Gift of the Gods
Well, now that you mention it… it turns out all these seasonal beers owe their existence not to the baby in the manger, but to the much older and more profane celebration of the winter solstice. Yes, it was naked Druids dancing around stone monuments carved with weird symbols who invented Christmas brew.
Consider the ancient world of four, five, six thousand years ago, of Stone Age tribes living in caves, before cities, before writing, before can openers. Fearful and superstitious, mankind bowed to whatever it didn’t understand, and its most visible god was the sun itself. It offered warmth and light in a cold, dark world. It controlled the growing seasons and guided the calendar. The shortest day of the year, when the sun sat lowest to the horizon, marked the end of a fruitful harvest and the start of grueling cold months before the earth would be reborn in the spring.
Surely, it was an occasion that was worthy of celebration, and there is ample evidence of solstice festivals in our earliest recorded history. Wherever people gathered, food was prepared and beer was fermented.
Yes, beer, for as we know it was the farming of grain that allowed man (or, more precisely, woman who did the cooking) to settle down and build civilization. The primitive, soupy mixes of cereal and water was dependable sustenance—a far more efficient solution to hunger than roaming the countryside in search of a wooly mammoth.
And when it eventually fermented, glory to the heavens! It made you dizzy and happy—truly, it must be a gift of the gods. Why, if you drank enough of it, you might actually see God himself.
On the occasion of the solstice, celebrants would settle for nothing less than the very best of this sacred drink—the strongest beer made with ample malted grains, flavored with the very best spices and herbs. And it would’ve flowed freely, gloriously creating a physical bond between man and the gods, between earth and sun.
And so it went, for thousands of years, with various civilizations worshipping their sun god. The Mesopotamians had Utu, the Aztecs bowed to Tonatiuh, the Egyptians worshipped Ra, the Greeks built temples to Helios. Shortly after the time of Christ, Roman cults were celebrating the birthday of Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun) on December 25th.