Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Longest Night of the Year
The exact date of this years winter solstice is Dec 22nd 00:22, Greenwich Mean Time.
Folks, this means that from tomorrow on, days will get longer again!
It will be a very short night for me though, since I'm flying eastwards and loose a couple of hours.
It is generally believed that our date for the Christmas celebration, as well as many traditions are linked to ancient celebrations around the date of winter solstice. At least I can't recall the bible says something about hanging shiny stuff on evergreen trees, or kissing the poor guy who didn't notice the mistletoe. And for me, the days getting longer is a good reason to celebrate!
"In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th. [...]
CHRISTIANITY: Any record of the date of birth of Yeshua of Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The western church leaders selected DEC-25 because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods.[...]
Many symbols and practices associated with Christmas are of Pagan origin: holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen tree, magical reindeer, etc." (source)
One tradition though remained a mystery for me for a long time. Why do people put an angel on top of their trees? Well, here's why (from PlanetMike.com):
Xmas -- The tree angel tradition
Santa was very cross. It was Christmas Eve and NOTHING was going right. Mrs Claus had burned all the cookies. The elves were complaining about not getting paid for the overtime they had while making the toys. The reindeer had been drinking all afternoon and were dead drunk. To make matters worse, they had taken the sleigh out for a spin earlier in the day and had crashed it into a tree.
Santa was furious. "I can't believe it! I've got to deliver millions of presents all over the world in just a few hours - all of my reindeer are drunk, the elves are on strike and I don't even have a Christmas tree!
I sent that stupid Little Angel out HOURS ago to find a tree and he isn't even back yet! What am I going to do?"
Just then, the Little Angel opened the front door and stepped in from the snowy night, dragging a Christmas tree. He says "Yo, fat man! Where do you want me to stick the tree this year?"
And thus the tradition of angels atop the Christmas trees came to pass........
See also this interesting article about The Ancient Origins of the Winter Solstice, and the Wikipedia Entry on Solstice.