Christmas Trees Celebrate the Winter Solstice!

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Nita Renfrew

Dec 13, 2016, 11:38:33 AM12/13/16
to Nick Curto


Season's Greetings from Nita

Christmas Trees Celebrate the Winter Solstice
(Extract from “The Sacred Language of Trees,” by ATMann: Sterling, New York, 2012)
To the Celts, every mountain, tree, river, or spring has its own spirit. Trees in particular are revered as symbols of winter, the season of death, and yet also the time of the subsequent rebirth of nature and the year. The modern ritual of Christmas trees resonates with earlier festivals of the world tree in that it is celebrated at the Winter Solstice, the dark time of the year, the birth of the Christ, and the turning of the year toward the light. This is the case, even though Christmas as a Christian festival was not celebrated for many hundreds of years after Christ. However, just as virgins dance around the Maypole at May festivals, so at Christmas, the elves dance around the tree or Christmas pole, which is decked with candles as spheres of light. These are primary fertility festivals that signal seasonal shifts, and Christmas is the end of the darkness in the solar year in almost every culture, although the underlying spiritual components of these festivals have been largely forgotten; however, all are festivals of the sacred trees.

In the ancient Middle East the stumps of trees amidst the groves of the early Semitic goddess Asherah were used as altars. Today we see symbols of the early and original fertility worship of trees remaining in their Christianized form, together with ancient fertility symbols such as the phallus, testes, and semen morphing into the Christmas pole or tree, the balls or decorations on the tree, and the tinsel draped over it, complete with blinking lights. Presents placed under the tree are symbolic offerings to the gods, or the baby Jesus, born on that December solstice day. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we also really celebrate the darkest day of the year and the turning of the light as earlier pagans did at the Winter Solstice. Of course originally, because of the vagaries of the calendar over time, the solstice, the celebration of Christmas and the New Year were the same day.

The Druids collected their sacred mistletoe from the great oak trees, according to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder. He described the ceremony: “They prepare a sacrifice and a holy feast under the tree … a priest dressed in white climbs the tree, cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and catches it in a white cloak.” The symbolism is lunar, with the dominant white of the moon goddess, the womb-like circular wreaths of evergreen branches, and the sickles shape echoing the Moon’s crescent, but it is also a festival of Saturn, the Lord of Time, whose symbol is the holly tree, and the old man of the North Pole. The ancient Romans always placed such “womb-wreaths” of evergreens at their Saturnalias, their festivals to the god Saturn, to wish long life and eternal happiness.

The eight reindeer of Santa Claus are also symbolic, as deer are sacred animals to the Druids, and are also ruled by the moon, because they reflect the light of the sun, and symbolize the eight points of the year that were celebrated as pagan festivals. The reindeer’s bells symbolize the ancient celebrations of the ringing of the bells at this time of the year. Holly trees also link holiday celebrations with Druidic culture, as it is the sacred tree of this season. Holly berries, the red robes of church bishops, the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and the red apples on the pine trees of medieval miracle plays were the forerunners of Rudolph's red nose, and Santa's familiar crimson suit. The eight Chanukah candles also represent the festivals of the lights of the solstices and equinoxes and their intermediate points despite the Hebrew calendar being lunar rather than solar.

The god Odin is an obvious forerunner of Santa because he is a god from the Northland (Norseland), and he travels on an eight-legged horse called Sleppnir, between the worlds of the Yggdrasil world tree, of which the Christmas tree is an abstract and stylized version. The births of the other crucified gods are celebrated at this time of the “birth of the light,” at the Winter Solstice, such as the Persian god of Light Mithras, who was born in a cave at the Winter Solstice, and King Arthur, born in the great stone castle at Tintagel on this darkest of nights. And, of course, Jesus Christ was born in the manger in Jerusalem at this time of the year. They are all “guardians of the light,” who bless their trees of life at this time of the year.

Oak trees are characters in themselves in Welsh myths, where they symbolize seasonal magic. Oak blossoms were used to conjure up the other magical realms, and were also connected in myth with the eagles that perch atop tall oak trees, just as the eagle sits at the apex of the sacred Yggdrasil tree in the Scandinavian cosmos. Manley Palmer Hall mentions the old Rosicrucian doctrine that trees are not only symbolic of humanity and its wisdom, but also that they are more than abstract qualities; they also designate the many highly illuminated philosophers, sages, priests, and spiritual leaders throughout history. The Druids worshipped in oak groves and were “men of the oak trees,” just as Syrian wise ones were called the “cedars of Lebanon.” This is similar to the way in which the feminine deities or wise women or goddesses were also considered “trees” in their own right. This implies that the trees that housed the gods were literally created from, and identical to, the body of wisdom of all of the wise sages of the past.

Although I am flying to the UK tonight, I will be available for readings throughout the holiday season, so be in touch and be well and enjoy holiday cheer.
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