It is strange to learn that the observance of Christmas, which for four centuries was discountenanced in Scotland, was previous to the Reformation, more of a national festival in that country than in England. It began, by solemn proclamation, on 18th December and closed on 7th January.
Those three weeks were given over to peace, forgiveness, and rejoicing; no criminal court sat to dispense justice, for the worst of sinners was forgiven; hence the season was called Sanctuary. The belief is forced upon us that its privileges were abused, or our worthy leaders of the sixteenth century would not have so ruthlessly killed the spirit of rejoicing natural at the turn of the year.
For originally it was a nature festival. The yule log was kindled as a symbol of the re-kindling of the sun when it has passed the winter solstice. It was not until the fourth century after the birth of Christ that the Christian Church adopted this ancient pagan custom as a symbol of the birth of the Son of Righteousness.
It is instructive to dwell upon the continuity of history and the solidarity of the human race. East and West, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, we are all bound together in unmistakable kinship by the spirit as shown by similarity of customs. Even the Christmas present is but a survival of the Yule gift of the ancient Romans, transmitted to us through the Romish Church.
It also links us with our Saxon and Danish ancestors who, in their northern forests, worshipped the reviving sun, burned their Yule log and sent peace gifts to neighbouring families and tribes. To this day, the Germans make much more than we do of the Christmas present.
As I write, the sky is so murky — it is so many days since we have seen the sun — that a few days more of such gloom will make pagans of all of us, ready to hold high festival when, next week, he renews his strength.