From the Commander, Council of Kadosh (December, 2013)

posted May 30, 2015, 3:28 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 30, 2015, 3:28 PM ]

"Winter Solstice"

This year, the winter solstice happens on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at Sat 9:11 AM, California time.
The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. The December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On that date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north (Arctic Polar Circle) experience 24 hours of darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south (Antarctic Polar Circle) receive 24 hours of daylight. Here in San Jose, the sun will rise at 7:22 AM and set at 4:55 PM, giving us 9 hours, 32 minutes, and 54 seconds of daylight.
Winter solstice is short on daylight but big on celebrations. Following are a few of the traditions:
The Beiwe festival was celebrated by the Sami people of Fennoscandia, the region comprising the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland, Karelia and the Kola Peninsula. The Sami are the indigenous or native people of that region.
They worshipped Beaivi, the spring and sun goddess of fertility and sanity. She is associated with the fertility of plants and animals, and in particular, reindeer.
Saturnalia was the ancient Roman festival that marked the dies natalis ("birth day") of the Temple of Saturn on December 17. It began with a public sacrifice to Saturn and a banquet, followed by private festivities that included gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms. For example, gambling was permitted. And masters provided table service for their slaves. These festivities eventually expanded through December 23 during the Imperial period (27 BCE to 476 CE).
Sol Invictus ("the undefeated Sun") was a religious title referring to several solar deities to be worshipped collectively.Solar deities were popular for millennia throughout the ancient Near East and Mesopotamia. Emperor Elagabalus (ruled 218 to 222 CE) introduced the festival of the birth of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti ("Unconquered Sun God") to be celebrated on December 25, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian (ruled 270 to 275 CE), who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.
The Christian religion got started somewhere between the years 30 and 40 CE. With the growing popularity of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Jesus of Nazareth came to receive much of the recognition previously given to the sun gods. That was especially true when Constantine the Great (ruled 306 to 337 CE) became the first Christian Roman Emperor. This is how Jesus' birth came to be scheduled on December 25th. 
Yule was initially celebrated by the Finnic and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe as a pagan (more accurately, "polytheistic") religious festival. Yule was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christ's Mass. That is where we get the word, "Yuletide." Yule was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Julian calendar was adopted, beginning in the 16th Century. The Julian calendar is the one with 365 days divided into 12 months and an extra day every four years.
Everybody knows that deciduous trees drop their leaves in the winter. But they didn't always understand why. In pagan Europe, folks believed that leaf-drop meant that the tree had died. Then, in the springtime, it miraculously came back to life by sprouting new leaves. Evergreen trees do not drop their leaves. For that reason, evergreens of all kinds were treasured during the cold, dark winter days. Plants like holly, ivy, and mistletoe decorated homes during the winter. Pine and fur trees were dragged into the house and decorated. Trees were also chopped up and tossed onto the fire, the primary source of heat and light during that time of year. 
Christ's Mass is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (between 6 and 4 BCE). That birth took place in the town of Bethlehem. Traditionally it was called, "the city of (King) David." In Roman times, Bethlehem was in the province of Judea. Today Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory. The town never actually moved. Rather, as empires rise and fall, the landlords change but the property stays in the same place. Incidentally, Bethlehem is the home of a large Palestinian Christian community and they welcome pilgrims and tourists.
Considering the activities of animal husbandry described in the Gospel of Luke, it is much more likely that Jesus was born in the spring. Then some time after his birth, Jesus' family relocated to the town of Nazareth in the Galilee, where Jesus grew up. That's why they call him, "Jesus of Nazareth." 
In Christian theology, the birth of Jesus represents, "The incarnation of the second Adam, in fulfillment of the divine will of God, undoing the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam." Maybe that's why nobody celebrates Adam's birthday.
Christmas activities include feasting, attending midnight masses, and singing carols about the nativity. People used to gather at somebody's house and stand outside the front door singing carols. You don't see that much any more. People still exchange gifts and stash them under decorated trees, in the tradition of Saturnalia and Santa Claus, whose sleigh is drawn by reindeer, from Scandinavia.
However you celebrate, here's wishing you a Happy Winter Solstice!

Daniel Doornbos - Commander, Council of Kadosh