Merry Solstice to all

This is a cause for regret to my more devout friends, I know. They feel as though their festival is being not just cheapened and commercialised but taken over by godlessness. Is it any comfort to them to know that this is a reversion, that the opposite happened some centuries ago? Christianity once colonised and usurped a pagan festival.

Indeed, there are signs that we are simply removing some Christian layers from Christmas to reveal its older traditions buried beneath. While the Christmas tree is a German 17th-century addition, the habit of bringing greenery into the house at the time of the winter solstice is almost certainly far older than Christianity and was a Yule tradition of northern Europeans with origins lost in the fog of antiquity. Likewise gift-giving and the lighting of candles to urge the return of light in the darkest time of winter.

This is of course true of near all of the major Christian festivals. No, not to insist that Christianity means nothing nor that it is an invention (hey, make up your own minds).

Rather, that the hegemonic religion of the time spent some centuries noting that people tended to get merry at certain times of the year, three of the four turning points of the year for example. Samhaim became All Souls/All Saints, the arrival of spring Easter and the winter solstice Christmas.

As Matt Ridley notes:

If Christmas is really just a repurposed pagan festival of the solstice, this does not make any of its traditions, Christian or pagan, any more or less worthwhile than others. In particular, let us give the Christians credit for two things: charity and beauty. Had it not been for St Paul and Constantine, we might still be celebrating midwinter with just debauchery, flamingoes and female gladiators, and no acts of kindness, consideration, contemplation and care. And we might never have heard a boy’s treble singing Once in Royal David’s City in the incomparable, soaring splendour of Kings College chapel’s perpendicular architecture.

So have a merry solstice, be good and let’s hope the sun heeds our heathen hopes and starts to return this week.

Whatever your beliefs do have a merry one.

39 thoughts on “Merry Solstice to all”

  1. …. and remember, ”tis a day for making merry.

    Merry Christmas, all!

    One for the cracker:

    Knock knock!
    Who’s there?
    Europe who?
    No, You’re a poo.

    (Courtesy of my 4 yr old son)

  2. Pingback: The Perfect Christmas Joke | Tim Worstall

  3. Merry Christmas to everyone!

    Except socialists, feminists, whiny-liberal do-gooders, anyone who works at the BBC, those cunts who sacked me in May, illegal immigrants, anyone who supports mass immigration, public sector workers who won’t accept they have it financially cushy, Richard fucking Murphy, Jollyold Prawn, journalists who write about how awful amazon’ s tax affairs are and anyone else I hate that I’ve left off the list. Fuck off the lot of you.

  4. Well, I’ll be a contrarian so it’s “Bah Humbug!” from me. As for debauchery, that’s the office party – a pale imitation of Saturnalia. Flamingos seem to have morphed into penguins these days, and female gladiators are an offshoot of WWF (not the panda brigade) with less blood & gore.

  5. Yes. A Merry Christmas to all. We’re certainly having one here. And the great thing is…we’ve another one coming in a bit over a week! The advantage of having Russians about the place. So we get to do it all over again! But with more vodka.

  6. And out of interest, since Tim’s got commenters from so many far flung places, any interesting quirks around Xmas wherever you are? Couple of days ago, at midnight, we had all the doors & windows open to let the Spirit of Christmas in. Don’t know whether that’s a Catholic thing, a Spanish thing or S.American. Do know if the S of C took up lodging it was at the expense of all the heat in the house. Getting the spirits of Xmas off the booze shelf at Tesco’s is somewhat easier.
    And the U-tube cartoon videos from the tropics, south of the equator. The weird juxtaposition of palm trees & coffee coloured kiddies with reindeers & snow.

  7. Merry Christmas to all at Tim’s nifty corner of the interweb.

    And Mr Ecks, you were correct the first time. No good deed goes unpunished by those (left and right) whose life’s purpose is to control others. They will not rest, so keep tipping it in.

  8. Drunk Bloke in Germany


    24 December is the main celebration/pressies day here, but it’s also officially a working day (when not on a Sunday). Most companies give employees half a day off for nowt and shops shut early (again moot when it falls on Sunday). There’s an additional mini-Christmas on Nikolaustag, 6 December, with advance pressies for kids.

  9. Surprised that BIS hasn’t mentioned the Christmas Eve close-down. Nor the doings of the Kings’ Messenger and the Kings themselves

  10. “any interesting quirks around Xmas wherever you are?”

    When I was little Christmas was scarcely a “thing” at all. It was forced on the reluctant adults of Scotland by the Beeb, Hollywood, and their extremely unreluctant children.

    My father was viewed as an extremely liberal employer because he gave everyone the afternoon off on Christmas day.

