A Secular Celebration of December Solstice

December 26, 2008

As yet another Yuletide comes and goes, it is high time that we work toward a secular vernacular for Winter Solstice (Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere) that is appropriate for public, civic observance. In a pluralistic world, “Christmas” is simply unacceptable for use in the public square, and terms like “The Holidays” and “Holiday Tree” are simply too broad, vague, and honestly uninspiring. In Britannic countries (aka Anglo-offshoot societies), we have a ready solution that is steeped in tradition and which ties us back to beginning of our culture and civilization, and that is the term Yule to denote the December Solstice.

Terms like “December Solstice” is equally uninspiring and Winter Solstice poses a problem for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, especially given that the main thrust of this proposal is to come with a solution for English speaking countries (though others would be welcome to join along if it fits into local cultural mores), and a number of English speaking countries lie in the South; principally Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. “Saturnalia”, the old Roman term for the holiday is equally inappropriate since it has in it’s name the name of a deity the same as “Christmas”, albeit from a dead religion.

Thus, the appropriate term is Yule and it’s counterparts such as Yuletree for use on public property and anywhere else in which the user wishes to be inclusive and non-sectarian.  This goal can be achieved by embracing our culture and past rather than simply saying, “Happy Holidays.” Yule in one spelling form or another, dates back to the earliest days of English-speaking peoples, and in fact further back. Yule, December 25th was the last day of the year in the Anglo-Saxon calendar, and the months corresponding to December and January were called Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) and Æftera Jéola (After Yule) respectively. What’s more, while most terms for holidays have some ultimate religious context, and Yule is no different, it is important to note that one, the religion that founded the observance is largely moribund (with the exception of some reconstructionists), and two, the most reliable definition for Yule, comes from a Germanic term meaning “wheel” and is purported to be related to the “Year’s Wheel” and the full circle of the seasonal cycle, and thus, is far more appropriate to be used in a secular manner. The fact that Scandinavian countries, used the term  of “Yule”, in their several forms to denote other religious holidays in December, such as Jødisk Jul (Jewish Yule) for Hanukkah underlies that the term is more important for the time of year.

While terms like Yule and Yuletide (Yule Time) are well established and understood by most in English-speaking lands, Yuletree is less familiar, though not without precedence, in Denmark, the tree is referred to as exactly that, “Juletræ” (Yuletree), and in Norway Christmas Eve is referred to as Julaften “Yule’s Eve.” These are important because these are exactly the vernacular needed for a proper civic and secular observance of the holiday from town halls to state houses, to parliaments, and any other public square used to display and celebrate the Solstice.

This proposal will allow all as a community to celebrate the season in a way that is meaningful to our common culture, and non-offensive to those who feel strongly that the best way to ensure religious and free speech rights is to make sure government does not take a stand one way or another regarding religion. It also does not impede religious communities or persons to celebrate the season in a religious way that is meaningful to them in their places of worship or private property.

Join with me, to encourage our political representatives at all levels to adopt this proposal as a positive way forward for our society.

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