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.
The Pagan Saxons celebrated the feast of Yule with plenty of ale and blazing fires, of which our Yule log is the last relic. The Yule log is actually an indoor equivalent of the outdoor bonfire of Midwinter Eve.
It is said that the Yule log must never be bought but should be received as a gift, found, or taken from your own property. during medieval times, the decorated log was ceremoniously carried into the home on Christmas Eve, and placed in the fireplace. Traditionally the Yule log was lit with the saved stump of last year’s log, and then it was burnt over the twelve days of the winter celebration, and its ashes and stump were kept until the following year to sprinkle on the new log so that the fortune would be passed on from year to year.
In France and Germany ashes from the Yule log were mixed with the cattle feed to ensure their health and in other regions, the ash was sprinkled around fruit trees to increase their yield of fruit.
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
Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle Pere Noel
Santa Claus is many things: jolly Jupiter, a smiling Saturn, and the Old God on his way to rebirth. Norse and Germanic peoples have for centuries told stories of the Yule Elf, who brings presents on the Solstice to those who leave offerings of porridge. Odin, the Norse god, is also often identified with the character of Santa. One of his titles was Jolnir, “Lord of the Yule”, and the resemblance to the white-bearded Santa is quite striking. In the guise of St. Nicholas, he is a pagan deity who was absorbed into the Christian tradition.
Holly was hung in honor of the Holly King in pagan traditions and still is today in many 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.
Once called Allheal this sacred plant symbolizes peace, prosperity, healing, wellness, fertility, rest, and protection. Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree.
It was at Alban Arthan (actually 5 days after the new moon following the winter solstice) that the Chief Druid cut the mistletoe from the sacred Oak with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree. The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils. The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, blossomed over the centuries A sprig placed in a baby’s cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.
Norse peoples also saw the plant as sacred. Warriors who met under the plant would not fight but maintained a truce until the next day. Other European cultures viewed mistletoe as an aphrodisiac, explaining the custom of ‘kissing under the mistletoe’. Mistletoe was not just for kissing under, but also for conceiving under, as well. And its magickal power was felt to make it a wonderful fertility amulet.
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 of 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 otherwise.