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Long before there was Christmas

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The family sits separate around the tree

Among wrapped gifts tied in ribbonry

Carols on the telly and turkey on a spit

Sweets being chewed, mobiles all lit

Cars outside under fairy lights

Hanging from trees and eaves through the night

Under floor heating at 30 degrees

Tee shirts with logos and neatly pressed jeans

The house is just one of millions at play

Fleetingly observing a middle eastern day

A babe in a barn and three wise men

A virgin mother and a Bethlehem

But long before that and swamped by time

There was a feast which had more reason and rhyme

Family gatherings had an intimate knowledge

Of why they must gather and pay the sun homage

This was the solstice, the midwinter feast

That marked the new sun’s ascent in the east

Before the invention of prophets and gods

And the wheel and the horse were not yet shod

When spears and arrows had flint splinter tips  

And tying was done with fine leather strips 

And wolves became dogs to guard the camps

While the moon and torch were nightly lamps

On this shortest day and longest night

Hunters and farmers engaged in a rite

To banish the dark and nurture the sun

And remember a year of lives come and gone

They doused an infant, the newest born

And pressed its lips with salvia soaked corn

And girded its ankles in copper thread

And a cloth soaked in rosemary tied round its head

And they built their fires near holy trees

Whose fruit made a potion that set the soul free

To voyage across the Sea of Dreams

In a burning raft of juniper leaves 

With root crops and sour fruit sweetening the tongue

Fermented in honey while the old sun shone

With stored grain baked in a twisted braid

In a pocket of embers while the old year was laid

Under the black with its prescient stars

They drank to forget the previous year’s scars

And toasted the kin who were lost to the feast

And would never again share the flesh of the beast

They drummed and chanted the ancient song

That nurtured the sun and made it strong

And they sang for the stars that mapped all new birth

And sang for the rains that nourished the earth

For much of history this feast’s potent power

Fuelled the sun so that nature could flower

But then it was stolen and given a new face

By creeds where its rituals no longer held place

And with its going communion was lost

Nature disowned at humanity’s cost

Replaced by feasts both specious and crude

In praise of false gods and material goods

The family sits separate around the tree

Among wrapped gifts tied in ribbonry

Carols on the telly and turkey on a spit

Sweets being chewed, mobiles all lit

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