by Harley Hashman
‘Tis the age when the Christ signs his name to the season in a giant “X” and it becomes the X-mas, when throngs of shoppers like locusts with tombstones in their eyes foam the waters with their frenzy of consumption. Retailers pray that their hour has come, credit card companies rub their hands together like avaricious spiders contemplating the trapped fly, and we choke back bile at the seven hundredth playing of “Rudolph” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
If I may be allowed to diverge for a moment, Rudolph should have steered those insufferable hypocrite reindeer to impalement on iron spikes. “Then all the reindeer loved him,” indeed.
The term Yule is still used by some as a synonym for Christmas. Of course it is not. Yule comes at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It is paradoxically, a Pagan solar festival, and in some traditions is the time when the Holly King – representing death – is overcome by the Oak King – representing rebirth. The Teutonic Yuletide begins on Mother Night, Dec. 20th and ends on Yule Night, Dec. 31st. These are the “Twelve days of Christmas” in that annoying song.
The ecologically questionable tradition of buying a severed young evergreen tree for an entire day’s wages, then dragging it indoors to decorate it, place presents beneath it while it gradually dies, then dump it unceremoniously on the curb is originally a Pagan one, although I suspect that the tree was live and rooted before and after the celebrations. Many people are now using live potted trees which are later replanted. The Yule trees were illuminated by candles, a dangerous practice indoors, which technology has replaced with colored lights that burn out, ornaments that sing “Silent Night” and Hallmark replicas of Star Trek vehicles.
Holly wreaths are another Pagan invention, as are decorated cookies and special breads for the feast. The extensive use of the colors red and green for Christmas is derivative of their use in Yule; maybe an echo of the colors of the holly leaves and berries?.
Consider the Santa myth. The use of reindeers: are these leftover symbols of the horned god, presented in a palatable form? And what about those elves? Why or how did earth elementals become the thralls of a human in red jumpers? The book When Santa was a Shamandiscusses extensively the myth of Kris Kringle. Suffice to say, the character originates in pagan Europe. St. Nick is one of the few magical beings of a non-angelic species accepted by Christians and promoted to their (and Pagan) children. Santa is a micro version of Jehovah, complete with the white beard, who doles out rewards to the faithful – toys instead of paradise – and punishment to the wicked – a coal in your stocking rather than a lake of fire.
When a child finds out that Santa is a fraud, a rite of passage has been completed; never again will that child blindly accept the word of an adult. For some children the realization that Santa is make believe makes it easy to be as cynical about God.
The ritual of the Yule log has been dropped from most mainstream Christianity. A pity, for it is perhaps the most wonderful. Small scrolls containing wishes for the new year are placed on the Yule fire. A portion of the log is saved to protect the house the year-round and to light the log of the next Yule.