Meditation – celebrating Yuletide and Christmas
It’s nearly Christmas – a big event in the Christian calendar which seems to have lost some of its meaning jumbled up with christmas trees, tinsel fairies, Father Christmas (or Santa Claus if you prefer) Christmas gifts and roast turkey.
Traditiionally, the winter festival is Yule – celebrated on the winter solstice – 21st December – when the Holly King (who rules over the darkening days of the year from Midsummer to Yule) gives up his crown to the Oak King who rules over the lengthening days to Midsummer. Yuletide celebrates the return of the light.
Celebrations in Pagan times were based on the seasons – Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Hallowe’en – and the cycles of the moon and the sun – the equinoxes – Ostara, Litha, Mabon and Yule. Stone circles and neolithic tombs were built to line up with the solstices.
At Stonehenge, the sarsen stones were carefully aligned to the movements of the sun. On the summer solstice the sun rises behind the heel stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge.
At Newgrange in Ireland stands Brú na Bóinne, a Neolithic monument, older than Stonehenge, consisting of a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside and ringed by 97 large kerbstones. On the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small aperture in the tomb for around 17 minutes flooding it with brilliant light.
So Pagan festivals were based around nature, the seasons and the cycles of celestial bodies which helped them mark the passing of the year. They used natural things to help them celebrate – building bonfires, making wreaths and garlands and lighting candles. There was the same amount of eating and drinking and celebrating – but a lot less stress. Families usually all lived locally – there were no flights to the other side of the world – decorations were collected locally – holly and ivy and mistletoe – and everyone helped prepare the feast.
Christmas can be a really happy time spent with family and friends but it can also be a sad time for those who have lost loved ones and for those that live alone or are suffering hardship. It can be a stressful and anxious time – and for many people with busy lives, trying to buy presents, organise food and drink, write cards, wrap presents and work and run a house and family all at the same time – finding time to meditate can seem impossible – but you can listen to meditation music whilst you are doing a lot of those other things – and if you only shut your eyes for a few moments and take a few deep breaths – it will help.