Friday, December 21, 2007
One of the joys of living in a house with an uninterrupted view across open water to western hills is that one becomes much more aware of the changes in the position of the setting sun from month to month. In June the sun set directly across the bay behind Mount Hope. As the year progressed the sunset moved to the south, across Bristol, behind Mount Hope Bridge for a while, and is now setting behind Aquidneck Island. And today is the winter solstice, so it will start moving back north again.
Of course, ancient people spent most of their time outdoors and the seasons played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles and giving presents.
In my home country, Britain, the Druids celebrated the winter solstice by cutting the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and giving it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.
I don't subscribe to the religions of the Norsemen, the Romans or the Druids, but this week most of us are celebrating the season in a combination of their traditions. We have greenery and candles around the house, I'll light a fire and give my family some gifts. I'll tell some stories on the blog and have something to drink, though probably not sweet ale. There will be at least one feast but I'm not going to go the whole hog and emulate the Romans by dressing up as a woman. (Though there was a time at a party on a sailboat once when ... but that's a story for another day.)
Have a great Winter Solstice. 'Tis the reason for the season.
Posted by Tillerman at 9:23 AM