December

The Holly and The Ivy (Traditional English)

*Notes*


© Lady Dairhean

History of Yule I
Titled: The High Holy Days
Yule ~ The Winter Solstice

by SpringIce, Inc.

Yule is also known as Fionn's Day, the 12 days of Rebirth and the Midwinters festival. Yule is one of the oldest and most widely celebrated festivals. Even though it was not actually added to the Celtic calendar until the Norse invasion. The Nordic invaders brought much symbolism to this holiday, which are more often associated with the Christian observance of Christmas. But make no mistake, Yule celebrates the rebirth of the God, symbolized as the sun.

The Celts believed this to be the time when the old Oak King battled against the young Holly King. The Oak King representing the passing year (the waning year) would succumb to the youth and strength of the Holly King who represents the new year (the waxing year). Some covens in the past and still today, reenact the battle between the two kings as part of their ritual celebration.

Fionn's Day is celebrated on the Winter Solstice as a day for honoring the God/warrior Fionn MacCumhal. Fionn was a legendary giant of Ireland who foresaw the coming of the Milesians and banished an invading giant from Scotland. When he was a child, his teacher Finegas who had unknowingly given him the Salmon of Knowledge. Fionn burned his finger on the Salmon and sucked the burn, instantly acquiring vast knowledge and wisdom. Legends and mythology declare his life to be 200 years, ruling in fair wisdom and abundance. In honoring Fionn, the Celts celebrate his wisdom, overcoming enemies, protection, creation, knowledge and divinations

www.paganspath.com/magik/yule.html 5/7/01 © SpringIce, Inc 1996-1999


Image Source: Hellas Multi Media

History of Yule II
You Call it Christmas, We Call it Yule

by Peg Aloi

Try though we might, it is not easy to escape the influence of Christmas in this country. It is easy to become jaded and cynical about it, wondering why it is not the magical time we all experienced as children, wondering how it ever got so commercial. For modern pagans who may still observe the holiday because their families do, it is a confusing time of year; how to celebrate this as a seasonal festival when so many of our associations with this holiday have to do with gifts, food and merrymaking?

Even for those who celebrate this day as the birth of Christ, it must be difficult to stay focused on that significance, with the tinsel and shopping and office parties and the newest toys for kids clouding their vision. I for one find that cynicism abounds at this time of year, and that many adults dread the "holidays" because of family issues and stresses that seem to become more pronounced. The emphasis on having a picture-perfect "Martha Stewart" style celebration is a set-up for disappointment; and kids these days are so focused on getting presents that they hardly have time to enjoy the more sensual pleasures of the season (winter activities, traditional foods, music, decorations). Of course Christmas was not always this way; modern societies are far removed from our ancient connections to Nature; yet we still retain customs derived from the agricultural calendars of our ancestors. Perhaps there is something to be said for examining the modern traditions of Christmas in light of their ancient origins. It may be surprising to find that many of the customs still associated with Christmas today are, in fact, derived from ancient pagan traditions.

The seasonal observance of holidays such as Channukah and Kwaanza are tangentially influenced by the overwhelming emphasis on Christmas, and in the United States it has become common in recent years to give a more even representation of these holidays alongside the more popular one: Christmas. Yet the religious significance of the season seems remarkably absent much of the time. And of course the symbols of the season are very secular in nature: trees, mistletoe and holly, Santa Claus, reindeer...how do such symbols relate to the birth of Christ?
Christ's Birthday? or Winter Solstice?

To begin, let us look at the actual reason this holiday exists: for Yule and Christmas are not so very different, underneath it all; both celebrate the arrival of the sun/son; or, if you like, the light of the world...

Ronald Hutton, in his excellent book The Stations of the Sun, has this to say about the story of the Nativity: It "makes sense on a mythological level--an archetypal representation of the birth of a hero at the junction of many worlds, (who is) engendered partly of humans and partly of the divine, born in a location that is neither indoors nor in the open air, belonging partly to humans and partly to animals, and adored by those on the margins of society."

Most modern pagans acknowledge Yule as the rebirth of the light half of the year; some traditions perform the play of the Oak King and the Holly King, just as it is done at Midsummer, to mark the change of the seasons as one of them reigns over the other. It is also generally accepted that the date of Christmas is an arbitrary one; that it was chosen to coincide with the pagan solstice celebration, as a way of "converting" the "heathens" (or country folk, heath-dwellers) to the Christian way of life.

