To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, December 14, 2009

Celebrating Winter Solstice and Yule

"Good Yule! Or, as they say in Iceland, Gleðileg Jól!"

The Winter Solstice, also called Yule, Jól, or Jul, has ancient origins as a holiday and even more ancient origins as a scientific event. Yule, or Yuletide, was a winter festival that originated as an Old Norse pagan religious festival and was later absorbed into the general celebration of Christmas. Some historians claim that Yuletide was influenced by such festivals as the Wild Hunt and Saturnalia.Still there are many specifically Yule traditions that have carried through into modern Christmas tradition.

The name Yule has no clearly traceable etymology. Some scholars believe it comes from one of the names of Óðinn, while others have theorized that it hails from a reference to Julius Caesar. It has also been suggested that Jól is derived from the Old-Nordic word for wheel: Hjól, the theory being that the wheel of the year has come full circle, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Scientifically, the Winter Solstice occurs when the earth's axial tilt is farthest from the sun. For people in high latitudes, this event is commonly considered the shortest day of the year. The seasonal significance of this astronomical event is the reversal of the gradual shortening of days. A coming of brighter, longer days. Hope for the season to come.

The Wiccan holiday of Winter Solstice is a time of celebration and rebirth - a time when the sun is once again reborn to the earth and the Goddess, in her aspect of the Crone, is reborn as the Maiden.

Several of the pagan symbols present in both the original Yuletide festival and the modern Wiccan Yule are also visible in the commonly celebrated non-religious version of Christmas.

The Yule tree, for instance, is traditionally considered an ancient Norse tradition celebrating life surviving in the darkest and coldest time of the year. Some scholars believe this tradition may have some roots in the custom of decorating of living trees during the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and that it later became the Christmas tree.

Did you know? Apparently the tradition of the Yule tree was very common in Germany and its neighboring countries due to their shared old Nordic ancestry, but it did not cross the sea to England - and thereby to America and Australia - until around 1830 when Prince Albert went to visit Germany with Queen Victoria. He became so enamored of their yule tree custom, that he insisted they replicate the tradition at court. And from there, the fun and tree-cutting spread like (dare I say it) wildfire.

Similarly, the Yule log was burned throughout the solstice night to provide a light in the darkest night and to symbolize hope and faith that the sun will soon return. In Scandinavia, great Yule logs were burned all throught the night, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the Yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly in the coming year.
Another Yule tradition that has carried through to modern times is mistletoe. Mistletoe was sacred in the Yule festival because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak. It was ceremoniously cut and a spray of it was given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home and non-religious, public celebrations.

In Iceland, there's a Yule tale about the Jolasveinar, or the Yuletide lads, who begin arriving around December 12th. If you leave your shoe on the windowsill and you've been good, these lads will leave a small toy or piece of fruit for you. If you've been naughty, they will leave you something you will not like at all. Especially bad children, they steal and eat.

Yuletide Lads

Another interesting bit of information for you! In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious. Yep. The pagan traditions survived even when the religious celebrations were abolished. Interesting, eh?

As with my other holiday information posts, this is all from research. If you have more or more accurate information, I would love to get ahold of it and post it for others to learn from.

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