Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Alexander Tille's Yule and Christmas; Introduction

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Pagan Germanic Winter Solstice Celebrations?

This is the first in a series of articles summarizing and reviewing Alexander Tille's valuable research Yule and Christmas, Their Place in the Germanic Year, published 1899.
One major attack on the authenticity of the Christian faith centers on the claim that  Holy Days and their traditions originated in the calendar, naming and traditions of ancient Germanic/Scandinavian paganism. The claims are so pervasive throughout academic and popular literature that many people assume the claims have been historically demonstrated and are without any possible doubt.

The claims of Germanic origin are made despite the historical facts that Christmas and the choice of December 25th and the Holy Days keyed to it originated in the Church based on its theological understanding of the dating of Passover, at a time prior to Constantine, and from diverse non Germanic areas such as Rome, throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, and North Africa. [see articles on Christmas, Annunciation, and St. John's Day]

The claims of Germanic origin are also made without actual textual evidence in writings from the Germanic regions and periods that should be the basis for such claims.

But researching these claims is hard and time-consuming work. Most people who read and share these false claims simply trust that the research had actually been done. Even if one had wondered about the truth of such claims most of us cannot afford the time to acquire the skills and resources to put together the documents necessary to challenge them. And since these claims seem such a foregone conclusion often the Shepherds of the Christian Church simply accept the misinformation handed down to them from the scholars of Romanticism and Modernism.

But every once in a while that research is rewarded by the discovery of a long neglected text locked away in some footnote. Alexander Tille’s Yule and Christmas, Their Place in the Germanic Year, published 1899, is just such a gem. And it is available free at the Internet Archive:


I first became aware of Tille’s work reading Ronald Hutton’s Stations of the Sun (1996: p. 6, 39, 180). Hutton first enlists Tille in Stations with respect to the nature of the Anglo-Saxon evidence surrounding Modranicht. He points out that the modern understanding of the information might seem

“perfectly straightforward, but conceals difficulties which were thoroughly exposed in 1889 by Alexander Tille. He pointed out that Bede’s knowledge of these earlier practices had been very sketchy and that Bede himself had admitted that he understood imperfectly the significance of the little he knew. Tille suggested that it was possible that the festival described by Bede had simply been the Christian feast of the Nativity, and that the ‘Mother’ concerned was the Virgin Mary. …”(p. 6)

Regarding the Yule Clog or Christmas log tradition, the Modern and Romantic scholars claimed Germanic pagan origin of a winter fire at the solstice or the various so-called “pagan fire rituals from ancient Europe”, but Hutton wrote:

“Objections may be raised against both. Alexander Tille pointed out in 1889 that, whereas there is no record of the custom in Britain before 1600, the earliest one in Germany comes from 1184, and subsequent medieval references to it are found there. He suggested, plausibly, that it might have been introduced to Britain from Germany after the end of the Middle Ages.” (p. 39)

Hutton's third reference to Tille is with respect to the Germanic name for the Church’s Festival of the Resurrection. Whereas in most cultures the name derives from the Hebrew for Passover, such as Paska; in Germanic areas, including England, the name is derived from Eøstur-month as in Bede’s De Temporum Ratione. Hutton wrote:

“This passage [of Bede] has been so often quoted without any inspection or criticism that it is necessary to stress that it is subject to all the reservations lodged by Tille against Bede’s assertions concerning the ‘Mother Night’, cited in the section dealing with Christmas. It falls into that category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven facts.”(p. 180)

These three citations from Hutton certainly make the case that Tille’s book is solid research worth the time of investigating, even if Hutton is not making a wholesale endorsement of everything Tille wrote in this particular book.

My goal here is to present summaries and review of each of Tille’s chapters so that those who desire to be better able to refute the false claims can find the information they need more quickly.
Tille’s book consists of fifteen interrelated topical studies followed by a chapter stating his conclusions. The topical studies stand each on their own. This means they overlap somewhat with a small amount of repetition in argument and evidence.

Tille’s research and listing of sources make this volume particularly valuable to anyone who wishes to research the development of the Christian liturgical year in the Western Church.



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