Merry Christmas! The Sun, Winter and Saviour
By Raymond Shipley
Merry Christmas and Yuletide Greetings! Of all seasons that are possessed of deep, traditional meanings, Jul is perhaps the most significant. Parents simply cannot do enough to connect children to our families and traditions during this important time, but it is our duty to try.
When the month of the dead has passed the time of Jul is beginning, and with it comes the rebirth of the Sun after its wintry death. Although the Jul Wreath, pastries and feasts are all of significant importance, the focus here will be on the telling of Yuletide stories each advent Sunday.
We are all likely familiar with the tradition of advent and the lighting of candles leading up to Christmas. But the telling of traditional stories that date back centuries likewise helps connect each generation to those past. Our folktales are filled with moral lessons handed down through time, and are as relevant now as ever.
On the first Jul Sunday is read "Little Red Riding Hood." A familiar story, as most of them are, it is filled with lessons about light and dark. When Little Red Cap journeys into the woods to visit Grandma, she encounters the wolf. Little Red Cap represents the Sun, Grandma the Earth, and the wolf the darkness of Winter. The Sun is to feed the Earth and give life, but just as during this time of year, the wolf swallows Grandma and Little Red Cap. The hunter, who represents the saviour, brings freedom to the Sun and Earth, and Winter is killed.
"Snow White" was the first Walt Disney animated feature film, and for good reason. Just as with "Little Red Riding Hood," Snow White journeys deep into the woods. The Evil Queen stops at nothing to kill her, and finally succeeds through a poisoned apple. In the end, it is the young prince that saves Snow White, and the Evil Queen meets her end. Clearly, Snow White is the Sun, the dwarfs represent the Earth, the Evil Queen is Winter and the young prince is the saviour. As with other folktales, Snow White maintains significance both for moral lessons, as well as to the season itself.
On the third Jul Sunday is read "Maid Maleen." A more obscure tale, it is similar to "Rapunzel"; Maid Maleen is locked in a tower for falling in love with a prince, for her father does not approve. She is locked in the tower for seven years, a significant cosmic number itself, and after her time is up no one is there to release her. When she escapes she finds the kingdom has been devastated in her absence and she is lost and lonely. Maid Maleen becomes a handmaiden for an ugly woman betrothed to her prince. The woman is so ugly she sends Maid Maleen in her place to marry her beloved and he recognizes and rescues her from such horrible circumstances. The ugly deceiver is then killed and Maid Maleen and her prince live happily ever after. Maid Maleen is the Sun without which the earth becomes barren. The prince saves her from the ugliness of Winter, and all the folk are saved because of him.
"Sleeping Beauty" is my own daughter's favorite story, and another that Walt Disney made into a feature film. The ever looming threat of the thirteenth fairy looms throughout as she places a curse on the princess. Eventually, it is fulfilled when Briar Rose (Aurora) pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep along with the rest of the kingdom. Thorns grow around the land and castle, preventing anyone from entering. After a hundred years a young prince enters. The thorns turn into roses, and he awakens the princess with a kiss. Briar Rose is the Sun, the thirteenth fairy Winter, and the prince is the saviour who brings life back to the people.
The significance of this season cannot be overstated, and every family should strive to keep traditions alive. Each family does and should celebrate Christmas in its own way; however, the eternal lessons of Jul should be incorporated, along with so many others. Modernity should never supplant tradition. As Russell Kirk stated, “Men cannot improve a society by setting fire to it: they must seek out its old virtues, and bring them back into the light.” Merry Christmas!