6:12 am December 21, 2012, marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. Hours of daylight increase following the solstice as the sun begins its return journey toward summer. To celebrate, many ancient cultures engaged in rituals and festivals of light. In the northern hemisphere, the December solstice occurs during the coldest season of the year. Although winter was regarded as the season of darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood. To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate. Nature’s cycle was continuing. There are more ceremonies and rituals associated with the winter solstice than any other time of year.
Thousands of years ago, the Roman culture celebrated Saturnalia, its major festival, on the Winter Solstice. When Julius Caesar instituted a new calendar in 46BC, the festival fell on December 25th. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD during the Roman Emperor Constantine’s reign. Shortly afterwards Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th ,seeking to replace pagan traditions with Christian ones. In fact, many Christmas traditions, including yule logs ,decorating with candles and lights, evergreen trees, and mistletoe predate Christianity by thousands of years.
In addition to the solstice and Christmas, other festivals and celebrations are held in December. The Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah. Some African and African Americans celebrate the festival of Kwanzaa. Many Native Americans observe winter solstice rites to honor their ancestors and offer prayers of gratitude. The Chinese celebrate Dongzhi and Buddhists have Bodhi Day. The Celts have Boxing Day and Mummers’ Day, and there’s the Slavic festival of Koleda. No matter what our spiritual beliefs, or what part of the world we live in, we all share the turning of the sun on the solstices.
The winter holidays are for everyone. “Keep Christ in Christmas” and ”Jesus is the reason for the season” are the familiar refrains of many Christians. But throughout the world, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas as well. I don’t say this to diminish Christianity, but only to point out that these Winter celebrations are a deep part of us all. Whether we identify as Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Pagan, agnostic, or atheist, we are drawn towards the light and fellowship that has become an integral part of this season. So all those non-Christians celebrating “Christmas” are simply doing what comes naturally. The insistence by some Christians that December and its celebrations somehow belongs only to Christians misses the point of why we go to such great efforts to gather together. We aren’t waging a “war on Christmas”, or disrespecting Christian tradition. We are honoring deeper, older, instincts.
I hope we can all come to understand that the winter holiday season is bigger than any one faith’s traditions. Much of Humanity is celebrating right now for a variety of reasons. So let me wish all of you a Happy Holiday Season, be it Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, or Christmas. Tomorrow brings the gift of more light as Grandfather Sun begins his return journey toward summer. No matter how we celebrate it, we can all delight in this season as a time to gather together, renew, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. More than anything we can take this time to offer gifts of gratitude from our hearts. These offerings can spark the gift of Peace throughout the world. What better way to honor ALL the Festivals of Light.
Nindiniwemaganidok: We Are All Related.