Long before the birth of Jesus Christ was in the spotlight over Christmas time, Christmas holidays were all about the celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It falls between 21st and 22nd December. Pre-Christian people of Europe, often referred to as pagans, were closely connected with seasons. They were heavily dependent on the return of the sun (consequently the plants as well) to survive. Although freezing winter months were ahead of them, they turned the long, dark late December nights into celebration of Yule or Jul. Santa has his role in this as well…
Yule is a Germanic term for winter solstice. The term Germanic has a broader use and includes most of the people in the history of Europe. Jul originates from the anglo-saxon word “lul”, which means circle or wheel. It connects it to the Celtic calendar, Wheel of the Year. In Nordic cultures, “Jul” refers to the god Odin.
WINTER SOLSTICE AND TRADITIONS
Due to longer days after the winter solstice, ancient traditions for Jul were focused on the return of the sun. Evergreen trees and boughs served for the arrival of the green (symbol of spring and summer) to their homes. With it, they remembered the rebirth of life. Furthermore, it also included Yule bonfires. These were of great importance for burning through the longest night of the year.
While worship and religions changed over the years, plants remain to play a central role on Christmas. Evergreens, holly, mistletoe, cinnamon, cloves, oranges, nuts, gingerbread, and even cannabis are all carryovers from old traditions. Below you can learn some ways on how cannabis created a green, jolly, and festive atmosphere in the darkest days of the year in our history.
Before the 12 days of Christmas (25th December till 6th January) there were 12 “raw nights”. In that time, the pre-Christian god Wotan (Odin or Wodan) and his wild army galloped through the sky and fought the battle between light and dark, known as the Wild Hunt. Not only did Wotan and his legion pluck unsuspected people off the ground, in these long winter nights, other demons appeared as well.
To calm the gods and ward away evil before bedtime, pagans and early Christians covered their homes and stables before sleep, with an auspicious number of nine herbs. Among them were juniper, evergreen resins, milk thistle, mugwort, and likely cannabis.
Nowadays, during Catholic masses on Christmas eve, incense rich with terpenes continues to be burnt. Some believe that the Wild Hunt is the base story of Santa and his deer, flying through the sky.
SANTA CLAUS AND HIS PIPE
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth and the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
Clement Clarke Moore 1823 (A visit from St. Nicholas aka The Night Before Christmas)
The iconic jolly Santa Claus with a pipe lit in his mouth originates back in the forgotten era of not only tobacco smoking, but also “Baccy”. A pungent mixture of forest and meadow herbs smoked at Christmas that often contained cannabis. Germans had a special word for the cannabis seed pop in the Christmas baccy: Knastert.
There are some assumptions that the pagan pipe smoking mountain spirit Rubezahl is the predecessor of the well known St. Nicholas, who later on enabled the ascent of the punishing Ru-klaus (“Rough Nicholas”) and the terrifying Krampus. With the help of creative work of American poets in the 19th century, such as Moore, nowadays kids are excited about the night visit of Santa Claus who is possibly kept in good humor by the contents of his pipe.
In modern times many craft brewers produce Christmas brews or winter brews enriched with herbs and spices. This is also an ancient tradition connected to Yule. North Germanic cultures especially loved Julbeer. In the 10th century, Norway even created a law, which demanded all households to brew their own beer for Yule or face high penalties.
Julbeers and Wodelbeers could ignore strict brewing pureness laws and could add intoxicants such as cannabis, wormwood, black henbane, along with fir greens and wild rosemary for flavor.
HEMP SEED SOUP
In the Great book of Hemp, Rowan Robinson mentions an old tradition on Christmas eve, which we can still find in Poland and Lithuania. Semieniatka or hemp seed soup is offered to the deceased members of families, who come back to visit their families during holidays.
Robinson assumes this tradition goes back to the culture of ancient Scythians, where cannabis was inextricably included in rituals connected with death and funerals. Scythians can also be included in the group of pagans, which means “people of the countryside”. This term was used by the Roman Christians for anyone who hadn’t converted. You can learn more about the Scythians and other ancient cannabis rituals here.
SPECIAL CASE: FLY AGARIC MUSHROOM
Have you ever noticed red and white mushrooms on old Christmas illustrations? Those are fly agaric mushrooms or Amanita muscaria, psychedelic fungus with an ancient connection with the winter solstice. Many iterations of the Wild Hunt describe fly agaric mushrooms that grow everywhere Wotan traveled through the clouds. They magically grow 9 months after the period from the autumn equinox (21 september) to the end of december.
In the most northern parts of Europe and Siberia it is said shamans ate these mushrooms at winter solstice. Academics claim that until recently, on the longest night of the year, the indigenous Sami people of Lapland waited for the shaman in their tents. He came with his sleigh pulled by deer. Inside the shaman is supposed to consume these mushrooms and gifted families “gifts” of healing and advice from another realm onto the families. In exchange for the service, the families fed the holy man (Santa Claus). These well fed shamans dressed in red and white clothes to honor the power and magic of these mushrooms. They allegedly gave people the feeling of flying over the sky. To learn more about psychoactive substances, please follow the link here.
Let’s explore our forgotten history and we might just learn more about our origins, traditions, and forgotten practices.