In the month of December we are surrounded by many different ways to celebrate the Holidays. Because we are a melting pot of many holiday beliefs, we can experience a plethora of holiday traditions, including Yule!
Yule is a holiday that dates back to ancient times. It is celebrated on the Winter solstice which is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This is the point when the Earth is on its way back towards the sun, and the axis flips so that the Northern hemisphere is setting up for spring time. For this reason Yule is known as The Season of Light and Fire.
In ancient times, people had to hunt for their food. In the winter time the weather would play a huge part in their hunt. For this reason, many people held a great reverence for the Sun and its return.
Yule is a great time to explore with family and friends our intentions that we wish to manifest in the upcoming year.
THE YULE LOG
There are many different Yule traditions that are practiced. One of these traditions is the lighting of the Yule Log. What is the Yule Log you may be asking? Vikings celebrated the Festival of Yule by journeying into the woods in search of a hearty oak tree. Everyone in the family would join in venturing out in search of the perfect cut of wood. They would return with the most robust log they could find and burn it in deference to various gods as well as in celebration of life and prosperity.
The Yule Log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would be lit from the remains of the previous year's log which had been carefully stored away and slowly fed into the fire for the duration of 12 days. It was considered important that the re-lighting process was carried out by someone with clean hands. Nowadays, we do not bring in a whole tree, but will burn a Yule log on a fire to celebrate.
Another Yule tradition is the decorating of the ever green. This tradition actually dates back to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped a god named Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from his “illness”, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes, which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon, farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.
The Yule Tree is an important Pagan Symbol. It represents the Tree of Life or the World Tree. In ancient times it was decorated with gifts one wished to receive from the Gods. All of the decor was of natural materials like pinecones, berries, and fruit. Some would incorporate symbols of their Gods and Goddesses. They would also add strung berries to the trees so that birds and wildlife could come for a snack.
Christmas trees and evergreen traditions can be found all over the world, all throughout history. It is very interesting to see how these traditions have been welcomed into our home in modern day.
Another tradition, and one of my favorites, is the tradition of Mistletoe. Mistletoe represents the female element. It was used by Druid priests during the Winter Solstice. The green leaves represent fertility of the Mother Goddess and the berries are the seed of the Forest God or Oak King.
Druids would gather mistletoe from the sacred oak trees making sure that none of it fell to the ground. It was believed that if the mistletoes touched the ground, its magical energy was poured back into the earth. Mistletoe was hung over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning, and other evil energies. It was worn as an amulet for fertility, and even hung in the bedroom.
Wreaths were traditional practices in ancient times and were a way to symbolize the wheel of the year. They were made of evergreens and adorned with natural materials. They were placed around the home and given as gifts to symbolize the infinity of goodwill, friendship, and joy.
Candles are always pretty this time of year, but they were used at Yule as another way to have an eternal flame within the house. They symbolize the light and the warmth of the sun. They were lit to chase away evil and to bring back the sun’s warmth for the springtime.
Bell symbolism is everywhere during the holiday season. We even have Christmas carols written about them. At Yule, Bells were often rung to drive away bad spirits that may have surfaced during the dark time of the Solstice. They were rung in the morning as everyone began to wake up for the day, bringing in the warmth of the brighter days to follow.
There are many different ways to celebrate Yule and enjoy the holiday season. Marita wanted to share some of her favorite traditions during this time of year.
“I like to go around and decorate the tree or trees, bright multiple lights. I also will have themes as well, My Favorite one is doing a nature tree, as I call it. It is a small miniature tree, but I decorate it with wooden sprigs, dried flowers in between and ornaments that resemble old time Santa’s, St, Nick, or a man in a white beard resembling an Odin , or whomever you may choose. I like to make it fun, and every year it is different. The last little thing that I do is to light candles and incense, and have scented cinnamon pine cones in the house. It just sets the mood for the holiday season.
Lighting the candle on the Yule Log each evening is nice, because it brings us to focus on newness; our dreams and goals for the future, our gratitude for the things that we have done this year, and hope to move onto in the coming year. We remember the ties and experiences that we have enjoyed our family, friends, and including those of our family and friends that have passed on. To me Yule is a season to celebrate our joys, to honor life and its many gifts, and to rest and reflect on our experiences, whether good or bad; it makes us stronger and better.
The actual Yule Log is partially burned on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, Others wait and burn the remaining piece in February, around Groundhogs day, or the Feast of St. Brigit.
The ashes are saved and can be spread around your home outside to bring luck and good fortune. February 2, marks the pagan holiday of Imbolc. There are many Yule Log traditions, so this one is mine ,and I hope that you enjoy the Yule tides of this season.”
However you choose to celebrate the season, may you bring in health, happiness! Remember the intention is the most important! We hope you have fun this season if you decide to bring in any Yule traditions.
Thanks for reading and Happy Yule,
Kaddie and Marita