germanic countries, the Christ Child is said to visit good little children with gifts around Christmas time.  Apparently there was no guy named Kriss Kringle.

Source:

http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/brewers/kriss-kringle.html

 

Christmas Traditions
are
Winter Solstice Traditions

by Leon

Did you know that Winter solstice traditions are remarkably similar around the world?  And did you know that most of our Christmas traditions come from those winter solstice traditions?  In this article, we shall explore the various winter solstice traditions around the world.

Winter begins with the winter solstice, on the 22nd day of December in the Northern hemisphere, the day when the sun is lowest in the sky and daylight is shortest.  The word “solstice” is a compound word from Latin meaning “Sun stands [still].”  Starting on December 22, and lasting three days, the sun literally stands still from our perspective.  Then, on December 25, it starts to rise higher in the sky, as if it had been born again.  That is why Christmas is on December 25.  Since the sun is the literal light of the world, and since the Christ was the metaphorical light of the world, it seemed appropriate to the founders of Christianity to set Christ’s birthday on that auspicious day.

The Christmas Tree's Origin

Almost every culture has had a winter solstice tradition.  My personal favorite winter solstice tradition is the Mongol tradition.  So, let’s start with that one.  Mongols call the winter solstice the Uvliin Toil.   Uvliin means winter’s; and Toil means both (a) climax; and (b) pole.  Interestingly, Toilakh means to be at the end of one’s rope, to become completely exhausted.  To me it signifies a double entendre:  The sun has reached the end of its rope, and it is exhausted from its work.

According to an article by Jade Wah’oo Grigori, entitled:  “A Time of the Shaman’s Gift Bringing;” the traditional Mongol winter solstice is a very, very, meaningful and important time for all Mongols who still follow the old ways.  It is written that the Mongol village shaman was (and still is to some Mongols who follow the old ways) very central and important to the winter solstice ritual.  Villagers gather at the shaman’s ger, a circular tent or yurt (as it is called in Turkey).  A ger has a central pole which represents the ‘mother tree’, called “Ej mod.”  It is called other things too, like the “Tree of Life” and the “Pole of Ascension.”  The ger’s ceiling is supported by 81 ribs, representing the 9-times-9 pillars which hold the heavens apart from the earth.  The ‘mother tree’ points to the North Star, figuratively of course.  So, at the top of the ‘Tree of Life’ sits the ‘Star’.

Is that the origin of our "Christmas Tree" tradition (or does it go back even further in time)?  There is some evidence that the origin of the Christmas tree may go all the way back to Nimrod's Mother.  But, I'll get to that later.

Mongols traditionally have believed that the abode of each person’s soul is a different star.  Superstitiously, Mongols have traditionally believed that a falling star represents the death of some individual on Earth.  The unmoving, eternal North Star is the abode of the Great Spirit.  It is also referred to as the “Heart of the eagle” or the “Compassionate heart of purification”.  Each winter solstice people should send their soul to the North Star for purification.  Most people don’t know how to do it, so the services of the Shaman are invoked.

The villagers gather in the shaman’s tent, having brought gifts and placing them under the “mother tree”.  In return for the gifts, the shaman undertakes a spiritual journey to the North Star with his culpable clients’ souls for the purpose of purification.  This is the reason that we put gifts under the Christmas tree today.

Then, when the Shaman returns with his cleansed clients’ souls, the Mother Tree shimmers with the light of each purified soul, reawakened to or renewed by the light of the North Star.  This is the origin of the tradition of putting Christmas lights on the Christmas tree.

Yule Log

Scandinavian tribes had their Yuletide traditions.  Yule means feasting, and tide means time (period of time).  The Scandinavian tribes have given us the following Yuletide traditions:  (1) Feasting, (2) Keeping the Yule log lit all night on the 24th of December, and (3) Hanging mistletoe.

Why do we have feasts at Christmas time?  All we know is that it was a Scandinavian Yuletide tradition.  As to why they started it--I don’t think anyone really knows.  My best guess would be that due to very little daylight and such bitter cold, there was nothing else to do but stay indoors.  Since they didn’t have television or internet in those days, my guess is that indoor activities were limited to eating, drinking and being merry.

Why must one keep the Yule log burning all night on the 24th of December?  The answer is to re-ignite the Sun.  The fallacious fear was that if one did not keep the Yule log burning all night long, the Sun would not be reborn on the 25th of December.  As a result, the world would plunge into eternal darkness and all creatures would die.

