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Yule

The Winter Solstice is also known as Yule (possibly derived from "Jul" meaning "wheel" in Norwegian). It marks the shortest day of the year and falls on or around 22nd December. This is a major turning point in the year - from now on the days will gradually become longer.

For countless generations, a festival has been held around the time of Yule to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun and it is no accident that the birth of Christ is also celebrated at this time - a joint festival for the re/birth of the Sun/Son - a time old "compromise" between the Pagan and Christian folk of Old England.

Some of the ancient megalithic sites and longbarrows found in Britain and Europe have been found to be aligned with the rising Sun of the Winter Solstice. We can speculate that perhaps this is because of the connection between the Sun at this time and rebirth although the chances are that we will never be entirely certain of this.

Many of the customs and traditions surrounding Yule and Christmas hark back to much earlier times and serve to remind us of the importance of the Winter Solstice to our Ancestors.

Burning logs

Yule Log
Traditionally, the Yule log (from an Oak tree) was cut down and decorated with evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider before being set alight.

It was kept burning for at least twelve hours, and sometimes as long as twelve days. When the fire died down, a small fragment of the Yule log was kept and used to light the next years log.

Evergreen plants
Plants and trees which remain green all year round were of great importance to ancient peoples. They symbolised enduring life-force at a time when all other plants had shed their leaves for the Winter. In the battle of light and life against the darkness and death of Winter, the evergreens appeared to be one step ahead.

Holly
Holly is a symbol of protection and the Druids of Old England brought it into their houses as a home for the nature spirits during the harsh Winter
Traditionally, Holly should be gathered for magickal uses on the eve of the Winter Solstice, at midnight and without a light. In return, an offering of red wine or your own blood should be left in return for what you have taken.

Ivy
Ivy is a symbol of life and rebirth and is seen as a female plant - balancing the male Holly. During the Winter, Druids used Ivy as a decoration as it represented the immortality of the spirit and became a home for the nature spirits.

Mistletoe
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant growing on the branches of trees. It is usually found on Apple trees, sometimes on Hawthorn or Ash but very rarely on the Oak.

The name, Mistletoe, is thought to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word of "mistletan" - "mistl" meaning "different" and "tan" meaning "twig". This may be because the twigs of the Mistletoe are different to the twigs of the host tree.

It is also a sacred herb of the Druids, who named it "druad-lus" meaning "the Druid's plant". It was considered especially sacred if it grew on the Oak tree (see the photograph, right, for an example).

Mistletoe berries represented the semen of the Oak and were used to strengthen the Sun which was so weak at this time of the year. As they were seen to represent semen, the berries are an obvious symbol of fertility and even today we traditionally kiss under Mistletoe at Christmas/Yule.

Ivy on a tree
Wild Mistletoe growing on an Oak tree

 

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Page last updated: 22 September, 2011

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