In two days — December 21st — comes Great Yule, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It is the bottom of the Wheel of the Year, the point at which the forces of Yang are at their weakest and Yin at its strongest, through the effects of that will not be felt for about another month.
It is also the time, as our ancestors knew, when the arc of the sun across the sky is at its lowest point, closest to the earth. They saw this as the time when, as things in the universe looked to be at their most gloomy, the sun was then reborn, and so its arc across the sky would begin rising higher and higher, the days would begin growing longer, and warmth and light would gradually return to the world. No wonder it was seen as an important time to celebrate and “make merry.”
Later, of course, the Christian Church took advantage of this, and began celebrating what it decided to be the feast of the birth of Jesus close to the time of the Solstice. That is not surprising, because the day of the rebirth of the “Unconquered Sun” was an important celebration in Rome at the beginning of that millennium, and Church officials “co-opted” it to take advantage of that, with their notion that Jesus was the “Sun of Righteousness,” and that he, as a god, was born at that time too. Of course no one really knew when Jesus was born (or even for sure if the Jesus as depicted variously in the New Testament even was ever a definite historical figure), but at that time all was politics and propaganda. Even churches began to be erected with an East-West alignment.
You have probably heard the old Gregorian chant once used as a lead-in to the Christmas season, now often sung as a carol at Christmas, O Come O Come Emmanuel, referring to Jesus. One verse of it (in Latin) is:
Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Come, come, O Rising Sun
Shine on us in your coming,
Dispel the clouds of night,
And drive away night’s shadows.
With no change at all, that verse would make a good Yule song.
Yule, then, is a time to rejoice in the knowledge that the cold and privations of winter will not last forever, because the sun and light will return, and we will no longer see the old and harsh face of Mother Nature, but shall see her once more as the beautiful young maiden of springtime.
Yule brings us light and hope and rejoicing at the time of greatest darkness in the world.
Glad Yule, everyone!