The first written record of the reason for this holiday's occurrence on December 25th was in 354 AD, in Rome, when one scholar wrote: "It was customary for pagans to celebrate the birth of the sun...when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day."

However, the tradition of celebrating the solstice on this day is not much older, at least according to extant records: it was officially decreed in the year 274 by the emperor Aurelian. A century later, the archbishop of Constantinople observed that fixing the date of the "Nativity of the Sun of Righteousness" was necessary because "while the heathens were busied with their profane rites, the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance." Saint Augustine encouraged Christians to honor "He who made the sun, not the sun itself."

As an aside, the word "Yule" is believed to derive from a colloquial Scandinavian term meaning "wheel." There is also some speculation it is dervied from the Old English word for "jolly." But its exact etymology is still debated. The concept of the wheel makes more sense to me, since this date marks the definitive point in the Wheel of the Year, and for many cultures and calendars it is the start of the new year.

We know that the observance of the winter solstice was very significant in ancient times. Since this date represented the moment when the days would again become longer, when light would return to the land, the rural folk who faced lean times in winter had reason to be thankful. The use of candles as decorations and ritual objects, dating from ancient times, clearly indicates the importance of honoring the deities of light. The sun's return meant spring was on its way,and with it, the birth of new animals to the flock, and the softening of the soil tilled by our ancestors who lived as animal herders and farmers. Their celebration of this date as a holy day, when they worshiped and honored the sun as a deity, was an affirmation of their survival of the cold months of winter. They subsisted on the dried meats of the animals they slaughtered at Samhain, and what little produce they could preserve from the final harvest.

Much of the folklore surrounding winter solstice rituals from various cultures has to do with very basic symbols of agriculture and animal husbandry; in other words, the dormancy of winter as a time of scarcity, and the return of the light as a harbinger of new growth. In Frazer's The Golden Bough it is observed that Bethlehem means "House of Bread,"and that this indicates an association of the birth of Christ with ancient rituals honoring a god of grain and vegetation. The Christian mass includes as its central climax the sharing of bread which represent Christ's body; such symbology dates from well before the dawn of Christianity. And the drinking of the fruit of the vine, in addition to honoring ancient harvest deities like Bacchus and Dionysus, was also believed to insure a bountiful grape harvest in the coming year.

In areas where other fruits were the important crop (like apples in England), many rituals developed around blessing the orchards at Yuletide. Called "saining," these rites blessed fruit trees and livestock so that they might bring abundant food in the seasons ahead. Many of the "wassail" songs reflect this in their lyrics, such as "And here is to Cherry and to his right eye; May Yule bring our mistress a good mincemeat pie." During these rites, Cherry, a common name for a roan-colored cow, might even have a cup of cider tossed in his face; the way his head turned in response was considered a way of divining the health of the herd in the months to come.
The Holly and the Ivy; Did Someone Say "Tree Worship?"

Another potent symbol of Yuletide is the use of evergreen plants to decorate indoors, including holly, ivy, and mistletoe. In the British Isles, it has been customary since time immemorial to decorate with flowers or greenery at all seasonal celebrations; the traditional "evergreen" plants were those that flourished in the winter months, and also included rosemary, gorse, bay, cypress, and yew. The tradition of kissing under a bough of greenery first became widespread in the late 18th century; but this was as likely to be made of holly or gorse as it was to be mistletoe. The ancient association of mistletoe with the Druids was mentioned in a Christmas short story by Washington Irving in 1819, around the time of the revival of interest in Druidism in England. But apparently its vibrancy during winter and its lovely white berries were the main reasons for its popularity as "the kissing bush."

Many modern Witches still perform a ritual of the Oak King and Holly King at Midsummer and Midwinter. The Holly King rules the Waning year; the Oak King, the Waxing Year. The two battle each other for dominance at Litha and Yule, respectively. Just as this rite is a symbolic reenactment of the sacrifice of a young male of the tribe, to appease the gods who ruled the seasons; it is clear that Christ, like the Persian god Mithras (also born at Midwinter), is a symbol of rejuvenation and light. In cold climates, basic survival was based upon subsisting from one harvest to the next; honoring the return of the sun was believed to ensure a bountiful crop, and healthy livestock. In the British Isles (the birthplace of modern Witchcraft, and a region bursting with centuries of religious conflict and mystery) many other rites and customs still exist that reflect these "heathen" (heath-dweller, or country folk) ways of life.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry, or, How Not to Diet During the Holidays

One undeniable feature of the Christmas holidays centers around traditional foods, and the time-honored "tradition" of feasting (and, in our sedentary society, over-eating). Many of us who celebrated Christmas as children have vivid memories of special dishes (some we loved, some we hated! my own favorites were a rosemary-roasted chicken prepared by my grandfather, and my dad's fried smelt; but I watched in horror as other family members ate calamari or Yorkshire pudding). The sheer plethora of traditional cookies and sweets of the season, from many cultures but especially prevalent in Germany, Italy and the UK, is testament to an elaborate history of foods created especially for the season of Yule.

