Customs of Yule and Winter Solstice past and present
Many of the ancient traditions surrounding Yuletide are concerned with coping with the darkness and the evils it was thought to harbor, and helping the return of light and warmth.
Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes. It was to extend invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year-long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay visit to the residents.
Yule Elf/Santa Claus
Jölföðr (Yule-father) and Jölnir (Yule) are names of Odin. Some think Odin was the original “Alf” or gift-giving “Elf” ( Julesvenn in Denmark, Jultomten in Sweden, and Julenissen in Norway). Before Santa Claus was popularized in the Victorian era as a fat jolly Elf, he was seen as tall and lean, wearing a dark cloak.
This was a specially chosen tree that was to burn for at least twelve hours, it originally burned for all twelve days of Yule.
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 gotten from one’s own property, or a neighbor’s. 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’s. Holly and other winter greenery is often used to decorate the Yule log.
It was at Alban Arthan druids would gather by the oldest Mistletoe clad Oak. The Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground. With his Golden Sickle, and in one chop, the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe, to be caught below. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.
Holly & Ivy
Holly was hung in honor of the Holly King in pagan traditions and still is today in may pagan homes. It symbolizes the old Solar Year; Waning Sun; Protection, Good Luck and was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces because of its prickliness — to either ward off or snag and capture evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.
Romans were quite fond of holly during their Solstice celebration, known as the Saturnalia. Gifts of holly were exchanged during this time, as holly was believed to ward off lightning and evil spirits. Holly was also seen as a symbol of the feminine aspect, the red berries signifying the blood of the female. Ivy was seen to represent the masculine, and the ancient custom of decorating the doorway with the two plants intertwined was a symbolic union of the two halves of divinity.
Yule wreaths were traditionally made of evergreens and holly and ivy. Holly represents the female and ivy the male and the wreath’s circle symbolizes the wheel of the year. Both holly and ivy were used as protection in the home against bad spirits making a Yuletide wreath not only symbolic but protective.
Yule or Christmas Tree
Continuity of Life, Protection, Prosperity are all symbolic of the evergreen and associated with Green Goddesses & Gods; Hertha; Cybele, Attis, Dionysius (Pine); Woodland Spirits traditions: Roman, Celtic, Teutonic.
The tradition decorating with evergreen trees and boughs, however, originates from the ancient pagan cultures. Many cultures saw the evergreen, one of few plants to remain green even in winter, as a symbol of life even during the season of death. To decorate with the trees and branches of the evergreen was a way of celebrating this eternal life.
Just a few of the traditions still celebrated today in homes both pagan and other wise.
Compiled by Dyanna Wyndesong