Saturday, December 25, 2004

Yuletide Ends Too Soon

I have complained in this blog about merchants starting Christmas too soon. Now I am going to complain about it ending too soon. It seems to me that the American holiday season is a bit askew. It begins with Thanksgiving and, for all extents and purposes, now ends with Christmas Day. That does not seem right to me.

At least in much of Northern Europe and North America, the holiday season owes much to the pre-Christian, Germanic festival of Yule. Yule may well be one of the earliest Germanic holidays ever mentioned. Latin writer Procopius refers to a festival to celebrate the return of the sun held by the people of Thule (presumably Scandinava) on the first day of winter. Bede refers to the festival of Geol (modern English Yule) in his De Temporum Ratione. In Icelandic sources we are told that Yule lasted 12 days.

I don't know if Christianity followed the Germanic peoples' celebration of Yule in making the celebration of Christmas last twelve days, but properly it lasts twelve days nonetheless. Traditonally, Christmas began on the evening of December 24 (Chritmas Eve) and lasted until Twelfth Day (January 6). I am not quite sure when people stopped celebrating Christmas as a twelve day festival. I seem to remember references to Twelfth Night and the Twelve Days of Christmas in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That means the Twelve Days of Christmas were still being celebrated as late as the mid-19th century, at least in England.

To a degree, I think remnants of the twelve day celebration persisted here in the United States. I know when I was growing up that we would not take down our Yule tree or our lights until January 1. The same held true for nearly everyone in Randolph County. Oh, one would not hear any Christmas carols after December 25, except in the odd commercial. And one would not see any holiday themed movies on television with a few rare exceptions. But the trappings of the Yuletide remained until New Year's Day.

In the few decades I have been alive, this seems to have changed. I have noticed that many people take down their lights and their trees the day after Christmas. This leads me to believe that many feel the holiays are over with December 26. Indeed, this may be well be the case nationwide. I just heard a commercial on television a while ago stating, "The holidays may be over..." Hello?! It's not even New Year's Day yet!

Granted I am biased, but I would like to see the Yuletide celebrated for twelve days throughout American society. Rather than being the end of the celebration, December 25 would be the beginning (or middle, depending on one's preferences). New Year's would simply be an extension of the holidays. Unfortunately, I doubt that this is going to come about any time soon.


The Talking Mute said...

Hmmm, Christmas. I love it. I was born and raised in a country where the holiday atmosphere starts from September and ends on January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany). Filipinos somehow are so eager to celebrate it, so much so that we have a saying that Christmas starts in the month that ends with a "ber", i.e. September. I even remember making Christmas lanterns as a school project the moment it hits the month with a "ber." Until I came to Canada, when I can hardly feel the spirit except when I go to malls. Please don't get me wrong. I just miss the experience so much that I can't wait to go home to the Philippines and savour homemade delicacies that they only cook during Christmas.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Christmas in the Phillipines sounds wonderful. I don't know what the Yuletide in Canada is like, but, from the sounds of it, it must be a lot like it is here in the States. Here there is quite a bit of Yuletide spirit starting around Thanksgiving (which is too early to me), which dies out with Christmas day (which is too early to me). Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I always liked the idea of the Twelve Days, starting with Christmas Eve and ending with Epiphany.