Originally, feasting at this season had several purposes: one, to acknowledge the return of the season of growth with eating heartily during a season of scarcity was a way to give physical expression to the hope for abundance in the year to come. Second, in countries where winter meant a very bleak time of inactivity (as in the fishing and farming communities of rural Scotland), a feast was a way of alleviating boredom and depression. Third, the elaborate Yuletide activities of the nobility from the Middle Ages onward gradually developed into status-conscious events wherein households vied with each other for acts of generosity to their communities: for the poor, this meant eating well and receiving much-needed gifts of new clothing or shoes. During the Protestant Reformation, when Yuletide festivities were all but banned, there were still some stubborn monarchs and lords who persisted in their celebratory rites of feasting and of treating their household servants to a fine meal; to do less would be disastrous, as growing levels of poverty meant food shortages in winter.

As Christianity gradually usurped the pagan ways of worship, the custom of Advent, which is a month-long fast before Christmas, reflects these times when people had to survive eating very little. A "fast" meant no eggs, meat or cheese could be consumed, among the wealthy; the poor generally ate very little meat anyway, and so for Advent gave up other staples, such as cider. It then became a custom to feast on the 25th, and to mark this day with acts of hospitality and generosity. The rich were expected to open their doors and purses for all; this could well have been the precursor to the tradition of helping those less fortunate at the holidays, and giving gifts to those who serve others all year, such as mail-carriers, domestic help, etc. But there were instances when the nobility merely entertained their social equals, not their inferiors, on this day. One poem from this period says:

"At Christmas we banquet, the rich and the poor, Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door?"

Until the virtual collapse of the English aristocracy this century, it was still very common to see remnants of these traditions taking place among the rural nobility. For two excellent portrayals of the Christmas celebrations of English country manor homes in the early 20th century, I recommend the films A Handful of Dust (starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Rupert Graves and Sir Alec Guinness) and The Shooting Party (starring Sir John Gielgud and James Mason). The first contains an authentic version of a masque; the second a wonderful exploration of relations between the peasants and the aristocracy,and how this class distinction is blurred during the holidays.

The concept of feasting during the Middle Ages was naturally different from what it became in later centuries, when advances in farming and hygiene allowed more people to be fed more efficiently. As the years wore on, feasting at Yuletide/Christmas became very elaborate, particularly among the nobility. One common table centerpiece for wealthy households was the boar's head; it was first recorded as being requested for Yule by the bishop of Hereford in 1289. So notorious did this dish become, as it was something of a status symbol to be able to serve it, that there were even songs written in its honor, like "The Boar's Head Carol":

"The boar's head in hand bear we, bedecked with bays and rosemary."

As the wild boar gradually became extinct (it all but disappeared from the forests of Scotland bythe 16th century), its presence at the Yuletide feast was more and more reserved for the nobleman who could afford to outfit a hunting party to procure the elusive beast. The symbology of the boar in Celtic myth is well-known; its strength, ruthlessness and intelligence made it a prize among ancient Celtic warriors, as is portrayed among many artifacts and pieces of jewelry and armor from the Bronze Age. It was highly-valued as a food source at military gatherings, wherein men would honor the animal's qualities and invoke them, as they feasted upon its flesh. Its tusks were worn as talismans to confer bravery on the wearer.

Many royal banquets at Christmas had memorable menus that included huge amounts of exotic foods. Richard II once held a feast for 10,000 people that served 200 oxen and 200 tubs of wine. Henry V held one unforgettable event where a dish called brawn (the flesh from the boar's belly) was the main dish; there was also "dates with mottled cream, carp, prawns, turbot, perch, fresh sturgeons with whelks, roasted porpoise, eels and lampreys, leached meats garnished with hawthorn, and marzipan," among other delicacies. The food was not the only spectacle, however; it was also customary to hire entertainment for these feasts; whether harpers, singers, story-tellers, or minstrels. While the feasts hosted by the wealthy were very opulent, it was also common for communities to organize their own, more humble, events, with church parishes pooling their resources to purchase food and drink, and to hire their own entertainment, or to put on their own productions (this tradition is still very much alive in the U. S. with the traditional "Christmas pageant").

