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80 Years Ago

Archives 11-28-2001

North County Lines by Bob



Understanding the significance of the word Yule might eliminate some of the garbage that separates belief systems.

Thousands of years before the Christian Era began, Yule, which directly followed winter solstice, was a time of peace and charity, a time of sharing, a time to celebrate the lengthening of daylight, to welcome the coming of the Sun.

In what is now Scandinavia, work was reduced to a minimum. No wheels could be turned. No animal, bird, nor fish could be trapped or shot. Doing these things would show disrespect for the Sun, the great wheel in the sky.

This time of the year was known as Julafred, which meant peace. The word Yule was derived from Julafred.

In 354 AD a Roman scholar explained why December 25 was chosen to celebrate Christmas: "It is customary for pagans to celebrate the birth of the sun on this day. When the leaders of the church perceived that Christians had a leaning toward this holiday, they resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day."

A religious scholar of the day called the selection of December 25 as Christmas "purely arbitrary."

Those living in the country who faced lean times during winter had reason to celebrate Yule when they did.

The promise of the Sun's return meant spring coming, bringing with it the birth of new animals to the flocks, the softening of the soil for tilling, the time for planting.

Celebrating Yule as a holy day by worshipping the Sun as a deity was an affirmation of the ability to survive the barren winter. Worshipping the Sun signified the importance of light.

The observance of Yule in ancient times represented a time when days started getting longer, when light, in its fullest form, began returning to the land.

The use of candles as decorations of light during ancient Yule time led to the decorations of light strung on trees and houses during the modern Christmas season.

Mistletoe and holly were also used to decorate during ancient Yule time.

Many customs of Christmas can be traced to the ancient traditions of Yule.

Although most of us are far removed from our ancient ties to nature, we still engage in customs practiced by our ancient ancestors.

Yule and Christmas have much in common. The birth of light in scarce times. A reason to hope in the darkness of winter.

Christmas, like Yule, has symbolic ties to agriculture. Bethlehem means house of bread, which associates Christ with grain as a provider of life.

At the Last Supper, Christ broke bread and drank wine with his disciples. "Do this in remembrance of me."

Many who celebrated Yule honored harvest deities Baccus and Dionysus by drinking the fruit of the vine.

Like Yule, one of the customs of Christmas is feasting, also known as overeating. I've thought about writing a book called How to Gain Weight During the Holiday Season. But audience appeal probably wouldn't be that great.

A fourth-century Christian zealot wrote, "It is generally accepted that the date of Christmas was chosen to coincide with the pagan solstice celebration of Yule, as a way of converting the heathens to Christianity."

Heathen and pagan in the same sentence, not bad, but a common mistake.

The exact meaning of heathen at the time was country dweller, a member of a group who warmed themselves with heat, the root word of heathen, of a single fire in a farm house.

Pagan, traced to its roots, means gentile or non-Jewish.

Somewhere along the line, it started being used to also define non-Christians and non-Muslims. But common sense clearly indicates that is an inaccurate definition.

How could pagan, a word in use centuries before the advent of Christianity and Islam, describe a non-Christian or a non-Muslim?

Of course some incorrectly use pagan to describe those with different religious beliefs. Heathen is used the same way. A group must be labeled before being persecuted.

Hitler knew this and understood the power of religious rhetoric. When asked why he was killing Jews, Hitler replied, "I'm doing the Lord's work."

Mom used to call me a heathen. "Go outside and play, you little heathen!

When my first-grade teacher asked my name on the first day of school, I replied, "Little Heathen."

She knew better. But before the end of the school year she was addressing me by that name. "Sit down, you little heathen!"

Different types of pagans, everyone who isn't Jewish according to the correct definition of the word, inhabit the world today. The beliefs of some are centered in nature, in the cycles of Earth, in the Moon and the Sun and the stars.

Some pagans celebrate Yule on a different day than Christmas. Some celebrate Yule and Christmas on the same day. Some celebrate both days as another opportunity to give thanks.

Although Yule predates Christmas by centuries, both have something in common. One celebrates the coming of the Sun. The other celebrates the coming of the Son. Both celebrate the coming of light. If only we could be united by the light instead of separated by the darkness of religious bigotry.

But religious zealots, wolves disguised not that well as sheep, will never allow that, so I'll close with a salutation written by a father to his son on Christmas Eve in 1513: "Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee."


Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570
tel 931.823.6485
fax 931.823.6486

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