Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Yuletide Greetings

A very happy Yule to you all!

To celebrate the beginning of this ancient festival yesterday, we got together with our friends Charlie, Celia and Diane and their children Rufus and Hannah, to light a bonfire, toast the season, gaze at the stars and feast on foods from the garden and forest

We sang "In the Bleak Midwinter" "Here we go a Wassailing" and "The Holly and the Ivy" while standing around the fire with a glass of wine. It ought to have been mulled wine, but someone forgot the spice... oops!

Yule is a most ancient tradition: it begins with Winter Solstice, for it is the longest night of the year, and much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her ready to bear forth new life from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider.

Christmas is a Pagan holiday that was around long before Christianity or Judaism but was adopted and re-named. As with other adopted Pagan festivals however, such as Easter, many of the traditions remain. If you have ever decorated a Christmas tree, hung mistletoe or decked the halls with boughs of holly, you have enjoyed traditional Yule celebrations.

The Norse in Scandinavia celebrated Yule from December 21st through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons brought home large logs and would set on fire. A large single log was kept burning for 12 days and each day a different sacrifice was offered to Jul in the fire. The people would also feast until the log burned out on the 12th day. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year (I'll be hoping for lambs!). Yuletide is the period of those twelve days and is also where we get the 12 days of Christmas. "Yuletide Greetings" or "Yuletide Carols" is actually the tradition of sending greetings or song in the name of the Scandinavian fertility god and his festival.

 But if Yule begins on the 21st, how come I still celebrate on the 25th? On December 22nd the sun makes it to the lowest point in the sky and stops traveling south. During the three darkest days of the year (22nd, 23rd, 24th) the sun does not travel south or north and appears to stand still as if it had died for the three days. On December 25th the sun starts moving north again foreshadowing longer days and the ‘coming back to life’ notion of spring. From this came many pagan legends of savior Sun gods being born and reborn on December 25th.

There are many variations described from different countries throughout history and of course many ideas and traditions have developed since. However and for whatever reason you celebrate at this time of year, I wish much joy to you and your kin. Jenny x


Maalie said...

Wow! That looks wonderful!
I wish you a superb and happy festival!

I have a Yuletide post too!

Word verification: 'Ovulan', sounds like something you should be adminstering to your female beavers :-)

Denise said...

Glad you explained about the Yule fesitvals, I knew about the Winter Solstice on the 21st, but not about the 25th. The longer I live on our smallholding, the more I realise how much we watch the weather and at this time of the year look forward to the lengthening of the days and I feel that I should be celebrating the Winter Solstice. Thanks for the informative and interesting blog

thecrazysheeplady said...

Very interesting. I too was not aware of the 22,23,24th. Thanks so much for sharing!

Claire said...

Thank you for this post! NOW I know what I'm really celebrating! And I feel much better about it! ;-)

I knew about the Solstice and celebrated it, but didn't have the full picture. Great post!