It is not hard to see how Christmas, over time, evolved into a holiday of excess, centered upon food, drink and fun; and, of course, gift giving. Though the orgy of shopping makes us numb to the true pleasure of gift giving, its origins at this season were based in very simple values of generosity and hospitality.

Gift giving seems to originate in another December holiday. The feast of Saturnalia (which honored the god Saturn) was long established by the Romans before they invaded Britain, and was celebrated from December 12-17. It was a time when masters waited on servants at mealtime, and gifts of light were given, particularly candles (this may have been in honor of a solar deity for the upcoming solstice). Other traditional gifts exchanged were coins, honey, figs and pastry. Honey and figs were believed to be aphrodisiacs, but also they were highly-prized for their nutritional value (honey is a natural preservative and is believed to restore youthfulness to the skin). The giving of coins predates the traditions in England of handing out coins to the less fortunate, or the opening of a lord's purse to feed his household servants. These Roman customs surrounding the use of candles, and the exchange of gifts at midwinter, shows that many later Yuletide traditions may have originated in the older festival of Saturnalia. It may also be where the tradition of wassailing and caroling door to door, in expectation of gifts of money, arose, but many of these customs developed somewhat naturally over the years out of various practices by both the nobility and the peasant classes of England.

Wassailing, for example, is a well-loved custom that inspired many songs written especially for the occasion.

"Wassail, wassail, all over the town,
Our bowl it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.
"

The term wassail in Old English means "your health." The traditional bowl or cup full of mulled wine originates in the fourteenth century; the leader of a gathering would take up a bowl and cry out "Wassail!" and toast the others; the cup would then be passed on to the next person, with a kiss, until all in the room had drunk from it. Interestingly, some modern Wiccan covens observe this tradition when passing cakes and wine in circle. On another note related to modern Wiccan practice, Hutton also observes that a traditional dance developed that over time that was performed with the customary wassailing carols; and that this dance was performed with a ring of men and women holding hands! Sounds like many a Gardnerian ritual circle I have been to...this is one more example of an ancient folk custom of rural Britain being passed down to modern times and utilized in Witchcraft rites.

www.witchvox.com/holidays/yule/yulehistory.html 5/7/01 © Witches’ Voice, Inc 1995-2001


Image Source: Hellas Multi Media

History of Yule III
Titled: Origins of Today’s Christmas Symbols
by Tammy Todd

Presents

Presents have been a common theme of Solstice and Yule celebrations for thousands of years. The Saturnalia in Rome was celebrated as the beginning of the New Year, and the revelers gave presents to symbolize the good luck, prosperity, and happiness that they wished for the recipient during the coming year. Christian tradition ties the giving of gifts to the Magi which visited the Christ child shortly after his birth, bringing gifts to the future savior.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe, and it’s tradition of affection, have a long and varied history. Celtic peoples believed that mistletoe was a strong charm against lightning, thunder, and other evils. The Druids would harvest the plant five days after the new moon following the Winter Solstice from sacred oak trees. Norse peoples also saw the plant as sacred. Warriors who mat 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.’

Santa Claus

Last but not least, Santa Claus is perhaps the most recognizable of the many symbols of Christmas. Our version of Santa is an amalgamation of several characters from around the world, including St. Nick from the Dutch, Father Christmas from the English, and Kris Kringle from Germany. Almost all of these figures had pagan roots. 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 striking.

www.alternativereligions.about.com/library/weekly/aa121799b.html 5/7/01

     
Images Source: Hellas Multi Media

Yule Traditions
by Frances Donovan

Yule is the Sabbat that falls at the low point of the Wheel of the Year. Traditionally, it's not considered one of the more important of the Wiccan holidays, but it gained more prominence during the spread of the Roman empire. The Romans brought with them their festival of Saturnalia -- a twelve-day festival that marked the ending of one year and the beginning of another.

In the Wiccan mythos, Yule is the time of the year when the sun is at its weakest. On the night of the Solstice, we mark the moment when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky and begins its upward climb.

