Long before Christmas was all about the birth of Jesus Christ it was a celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which falls between December 21 and 22. Pre-Christian people of Europe, often referred to as pagans, were intimately connected with the seasons and depended on the return of the sun—and plants—for survival. Though harsh winter months lay ahead, ancient Europeans turned the long, dark nights of late December into a party, known as Yule.

“Yule is the Germanic term for winter solstice,” explained Dr. Chris Klassen, religion and culture professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. (“Germanic” being a loose term that includes most people of Europe in the past).

Because the days grow steadily longer…

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