Have you ever wondered why this season is called Yuletide?
Deck the hall with boughs of holly, falalalalalalalala!
Yule was an indigenous 12-day festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples in winter, where they would honour the pagan god Odin. It was later Christianised, but the term “Yuletide” has remained. Pagans and Wicca adherents still celebrate Yule today. It is one of the world’s oldest winter celebrations, a time to rejoice over the rebirth of the sun and the beginning of winter.
The Sun was not only revered among the Germanic peoples. The people of ancient Rome also held the feast of Saturnalia which lasted for a whole week, to honour the Sun god. This festival was marked by merrymaking and debauchery, giving presents, and feasting. Modern-day pagans continue to light candles, throw bonfires, decorate their homes, and host feasts to celebrate the sun.
In the 4th century, the Roman Catholic Church decided to start celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Although the Bible did not name any birth date for Jesus Christ, Pope Julius 1 chose December 25th because it was a good way to replace the Roman Saturnalia celebrations that were already attracting some Christians. What better day to celebrate the true nativity, not of the Sun but of the Son?
And so winter became the time to celebrate Odin All-Father, the Sun god, and the Son of God. The evergreen fir tree which was used to celebrate Yule was also incorporated into the new Roman Catholic holiday, Christ’s Mass (Christmas). Christians also adopted the Yuletide traditions of food and drink, giving presents, and decorating their houses with holly wreaths and other greenery, all of which were winter solstice rituals.
Many Christians at that time did not find these funny of course, and they kicked against it, but with time, it became normal to do these things at Christmas and not worry about their pagan roots.
Later on, in places like America, efforts were made to celebrate only Christ and shun the other heathen traditions like decorations, trees and the practice of going from house to house singing carols, which was originally a Yule celebration custom called wassailing (Yulesinging). The General Court of Massachusetts even went as far as making any observance of December 25 apart from a church service, a penal offense. If you were caught hanging decorations, you were fined.
By the 19th century, however, the German immigrants had entered America, bringing with them the winter solstice traditions and the famous tree, the “Christmas tree” which has now become a Christmas staple. All of that Puritan legacy was forgotten, and Christmas was soon barely distinguishable from Yuletide.
Last week, while surfing the DSTV channels, I stumbled on a “Christmas Marathon” on Disney Junior and thought it would be a nice one for my son to watch. Men and brethren, we sat down together and waited for Jesus. Lo and behold, there was not one mention of our Lord. It seemed as if “Christmas” was another thing altogether that had nothing at all to do with Jesus Christ.
And maybe it is.