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Yule & Christmas Traditions Blend As People Deck The Halls And Celebrate Light!

by Jo Ann Monske

     There are as many traditions surrounding the ancient celebration of Yule, as there are presents on a child’s Christmas list.  Yule marks the time of the year when the light grows brighter and celebrates the time of death and rebirth of the Sun God. The winter solstice, usually on December 21, is the shortest day of the year. Yuletide represents a time of peace, festivity and honoring the ancestors. It is the time in many pagan traditions when the Goddess gives birth to a son. Candles burn to welcome the Sun Child. Here’s a sampling of traditions with pagan origins celebrated in conjunction with Christmas.

The Yule Tree - Evergreens have long been part of Winter Solstice celebrations. The evergreen tree, which keeps its leaves throughout the year, is a symbol of the endurance of life through the cold and dark winter months. The custom of a branch or small tree brought inside and decorated with offerings to the spirit of the tree has transformed into the tradition of having a Christmas tree. This tree was considered to represent the luck of the family, capable of bestowing fertility in the coming year. The evergreen boughs brought inside to "deck the halls" represent the ever-renewed life force and serve to welcome good into the house. Not surprisingly, these holy boughs also served to protect the home from evil. Yew, Rowan, and Holly boughs are traditional pagan choices for decking the halls.

Yule Log - This was a specially chosen log that was to burn for at least twelve hours.  Originally, it burned for all twelve days of Yule. In some legends the log was offered to the God Thor. Oak would be the most appropriate choice, but any hardwood considered holy from the locality is suitable. English lore holds that Yule logs should not be bought, they should be obtained from one’s own property, or a neighbor's land. The log of course must be massive, and must be handled with care and clean hands, out of respect. In some places a whole tree trunk was brought in, and one end was placed in hearth. Then it was gradually fed in as it burned, to be finally consumed on the final night. The tradition is that the presence of the remnants or ashes of the Yule log in the house would protect it all year from lightning and would bring good luck. The new Yule log should be started with some splinters of the previous year. Holly and other winter greenery are often used to decorate the Yule log.

Holly Decorating with Holly is part of the legend of the battle between The Holly King and the Oak King. They are a part of Celtic mythology, and represent two sides of the Green man, or Horned God. They battle twice a year, once at Yule and once at Midsummer to see who would rule over the next half of the year. At Yule, the Oak King wins and at Midsummer, the Holly King is victorious. The Oak King rules over the lighter half of the year, and the Holly King over the darker half. The change from one to the other is a common theme for rituals at Yule, and also at Midsummer.

Santa Claus or Father Christmas The ideas of both Santa Claus and Father Christmas stem from the legends of Saint Nicholas, who brought gifts to the poor. Father Christmas pre-dates Santa and was traditionally dressed in a green robe and donned holly and mistletoe. Many believe he also represented the legend of the Holly and Oak King and ushers in Spring and abundance.

Yule Herbs The Druids and other pagan people held Mistletoe in great reverence. Mistletoe grows only on other trees as a parasite. It was also called ‘All Heal.’ Druids would search for this sacred plant, and when it was discovered, one of the Druids ascended the tree and gathered it with great ceremony, separating it from the Oak with a golden knife. The Mistletoe was always cut at a particular stage of the moon, at the beginning of the year, and it was only sought out when the Druids declared they had visions directing them to seek it. The Druids held that the Mistletoe protected its possessor from all evil, and that the oaks on which it was seen growing were to be respected because of the wonderful cures which the priests were able to effect with it.  The custom of including it in the decoration of our homes at Christmas, giving it a special place of honor, is a survival of this old custom. Other herbs associated with Yule include cedar, frankincense, myrrh, pine, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Learn more about celebrating Yule and a great spell at our Wheel Of The Year page.

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