The end of December is a time for celebration. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, Hindu, or even an atheist, there is something about the lengthening of daylight that should put all of us in a good mood. This year, December 21st was the shortest day of the year. Each day from the 22nd of December until the Summer solstice, days will get longer. While religious traditions are held near and dear to our hearts, what is often forgotten is that many of these celebrations are truly “festivals of light”, and are celebrated during this time of year because they are historically tied to the winter solstice.
Many people believe that the reason Emperor Constantine chose December 24-25 to commemorate the birth of Christ was because it fell at the same time as the Roman Feast of Sol Invictus (the Undefeated Sun). Sol Invictus had been considered the most important Roman god for the previous 200 years. The twenty-four days of Advent leading up to Christmas, in which a new candle is lit every Sunday, is further evidence of this connection. Being the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine had a strong desire to unify his empire. Its seems that one way he tried to do this is by combining both pagan and Christian traditions. (*fingers crossed* an evangelical doesn’t hunt me down and kill me for posting this!)
In Mexico and Central America there are various feasts of light that involve bonfires. In one Guatemalan festival, “Burning the Devil”, huge bonfires are built on December 12th to drive away the devil (the dark). There are several versions of these festivals throughout Central America. (Although I did read that they are curbing some of those festivals to help with climate change!)
In Sweden, on the morning of December 13th (the 13th was the solstice in an older Christian calendar), St. Lucia’s Day, a young woman is chosen as the light queen. She wears a white dress and wreath of lighted candles in her hair. And in Holland, on November 11th, children carry lanterns from house to house, singing songs in honor of St. Martin – who gave a poor man his half of his clothes on a dark and stormy night.
How does your family celebrate this time of year??? If you are interested in learing more about how other cultures celebrate this time of year, I found this interesting site