Questions about Yule?
When is Yule?
Where did it begin?
Why do we celebrate?
What has changed over time?
How can we celebrate it in Modern Times?
Let's see what answers we can find!
When is Yule?
Yule is held on December 21 and occurs during Winter Solstice, December 19-22.
Why do we celebrate Yule?
On December 21, or close to it, an amazing thing happens in the sky. The earth's axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun reaches at its greatest distance from the equator. As a festival of the Sun, the most important part of any Yule celebration is of course, light -- candles, bonfires, and more.
Each year, this cycle of birth, death and rebirth takes place, and every year after a period of cold and darkness, the Sun does indeed return.
Where did it all begin?
Yule was an indigenous midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples. The earliest references to it are in the form of month names, where the Yule-tide period lasts somewhere around two months in length, falling along the end of the modern calendar year between what is now mid-November and early January. The word is attested in an explicitly pre-Christian context primarily in Old Norse. Among many others, the long-bearded god Odin bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse 'Yule father') and jólnir (Old Norse 'the Yule one'). In plural (Old Norse jólnar; 'the Yule ones') may refer to the Norse gods in general.
Then and Now
The changing times of the Yuletide
A Tale of The Two Kings
The battle between the Holly King and the Oak King for a number of Pagan traditions, represents a central theme surrounding the solstices – the concept of light and dark; of birth, death, and rebirth.
The Holly King and the Oak King are two sacrificial Gods who, in the manner of such deities, are two aspects of the same being. The Holly King represents the waning year, and battles the Oak King at Midsummer for rulership. Likewise, the Oak King is the God of the waxing year, and battles with the Holly King at Yule for the same honor. In some legends, the dates of these events are shifted; the battle takes place at the Equinoxes, so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer, or Litha, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule.
What about other traditions?
The Yule Log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The ashes of Yule logs were meant to be very good for plants. This is true, because the ash from burnt wood contains a lot of 'potash', which helps plants flower. But if you throw the ashes out on Christmas day it was supposedly very unlucky!
Now days, fireplaces aren't always available for this celebration. Decorating a log and using candles is just as symbolic and very pretty to look at!
Holly, Ivy and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new growth. The tradition of hanging Mistletoe in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that's where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.
A Pagan Santa?
First, what is the true meaning of "Santa"? Who really is Santa? A letter from a parent to a child that has recently been circling the social rings explains it the best.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch. .... Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. .... Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness.
For this reason alone, YES, there can be a Pagan Santa! This time of year, regardless of particular religion, is a time to celebrate family and year long accomplishments. Take this time to reflect on the growth and changes you overcame this past year and plan out for the upcoming Spring Equinox...a blooming of new beginnings and opportunities! Teach the young and still wondrous the joy of believing in good and sacrifice.
And yes, you can include a traditional tree in your celebrations! Early Germanic tribes decorated trees with fruit and candles in honor of Odin for the solstice.
The tradition of Christmas caroling actually began as the tradition of wassailing. In centuries past, wassailers went from door to door, singing and drinking to the health of their neighbors. The concept actually harkens back to pre-Christian fertility rites -- only in those ceremonies, villagers traveled through their fields and orchards in the middle of winter, singing and shouting to drive away any spirits that might inhibit the growth of future crops. CLICK HERE for a list of Yule Songs!