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    What’s Yule All About?

    Today being this year’s Winter Solstice, there today is Yule. Also known as Jul, Yule predates the Christmas holiday by thousands of years.

    There is some debate as to the origin of the word Yule. Some linguists suggest the word is derived from “Iul,” the Anglo-Saxon word for wheel. This makes a connection to a Celtic calendar, the Wheel of the Year. In the Norse culture, “Jul” refers to the god, Odin. Odin was celebrated during Yule as well.

    Yule celebrations included bonfires, decorating with holly, mistletoe and the boughs of evergreen trees, ritual sacrifices, feasts, and gift-giving.

    Many Christmas Traditions Borrowed From Yule

    Many of the traditions we use at Christmastime today are borrowed from Yule traditions of old. Whether they’re from myths, feasts, folklore, ancient beliefs, oral stories told, or festivals, they’ve been woven into the fabric of our modern-day customs. Do you recognize any Christmas traditions borrowed from Yule?

    Mistletoe combined with a mother’s tears resurrected her son, the God of Light and Goodness, in a Viking myth. The Celts believe Mistletoe possessed healing powers as well and would ward off evil spirits.

    The Yule Tree was also another important symbol in pagan tradition. Originally, it represented the Tree of Life or the World Tree among early pagans. In ancient times it was decorated with gifts people wanted to receive from the gods. It was adorned with natural ornaments such as pine cones, berries and other fruit, as well as symbols sacred to the gods and goddess. In some holiday traditions, garlands of popcorn and berries were strung around the tree so that visiting birds could feed off the tree as well.

    The Yule log was a whole tree meant to be burned for 12 days in the hearth. The Celts believed the sun stood still during the winter solstice. They thought by keeping the Yule log burning for these 12 days encouraged the sun to move, making the days longer. The largest end would be fed into the hearth, wine poured over it, and it would be lit with the remains of the previous year’s Yule log. Everyone would take turns feeding the length of timber into the fire as it burned. Letting it burn out would bring bad luck.

    Holly, which represents the masculine element, was often used to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces. Because of its prickliness it was thought to capture or ward off evil spirits before they could enter a home and cause harm. The holly leaves, symbolic of the Holly King, represent hope, and the red berries represent potency.

    In Norse tradition, Old Man Winter visited homes to join the festivities. The Viking god, Odin was described as a wanderer with a long white beard and is considered the first Father Christmas.

    Father Winter is an ancient Pagan figure more commonly known as Santa Clause. In olden times he gave fruit, plants, and magical herbs. Today, people buy gifts for Father Winter to give to children. In olden times he was said to have worn a cape and delivered his gifts on a white horse, a symbol of the Goddess.

    Children would traipse from house to house with gifts of apples and oranges spiked with cloves and resting in baskets lined with evergreen boughs.

    The midwinter feast usually lasted 12 days.
    Vikings would decorate evergreen trees with gifts such as food, carvings, and food for the tree spirits to encourage them to return in the spring.
    Viking children would leave their shoes out by the hearth on the eve of the winter solstice with sugar and hay for Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
    Children would traipse from house to house with gifts of apples and oranges spiked with cloves and resting in baskets lined with evergreen boughs.

    YULE HISTORY

    While the winter solstice is observed around the world, Yule was celebrated primarily by the cultures of northern and western Europe. The midpoint of winter was a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun and the light it would bring to the earth.

     

    OTHER YULE TRADITIONS & SYMBOLS

    Candles were another way to have an eternal flame within the home. They symbolized the light and warmth of the sun and were used to chase away evils and lure back the returning sun/son.

    Wreaths were also traditional in ancient times for they symbolized the wheel of the year and the completion of another cycle. They were made of evergreens and adorned with cones and berries and hung as decoration throughout the home. They were also given as gifts to symbolize the infinity of goodwill, friendship and joyfulness.

    Bells were often rung during the Winter Solstice to drive away demons that surfaced during the dark time of the year. They were rung in the morning as everyone began to wake to chase away the dark days and herald in the warmer, brighter days following the solstice.

    Elves first became associated with Yule because the ancients knew that the Spirits that created the Sun inhabited the land of Elves. By including elves in the Yule celebrations, the ancients believed they were assuring the elves assistance in the coercion of the Sun to return.

    Gingerbread was considered to be a specialty bread during this time since ginger had not been available until the Crusaders brought it back in the 11th century. There were strict laws regarding specialty breads in that time, so gingerbread was only allowed to be produced during the holidays and thus, it became associated with winter and Yule.

    Wassail derives from the Old English words waes hael, which means “be well”, “be hale” or “good health”. It is a strong drink, usually a mixture of ale, honey and spices or mulled apple cider. When pagans went into the forest to fell the great oak for the Yule log, they would anoint the tree with wassail and bedeck them with wassail-soaked cakes, thus the ritual of wassailing was born. At home, the wassail would be poured into a large bowl during feast time and the host, when greeting his or her guests, would lift a drink and wish them “waes hael”, to which they would reply “drinc hael”, which meant “drink and be well”.

    Carolling was also a popular Yule tradition when young children honoured the Winter Solstice with song. They would go through the villages, singing door to door. The villagers, in return, would reward them with tokens and sweets and small gifts which symbolized the food and prosperity given by the Mother Goddess to all her Earthly children.

    Nature Symbols of Yule: Holly, Oak, Mistletoe, Ivy, Evergreens, Laurel, Bayberry, Blessed Thistle, Frankincense, Pine, Sage, Yellow Cedar.

    Food and Drink of Yule: Yule Log Cake, Gingerbread, Fruits, Berries, Nuts, Pork dishes, Turkey, Eggnog, Ginger Tea, Spiced Cider, Wassail

    Colours of Yule: Red, Green, White, Silver, Gold

    Red represents the waning Holly King. Green represents the waxing Oak King. White represents the purity and hope of new Light. Silver represents the Moon. Gold represents the Sun/Son.

    Stones of Yule: Rubies, Bloodstones, Garnets, Emeralds, Diamonds

    Activities of Yule: Carolling ~ Wassailing the Trees ~ Burning the Yule Log ~ Decorating the Yule Tree ~ Exchanging Gifts ~ Kissing under the Mistletoe

    Deities of Yule:

    Goddesses: The Great Mother and Earth Goddess, Freyja, Gaia, Diana, Bona-Dea, Isis, Demeter

    Gods: Mabon, The Sun God, The Star (Divine) Child, The Oak King, The Holly King, The Green Man, The Red Man, The Horned One, Odin, Lugh, Apollo, Ra.

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