That's it folks; now the fire has to stay in for twelve days, we all have to dress up as each other (and/or Robin Hood) eat nothing but cake and Holly and go hunting at some point ... er .. something like that.
Talking of drinking, anybody checked out local Aldi stores recently.
Whilst in Germany we stocked up on an own brand (Blackstone) 18 year old Single malt, very smooth (glenmorangie taste a like) for €16,99 a bottle.
That was Aldi south, I believe Aldi north has a 12 yr old.
This is very old stuff though - pagan traditions and rituals that we were messing about with before the Romans turned up, never mind Christianity. Keeping the fire in for twelve days, an Oak Yule log, having a good scoff in the middle of the darkest part of the year, bringing greenery in to the house, the exchanging of gifts ..
I seem to remember reading something about the death of the Oak King and the crowning of the Holly King ... a line drawn between deciduous summer and evergreen winter on the longest night I guess. The Spruce Christmas tree may be a Victorian German import but we've been bringing green stuff into houses here for quite a bit before that. A Kissing bough for instance done up in evergreen finery. All that remains of it now is the Mistletoe, which must have turned out to be the active ingredient.
There's been cross dressing from early on too; not just in modern pantomime and not just cross gender either - "kings as fools" and vice versa for instance.
When the Romans arrived they brought their own pagan winter solstice traditions. Saturnalia was a day of drinking, feasting and vomiting that took place on the 25th of December ... sounds familiar.
I think it's from the Roman menu of Yule that we get all the things we were s'posed to eat on the different days - birds inside birds etc.
The Romans brought apples and the possibility of cider but we had probably been Wassailing the oldest tree in the Pear orchard before that, putting perry soaked toast in its branches to "toast" the spirit of the wood "Robin" Red Breast, Robin of the Green, Puck, that Gentleman of Winter in his red robe ... and to feed the tree with Perry while drinking mere ale ourselves. That's what I call a pagan sacrifice.
It gives me hope that despite everything that we appear to have lost, skills, communal spirit, common sense etc; that we still do all this stuff around the solstice - maybe we only observe the shadow of what these things once meant but we are aware of it nevertheless. We even still call it Yule.
A bit of Celt, a bit of Druid, Saxon, Roman and Christian.
The Christian church came and put its buildings next to our evergreen Yew trees with their red baubles and put its Holy days smack on the top of our existing holidays. From The Roman Empire to Holy Roman Empire, through the dark ages, feudalism, reformation, democracy and Thatcherism .. Saturnalia has stayed put; along with everything else we've ever done around the solstice.
To be pedantic, whilst 21st Dec has the least daylight, the sun continues to rise later until 1st January. The earliest sunset occurs on 14th Dec. It's just that after 14th Dec, although the sun starts to set later, the sun rises later by a greater amount. Conversely, after 21st Dec, although the sun continues to rise later up until 1st Jan, it is setting later by a greater amount - hence why 21st Dec is the shortest day. This is all caused by the elliptical nature of the earth's orbit. In December when the earth is slightly nearer the sun it travels faster in its orbit so that it has to rotate further to show exactly the same face to the sun. In June when the earth is at its greatest distance from the sun it travels slower in its orbit and therefore it has to rotate slightly less to show the same face to the sun.
RogerS has more or less nailed it. To save me typing it all out, it's all here. It's the low angle of the sun that creates winter in each hemisphere, and the slight additional proximity to the sun in Dec/Jan has minimal effect.