While Samhain, Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve is considered to be the night where the veil between the earthly realm and the spirit world is thin, there is actually another night where that veil is thinnest.
The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” (winter solstice) holiday called Yule (also called Jul, Julblot, jólablót, midvinterblot, julofferfest). Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendents of Yule customs.
December 21st, Winter Solstice, is the shortest day of the year, “the darkest night of the soul and is a time when the veil between other worlds and dimensions is thinnest. The word Solstice translates to ‘sun stands still’ and those in the Northern Hemisphere will experience the darkest day of the year. It has long been believed that on this night, spirits would visit Earth in order to offer guidance and insights into the year ahead.”
Many trace this time back to the Egyptian sun god Horus, with traditional Celtic and Pagan civilizations throughout Northern Europe celebrating and sacrificing to the Norse God, Jul. This time of the year can be celebrated with yule logs, yule trees, and Mistletoe. Many of these same traditions are celebrated by Christians as they celebrate the birth of their god, Jesus Christ.
Sol Invictus was originally a Syrian god who was later adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire under Emperor Aurelian. His holiday is traditionally celebrated on December 25, as are several gods associated with the winter solstice in many pagan traditions. It has been speculated to be the reason behind Christmas’ proximity to the solstice.
When the seasons changed, many believed that the winter brought malicious spirits and evil with it. Pagans sought nature to help battle that evil with mistletoe, holly, and evergreen – believed to have power against dark magic and evil because they stayed green throughout the year. Wreaths were hung over doors and windows to ward off evil spirits and the evergreen decor brightened up the otherwise modest abodes.
Historically, Germans cut down a tree large enough to burn for twelve days of feasting and sacrifice, with the tree serving as a fertility symbol to help with the coming spring harvest. Norse pagans would bring evergreen trees into their homes so that the spirits of the trees would bless the owners and offer protection from dark spirits.
Many popular customs associated with Christmas developed independently of the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, with certain elements having origins in pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagan populations who were later converted to Christianity.
For more on current Christmas traditions that come from Pagan beliefs, read up on wassailing and its roots to caroling; the god Saturn, the Norse god Frigga, and the Poetic Edda and their envolvement with mistletoe; Sinterklaas, La Befana, and Frau Holle and their ties to Santa Claus; Odin, Saturnalia, and hanging ornaments; Mithras, Horus, and the act of rebirth; the Holly King and the Oak King, just to name a few.
In the meantime, Happy Solstice to you.