Why do we hang mistletoe at Christmas time?  It is because of the Scandinavian myth about Balder and Loki.  Balder was the god of truth and light (a solar deity); He was the personification of the Sun.  Loki was the god of mischief and chaos; He was the personification of darkness and the chaotic cosmic sea (that we know today as "space").

Mistletoe

The myth goes like this: Balder’s mother, Frigga (which means "Love") had asked all the plants and animals of earth never to harm her son, Balder.  However, there was one plant that she overlooked; it was mistletoe.  Loki became jealous of Balder’s popularity and he was annoyed by the noise devoted to Balder’s praise.  So, he clandestinely disguised himself as an old hag and visited Balder’s mother.  Through their conversations, he found out that there was one and only one living thing on Earth that she had not made contract with not to harm her son.  Loki then made an arrow out of mistletoe, which he used to kill Balder.

Three days later, after much mourning, Balder’s mother resurrected Balder.  Then, she made mistletoe promise to never harm another living thing.  This is why mistletoe is used as decoration at winter solstice time.  It is the symbol of peace and love and tranquility.

Why is Christmas a Whole Season?

But, why do we celebrate Christmas for a whole month, starting with the day after Thanksgiving.  Well, that tradition came from the Romans.  Before the winter solstice traditions were merged with Christmas, the Romans had a winter solstice tradition called Brumalia.  According to Rober Maza’s research, Brumalia was originally celebrated only on the 24th and 25th of December to commemorate the “sol invictus” (the invincible sun).  It celebrated the Sun’s victory over death.  Later, the holiday became associated with the Roman Sun god Bacchus (same as the Greek god Dionysus) and it was celebrated the whole month of Bacchus (December).  In addition to being a Sun god, Bacchus was the liberator of life’s burdens through imbibing and making merry.

In conclusion, our world’s winter solstice traditions, by whatever name, are full of wonderful meaning.  Sadly, it is a meaning that has been almost completely lost.  It my sincere hope that we revive the original meanings of the winter solstice traditions, so that they are not lost to posterity.  Let us remember that our Christmas trees have very ancient Mongolian roots; that the star at the top of the tree represents purification of our hearts and souls; that our Scandinavian Yule logs have kept the Sun burning for millennia; And, that the mistletoe which hangs from our ceilings symbolizes love, peace, and tranquility.  Please tell these stories to your children, so that they may tell them to their children. 

A wish

Finally, as we approach the coming winter solstice, may our hearts and souls be purified by the light of the Great Spirit; may Sun be reborn again to give its life-giving light unto the world for another year; and may we all experience eternal love, peace, and tranquility.  

Another possible origin of the
Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree tradition is very, very old... at least 2,000 years older than Christ.  It dates back about four thousand years (according to some scholars).    The Torah (Jewish Bible) tells a story of how Nimrod (who was son of Cush, who was son of Ham, who was son of Noah) aspired to build a tower to reach heaven.    ...to stand face to face before his maker(s), and be able to converse with him/them as one person converses with another.

But something went terribly wrong.  Maybe something like what happened to the space shuttle Challenger occurred, and the people naturally attributed the failure of the "tower" to celestial beings.  After that, the Bible doesn't tell us what happened to Nimrod, but in an extra-biblical book, I read the rest of the story...

THE REST OF THE STORY:

Well, eventually Nimrod died.  How he died is not clear.  And, he was survived by his mother, who became the reigning Queen.  She loved her son so much, that she had an evergreen tree planted at his burial site and decorated it with silver and gold each December 25th, his birthday.  Then, one day, she commanded that everyone in her "Queendom" must have a tree in/at their home and decorate it with silver and gold on her son's birthday.

That story comes from a book I once read, which is gone.  I wish I still had it and I wish I could remember the title, but I remember what it was about.  It was all about phallic symbols in ancient cultures/civilizations.  So, the whole point of the story (for the author) was that an evergreen (coniferous) tree is a phallic symbol; It symbolizes manhood, which is why it was chosen... the queen's son was a MAN.  [I think the title of the book was something like:  "The Cross in Ancient Religions"]

POST NOTE:  When I first wrote this page (including the story of Nimrod and the evergreen tree) in 2000, I searched on the internet, I could NOT  find anything to corroborate this story.  But, now (December 16, 2006) I Googled "Nimrod birthday December 25" and 56,600 websites come up.  So, I guess by now it has become an accepted fact.  [As of 2016, 102,000 results for the same search].

 

 

 


More X-mas Traditions


Decorating the Houses with Lights:

 

Every year, right after Thanksgiving (generally during Thanksgiving weekend), Americans decorate the exterior (and interior) of their homes with lights, which stay up until after Christmas day (sometimes until New Year's Day).  This probably originated with the festival of lights, which occurred in December of each year.  