    By the time I started work Christmas had triumphed. But Boxing Day hadn’t: my chums and I were all working in the lab that day, year after year. Now, of course, decadence has had its inevitable triumph.

    At least nobody can claim, at least with any accuracy, that the modern Scottish Christmas has any serious connection to Christianity at all. It’s just a festival of chocolate and sentimental Hollywood films on the telly.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset

    Had a few Christmases in Cyprus, never quite felt the same, although when we lived in Troodos we got snowed in, so at least it was white.

    I wasn’t there on Christmas Day, Manila was an odd place in the run up to Christmas.

    Anyway, just got back from the pub, shoulder of lamb in the oven’s still got a couple hours, nice bottle of Melbec airing, cats having a mad half hour, feet up watching Paddington whilst I decide what alcoholic drink to start with and all’s well with our world.

    So I wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope you are as content as we are.

  12. Andy in not currently in Japan

    Merry Christmas y’all.

    In terms of quirks, in Japan everyone gets KFC for dinner (is pretty expensive too)

  13. @Diogenes
    “Surprised that BIS hasn’t mentioned the Christmas Eve close-down.”
    Of course, with the Spanish, such a thing is quite hard to discern against the year long tendency to close down for the least excuse. We had two days holiday, week before last. For some mysterious reason. A day apart. So the entire week was a non-starter. Supermarket we use shut at 3 but the shopping mall was a seething mass of retailer’s fodder when I passed through at 6
    “Nor the doings of the Kings’ Messenger and the Kings themselves”
    Bearing in mind my knowledge of Christianity’s more intricate doings are limited to having once owned a pair of St Michael underpants, those you mention will have to go unreported. I know there’s some bunfight, first week in January seems to involve competitive statue racing & black-belt flamenco. Kings have been mentioned. But not queens. So presumably not a Gay Pride event.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    “We had two days holiday, week before last. For some mysterious reason. A day apart”

    Germans had a habit, probably stil do (BiG?), of celebratory holidays on Tuesday or Thursday, which inevitably led to long weekends.

  15. Late to the party, but I’ll echo the wishes of other commentators: Merry Chriftmaf and Happy New Year to all y’alls!

    And no, nothing particularly interesting in the local mores around the Solstice, save of course the invention of Festivus by means of a TV show. (; and that is honoured more in the breach than in real life.

  16. BiND

    Like the French habit of multiple official holidays in the month of May with the taking of ‘bridge days’, resulting in yet another month written off…

  17. While we’re having this fireside chat, like to extend to Tim & the commentators here my profound thanks. There have been times during the year when this has been a small refuge of relative sanity to escape to when the barking madness, which is an ongoing feature of chez moi, becomes intolerable. Even today, a day of peace & goodwill to all men, has the distinct ambience of WW3 with festive trimmings.
    I do truly thank you.

  18. Even DBC. For the comedy.

    And it occurs. Maybe we should toddle over to casa Murphy & express our gratefulness for a year’s superb entertainment?

  19. Merry Christmas one and all. I wonder what gifts the assorted Pollys, Georges and Jeremys of the Islington set exchange to mark the neo-liberal winterval? Vouchers to be exchanged for goats to be sent to all those poverty-stricken yet laughter-filled African villages? A volume of the longest, and therefore the best, of the speeches of Castro and Chavez? Piles of unsold copies of the Guardian which can be used to fortify their position on the moral high ground?

  20. Very drunk chef in Germany


    Long gone. Regional holidays have been subsumed into the state (land, not bund) holidays¡ or abolished.

    Even thursday afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen has long since given way to the post-protestant work ethic.

  21. Outside the foreigner infested fleshpots Dec25 is just another Monday here in Thailand. However I must get in training for Jan1 when the tradition is to get blind drunk, climb into your pickup and see how much slaughter you can cause. (It doesn’t matter because we have reincarnation. Apparently.)

    Best wishes one and all.

  22. So Christmas is a repurposed celebration of the winter solstice… what idiots celebrated the solstice on the 25th, were they blind? As far as I can tell the latest the solstice has been is the 21st and the earliest (Julian calendar) the 13th.

    As for Saturnalia that was invented after the Christians of Rome started celebrating Christmas on the 25th. The East generally celebrated the Epiphany (6th January) and many still do.

    And as for Eostre… even the Guardian worked out what a load of nonsense that was,

  23. @ Tim
    Harvest festival was reinvented in the Vistorian era but it is pretty much a retimed (due to different timing of British and Palestinian harvests) partial revival of the feast of booths – only partial because the British autumn is too cold for living outdooors in a shelter made out of palm fronds.

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