Bernie Rowen-Ross tells us many of the traditions we follow at Christmas have passed to Christianity from other older practices.
Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and I often wonder about the traditions which have passed to Christianity from other older practices. One of those is the shortest day – the winter equinox which falls on either the 21st or 22nd December. A keen astronomer, without the assistance of technology, would observe that along the horizon the sun will start rising closer to the east, the wheel of the year is turning, and the winter rites celebrated.
The Druids of old, celebrated the midwinter tradition Alban Arthan, which is Welsh for ‘the light of the bear’. King Arthur the mythical hero of the British Isles was also honoured at this time.
Mistletoe was gathered, not only to kiss your lover under, but for more practical and significant reasons. According to ancient herbal traditions, mistletoe is calming to the nervous system (great idea for those challenging Christmas gatherings with Aunt Agatha, who insists on treating you as though you were still five-years-old!). It has also been said, mistletoe will slow pulse rates and lower blood pressure. No wonder it became a favourite around Christmas time!
During the Middle Ages, mistletoe was banned in churches for fear it would lead to debauchery (too much kissing!) and holly was substituted as a decoration. Mistletoe was also used to create love spells. It was believed if you hung mistletoe in your house, you would attract the love of your life and be married.
The Yule log, an ancient Northern European tradition, was burned in the central fireplace continuously for 12 days. The Yule log came from your own land or was received as a gift, and was kindled from a piece of wood from the previous year to symbolise the continuation of the light which is passed from year to year. The ash from the log was saved, mixed with seeds and sprinkled in the fields as a continuation of the power of the sun. The rest was kept for following year.
Today, Christmas would not be celebrated without the tree and all its baubles. But it might surprise you, that the ancient Siberian shaman used evergreen trees to hold the mushrooms (Fly Agaric) while they were picking more. These mushrooms are bright red and it seems reindeer also love to eat them. The shaman would put the mushrooms into large sacks and hang them near the fire to dry. Does all this sound a little familiar? Reindeer with red noses flying through the sky? Large sacks near the fire?
There are many different winter traditions and views of Christmas, but to all our readers – may peace be with you over the festive season and all year round.
Bernie Rowen-Ross is a Psychotherapist, Sound Healer and Astrologer, she works from THE BAREFOOT SANCTUARY
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