The view from England: Coal mine approval a seasonal gift from UK government – by Chris Hinde (Northern Miner – December 2022)

Gifts have been exchanged in England during December since before the building of Stonehenge 5,000 years ago. Back then our Neolithic ancestors were celebrating the midwinter solstice (Dec. 21) with feasts and offerings.

The parties became more formal following the landing of Roman legions in AD43, with their festival of Saturnalia (Dec. 17-23) and its tradition of banquets and the giving of gifts. In the first half of the 4th century, Emperor Constantine amalgamated the Empire’s various mid-winter festivals into a celebration of the birth of Christ (choosing Dec. 25 as it corresponded with the winter solstice in the Roman calendar).

Christianity on these islands didn’t properly emerge until after the arrival in 597 of the Pope-sanctioned mission of Saint Augustine (who became the first archbishop of Canterbury). Indeed, in the Early Middle Ages (5th to 11th centuries) we held onto our pagan celebrations of the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht (Night of the Mothers) and the Germanic Yuletide.

The latter was a mid-winter festival connected with the god Odin, who may have influenced the association with a white-bearded figure and reindeer.

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