Origins of Yule
The Pagan holiday of Yule takes place on the day of Winter Solstice, right around December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere. During this day the Earth’s axis tilts away from the Sun creating the greatest annual distance between the two celestial bodies, resulting in the shortest day of the year. This powerful astronomical event has inspired seemingly endless customs among the people of the World. The Norse named the event Jul and began the tradition of decorating trees and established the sacred Yule log. The Romans celebrated it as Saturnalia beginning on December 17 and had a week long festival in the name of the god Saturn. In ancient Egypt the sun god Ra was honoured as thanks for the longer days to come.
Wassailers went from door to door in their community singing, drinking and wishing good health. Wassailing which inspired Carolling pre-dates Christianity and has it roots in ancient fertility traditions. These traditions of singing and shouting were done to drive away evil spirits that could effect a fertile harvest.
Mistletoe has been considered a sacred plant for a long time for many cultures including the Druids and the Vikings. The ancient Romans in honour of the god Saturn conducted fertility rites beneath the Mistletoe. The Norse were known to meet with opposing tribes underneath Mistletoe to lay down their arms as a sign of peace. Mistletoe was known as a sacred plant of reconciliation and is associated with Frigga the Norse goddess of love.
Gifts From The Gods
The well-known Santa Claus, the magical gift delivering jolly old man, has his roots in the Dutch mythology Sinterklaas. Santa Klaus also contains spiritual elements of the Norse god Odin and that of Saint Nicholas. But throughout the ages there have been many gift-giving entities known to appear around the time of the Winter Solstice. La Befana was a kind Italian Witch and would drop treats off for well-behaved children. Frau Holle would gift women with presents and good fortune during the Solstice. Gift-giving deities are known throughout the world and are a very important part of many local traditions.
Decking the Halls
The Roman holiday of the Saturnalia began on December 17 to honour the god Saturn. Homes were decorated with vines and other plants to represent rebirth and the return of brighter days. The Romans also hung ornaments in the trees outside in tribute to Saturn and other deities. The ancient Egyptians often brought the fronds of palm trees into their home during the Winter Solstice to symbolize the return of the sun. This ancient tradition eventually led to the modern day practices of the family holiday tree.
Holly is very symbolic among many cultures during the Winter Solstice. For Christians the red berries represent the blood of Christ and the sharp leaves are associated with the Crown of Thorns. Pagan cultures associated holly with the God of Winter, the Holly King who looked after the dark part of the year. Winter Solstice marked the day of the Holly King’s sacred annual battle with the Oak King, the guardian of the brighter side of the year. Holly has been known for driving off evil spirits and becomes heavily favoured when other trees have lost their sacred leaves.
The Yule Log
The Yule Log has its roots in the old winters of Norway during the Winter Solstice. It became a common practice to place a giant log onto the hearth to celebrate the return of the sun. The Norwegians belief was that the sun was a giant wheel that rolled away from the Earth beginning on the Summer Solstice, the longest day off the year, and then began its long roll back on the Winter Solstice.
Winter Solstice Rituals
Yule altars can greatly vary depending on the person and the practice, but colours such as white, blue and silver are common to honour the winter season. Many people will include red and greens as well to represent the warmer months to come. Yule is the Sabbath that symbolizes the return of the Sun; so yellow candles, golden objects and shiny trinkets are all excellent for honouring the returning light. Evergreen boughs, holly and pinecones are also ideal for decorating your Yule Altar. Pines, firs, cedars and junipers are all great examples for evergreens that represent prosperity and renewal.