It seems to be the general consensus that this tradition came from the Roman winter solstice tradition called Saturnalia, but many cultures have had (as some still do) a festival of lights.  Hanukah is a festival of lights.  Diwali is a festival of lights.  Halloween originally was a festival of lights (and it was a pagan holiday which had nothing to do with the Devil and everything to do with the changing of the seasons).

Here are some other references:

http://www.kate.net/holidays/christmas/holidays.html

 

Christmas Caroling
(Wassailing)

Wassailing [UK] or 'Christmas Caroling' [US] involved singing and making merry.  Currently, in America, Christmas caroling is done by Christian groups as a form of proselytizing... or... in some cases... just for the fun of it.

The following website suggests that the tradition of Christmas caroling for food/drink (as in the traditional carol: "We wish you a merry Christmas") comes from the Celtic tradition of Wassailing.  Wassailing apparently was the practice of singing to wish fellow farmers well in the upcoming planting season, for which they were rewarded by a cup of wassail (an alcoholic drink).

Source:  The Secular Web; Kiosk

For the lyrics of some modern Christmas carols/songs, click here.

 

 



 

X-mas FAQs

Q1.  Why is Christmas sometimes written "X-mas"?
A1.  Because "Christ" in Greek is written:  "Xpist";  So, Christ-mas became X-mas.
Greek: 
 
Q2 Why are green and  red  the colors of Christmas?
A2.  Good question!  I don't think anybody really knows anymore.  But, if I had to guess, I'd say, that green represents the evergreen Christmas tree, which represents eternal life.  Red usually represents blood.  It might represent the blood that Christ gave so that all might have eternal life.  But, I'm just guessing.
 
Q3.  Why does Santa come down chimneys and put presents in stockings hung on the chimney mantle piece?

A3.  Coming down the chimney probably started because doors are usually locked at night.  Why the stockings are present receptacles is anybody's guess.  Seems kind of a stinky place to put presents, doesn't it?  I highly doubt it has anything to do with Bergermeisters (or any creature like them) outlawing toys.  It probably stems from most people being too poor to have Christmas trees in their homes and since Santa Came down the chimney, of course, he would notice the stockings hung from the fireplace to dry.
 
Q4.  What if somebody lives in an apartment with NO chimney?
A4:  Parents have to stay awake until Santa comes and let him in the door.
 
Q5.  What is the best Christmas present (to give)?
A5:  Put yourself in the shoes of the person for whom you want to give a present, and think about what he/she would like to receive for Christmas.  That is the best Christmas present.
 
Q6.  Are there any romantic traditions associated with Christmas?
A6:  It is a special day for all, but especially for lovers.  The traditions are the same...such as: exchanging gifts and decorating the Christmas tree together.  It is also a time for new lovers to start making Christmas traditions of their own, which will be perpetuated and passed on to their children (if they get married).
 
Q7 Why do European people (or people of European descent) hang mistletoe at Christmas time?

A7:  Well, let me quote from an article on About.com:
"Baldur's mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant -- and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Ever the prankster, Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. The demise of Baldur, a vegetation deity in the Norse myths, brought winter into the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life. After which Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe."

FROM:  http://landscaping.about.com/cs/winterlandscaping1/a/mistletoe_2.htm

 
Q8.  What about family traditions associated with Christmas?
A8:  Yes, each family has its own traditions for Christmas.  Each member of my family was allowed to open one gift on Christmas eve.  Also, we had a big feast on both Christmas eve AND Christmas day.
 
Q9.  What are some traditional foods associated with Christmas?

A9:  There are only a few food that are particularly associated with Christimas.  They are:

          - fruit cake (which I could live without)

          - sugar cookies (which are cut into shapes of X-mas symbols; very delicious!)

          - figgy pudding {...according to the ol' X-mas carol; I've never tried it.  Now, one must understand (if one is from North America) that in the old days (and still in the UK and most of its "commonwealth") pudding was/is a kind of muffin.}

          - goose or turkey (Like Thanksgiving, the main course tends to be a big bird; traditionally a goose or turkey, but duck, or chicken can be substituted;  In our family, turkey was eaten instead of goose.)

 

 
Q10.  How do reindeer fly?
A10:  I don't know for sure.  Possibly, this idea comes from the ancient traditions of many ancient peoples that the gods flew in a chariot pulled by four-legged beasts (Nordic myth of Thor and Tibetan myth of Gesar).

 

See also:  All about Winter Solstice Traditions (by Leon)

 

 A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

 

Link:  Lyrics of some popular Christmas songs

 

 


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