Lengthy earlier than Christmas was all in regards to the start of Jesus Christ it was a celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night time of the yr, which falls between December 21 and 22. Pre-Christian folks of Europe, sometimes called pagans, had been intimately related with the seasons and relied on the return of the solar—and vegetation—for survival. Although harsh winter months lay forward, historic Europeans turned the lengthy, darkish nights of late December into a celebration, referred to as Yuletide.
“Yuletide is the Germanic time period for winter solstice,” defined Dr. Chris Klassen, faith and tradition professor at Wilfrid Laurier College in Waterloo, Ontario. (“Germanic” being a free time period that features most individuals of Europe up to now).
As a result of the times develop steadily longer after the winter solstice, historic Yuletide celebrations had been all in regards to the returning solar. “Evergreen timber and boughs and wreathes had been about bringing inexperienced—an emblem of spring and summer time—into the house to recollect life is being reborn,” stated Klassen. “And naturally Yuletide logs, which for historic pagans had been precise logs burning within the hearth by way of the longest night time, fairly than cake.”
Whereas perception methods have modified over the centuries, vegetation proceed to play a central position at Christmastime: evergreens, holly, mistletoe, cinnamon, cloves, oranges, nuts, gingerbreads, potpourri—and even hashish—are all carryovers from outdated traditions. Listed below are among the historic methods hashish introduced symbolic inexperienced, good vibes, and festive merriment to the darkest days of the yr.
Earlier than they had been the 12 Days of Christmas—Dec. 25 to Jan. 6—they had been twelve “uncooked nights” when the pre-Christian god Wotan (Odin or Wodan) and his wild military galloped throughout the sky combating a battle between gentle and darkness, often known as the Wild Hunt.
Not solely did Wotan and his legion pluck unsuspecting folks off the bottom, however different lurking demons might floor on these lengthy winter nights, too. To calm the gods and ward away evil earlier than bedtime, pagans and early Christians smudged their properties and stables with an auspicious variety of 9 herbs, resembling juniper, evergreen resins, milk thistle, mugwort, and sure hashish, wrote Christian Rästch in Pagan Christmas.
Immediately, Catholic plenty proceed to burn terpene-rich frankincense on Christmas Eve, and a few speculate the Wild Hunt is a foundational story of Santa and his reindeer flying by way of the sky.
“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his tooth / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath,” wrote Clement Clarke Moore in his 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka ‘Twas the Night time Earlier than Christmas).
The jolly, pipe-smoking Santa icon harkens again to an bygone period of smoking of not simply tobacco, however baccy: a pungent combination of forest and meadow herbs smoked at Christmastime that usually contained hashish, based on Rästch. In Pagan Christmas, he wrote that Germans had a particular phrase for the pop of hashish seeds of their Christmas baccy, which they referred to as knastert.
Rästch speculates the pipe-smoking, pagan mountain spirit Rübezahl was a precursor to the benevolent St. Nicholas, who later gave rise to the punishing Ru-klaus (“Tough Nicholas”) and the terrifying Krampus. Because of the artistic work of Nineteenth-century American poets like Moore, youngsters in the present day look ahead to visits from a really merry Santa Claus, probably stored in good humor by the contents of his pipe.
Many craft brewers in the present day brew a limited-run Christmas ale or winter beer loaded up with herbs and spices, a centuries-old custom tied to Yuletide. Northern Germanic cultures had been particularly keen on Julbeers—Norway even imposed a regulation within the 10th century stipulating each family brew their very own beer for Yuletide or face heavy fines.
In keeping with Rästch, Julbeers and Wodelbeers (Wodel = Wotan) might ignore strict brewing pureness laws
and toss in additional intoxicants at Yuletide for the nice and cozy fuzzies: hashish, wormwood, and black henbane, together with fir greens and wild rosemary for taste.
Hemp seed soup
In The Great Book of Hemp, Rowan Robinson writes of an outdated Christmas Eve custom nonetheless seen in Poland and Lithuania in the present day: semieniatka, or hemp seed soup, is obtainable to deceased relations who come again to go to their households over the vacations.
Robinson speculates the customized stretches again to historic Scythian tradition the place hashish was inextricably linked to rituals surrounding dying and funerals.
Observe: Scythians can be grouped as pagans, which Klassen says means “folks of the countryside,” utilized by Roman Christians to explain anybody who hadn’t transformed.
Particular point out: Fly agaric mushroom
Ever discover pink and white mushrooms on old-timey Christmas illustrations? That is the fly agaric mushroom, or Amanita muscaria, a psychedelic fungus with historic associations with the winter solstice. Many iterations of the Wild Hunt describe fly agaric mushrooms rising wherever Wotan rode by way of the clouds, which magically sprout 9 months later, from the autumn equinox (September 21) to the top of December.
Within the northernmost areas of Europe and Siberia, shamans are stated to have eaten fly agaric mushrooms on the winter solstice. Till lately, students say indigenous Sami people of Lapland waited of their tents on the longest night time for a shaman to reach on a reindeer-drawn sled. Inside, he would eat fly agaric mushrooms
and bestow “presents” of therapeutic and recommendation from one other realm onto the household, who would then feed the holy man for his service. These well-fed shamans wearing pink and white to honor the facility and magic of those mushrooms, which allegedly gave folks the feeling of flying by way of the sky.