The Oldetime Yuletide
Red and green, silver and gold, Christmas trees and hearth fires, giving of gifts and lumps of coal all mark the most popular holiday of the year many revere as Christmas. But all of these things and many more customs and ceremonies come from a much older tradition known as Yule.
Yuletide greetings, strings of popcorn, reindeer and elves: concepts and ideas steeped in the ancient Pagan tradition that falls on the shortest day of the year, Mid-Winter. This celebration, Germanic in origin, marks the longest festival of the Eight Fold Wheel of the year and corresponding Sabbats. Typically practiced over a period of 12 days, Scandinavian and Germanic children were expected to do many winter chores in preparation for Yule and the coming of Saint Nicholas, and in even older traditions; Sinterklaas and the Hag Goddess Frau Holle! Houses and properties were made as tidy as possible and decorated lavishly with natural and hand crafted accoutrements. And children were on their best behavior to avoid the strike of a switch or a lump of coal in their stockings.
Jolly Old Saint Nick
We all know who Santa Claus is, but where did this bearded figure originate? History recalls it was Odin, in the Norse myths, who took his hunting party across the skies, led by his mighty horse, Sleipnir. Sleipnir could leap great distances and was influenced later by the Dutch who gave Odin the name Sinterklaas which later became christianized as “St. Nicholas” and was seen with a giant reindeer and sled full of gifts. The bearded All-Father figure was known for giving gifts to poor children during this bitter time of year. Children placed boots near the chimney filled with carrots or straw as a gift for the magical horse.
The Longest Night of The Year
The old sagas state that Yule itself was celebrated for three nights and on the third, nobody would sleep until sunrise. This marks the turning of the wheel, the mid point of winter and when our days would start becoming longer again. Yule fires were burnt honoring the coming and return of the God (Sun). A thick branch from an evergreen would be ceremoniously cut and anointed with incense and oils, holes carved into it for candles and placed in the hearth fire to be the first log burned on that evening, the “yulelog”. Offerings were left for the tree which gave the Yule branches.
Many Christian and Jewish traditions practiced in modern times are steeped in pagan antiquity. Then called “Wassailing”, caroling was practiced as a Yule tradition where groups of people would go door to door singing songs and drinking to the health of their neighbors. Going back centuries to a much older and more pagan tradition, villagers would go walking through fields and forests,torches ablaze on the longest night of the year, yelling and screaming to chase off evil spirits and unwanted predators.
Interestingly, many cultures held ceremonies around this time of year. The astronomical event of the mid-point of winter was a big deal! The Mayans believed this was the time of the void and no work was allowed to be done for three days at winter solstice. The Egyptians, who also practiced a ceremony around the longest night of the year, brought in palm fronds of palm tress to represent death and regeneration. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, honoring the God Saturn and decorating their homes with bows of greenery, vines, and ivy. They decorated outdoor trees with bits of metal and representations of their Gods. The Germanic people would decorate evergreens with fruits and candles as an offering to their God Odin or Wodan.
Decorating of trees and wreaths, kissing under the mistletoe, Christmas caroling, giving and receiving of gifts and decorating with holly were condemned by many churches as being a “Pagan” practice and Oliver Cromwell preached against these “Heathen Traditions”. Now, in many nations these traditions are practiced without reserve and with great joy, adorning our homes and public places in red and green, silver and gold, the colors of the God and Goddess.
Kim Anderberg, for Kheops International
The Olde Magic of Christams, by Linda Raedisch
The Wheel of the Year, by Pauline Camponelli
The Grandmother of Time, Zsuzsanna E. Budapest