Myths marking this passage vary. In some places, the Oak King and the Holly King take part in a mythical battle, each killing the other and taking his throne until the Wheel reaches its bottom or top. At Yule, the Oak King vanquishes the Holly King, ruling until Litha (midsummer), when the Holly King once again takes his place on the throne.

Other myths tell of a king or a god who comes into the world as a newborn babe, growing with more and more vigor until he takes his place as the consort of the Goddess at Beltane. The symbol of the newborn god is one of the reasons that the birthday of Jesus Christ is celebrated in the depth of winter, even though Biblical scholars have suggested he was actually born in April.

Whose traditions are they?

The traditions of festooning our homes with holly, giving gifts, stringing lights, and decorating Christmas trees, all have their birthplace in ancient pagan customs celebrating the rebirth of the Sun. Holly was hung in honor of the Holly King. People gave gifts in a time when community survival was the driving impulse, rather than consumerism. You shared food and other creature comforts to ensure that your neighbors and loves ones--your tribe--would to survive the brutal months to come.

Pagans also lit candles at the stroke of midnight on the solstice, to symbolize the rebirth of the god, the mystery of a light being reborn in the midst of darkness. We see the image of an old man transformed into a baby in the New Year's Eve image of the old year making way for the new.

And then there's the perennial image of Saint Nick. Grizzled old man, jolly and full of laughter, bountiful in the midst of the mean winter. Santa Claus is many things--jolly Jupiter, a smiling Saturn, the Old God on his way to rebirth, any number of local Germanic or Nordic deities--but an ascetic Christian saint he is not. Like Saint Brighid, he is a pagan deity who was absorbed into the Christian tradition.

The origins of the Christmas tree are harder to pinpoint. That's probably due in part to the fact that it was a folk custom, varying from region to region. One of my readers claims that it comes from the bloody customs of warring Germanic tribes. According to him, tribes would sacrifice their prisoners to the god of victory (Wodan or Odin in Norse) by hanging them upside down from trees for nine days, as Wodan was hung from the Tree of Life in order to obtain the wisdom of the runes. After the wars ended, they replaced actual men with gingerbread men, as way of asking for help from Wodan in making it through the dark winter.

I have also heard that the custom originated with people going out into the woods to decorate trees with dried fruit and popcorn-- perhaps to honor the Earth mother by feeding her animals, or perhaps to lure them out for the hunters. The idea of cutting down the tree and bringing it indoors came later.

In some regions of Germany, people placed witches instead of angels at the tops of their Christmas trees, perhaps in recognition of the Crone, the old-woman face of the Goddess who presides over this part of the year.

The custom of placing a light at the top of the Christmas tree is another symbol of the rebirth of the sun. Catholics later changed this image to that of the angel heralding the Christ Child's birth--an image that bears a striking resemblance to that of the newborn God of the pagans.

www.altreligion.about.com/religion/paganwiccan/library/weekly/aa120299.html 5/7/01

History of Yule IV
Titled: Solstice
by Teresa Ruano

The Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June -- by three million miles. Pretty much irrelevant to our planet. What causes the seasons is something completely different. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top frozen in one off-kilter position. Astronomers have even pinpointed the precise angle of the tilt. It's 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This planetary pose is what causes all the variety of our climate; all the drama and poetry of our seasons, since it determines how many hours and minutes each hemisphere receives precious sunlight.

Most of us have known something about this since grade school. What fascinates me about it is how we figured it out in the first place, especially before the advent of satellites and space travel. I haven't studied astronomy enough to understand how we came to know this. The axis is, after all, an imaginary line. But here's an eloquent perspective from a Candlegrove visitor.
Solstice means...standing-still-sun

Such precision we have about it now! Winter solstice is when...
...because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore:

The daylight is the shortest.
The sun has its lowest arc in the sky.

When it's winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is directly overhead at noon only along the Tropic of Capricorn, on which lie such places as Sao Paulo, Brazil, southern Madagascar, and areas north of Brisbane, Australia.
No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

It's a charming theory. But who knows how accurate it is? Cultural anthropology has advanced a lot in the last 50 years!

Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration.

There's much new scholarship about Neolithic peoples and their amazing

culture. For example, it now looks as though writing is much more ancient than we earlier thought -- as much as 10,000 years old.

Neolithic peoples were the first farmers. Their lives were intimately tied to the seasons and the cycle of harvest. I'm certain they were attuned to the turning skies.

Scholars haven't yet found proof that these peoples had the skill to pinpoint a celestial event like solstice. Earliest markers of time that we've found from these ancient peoples are notches carved into bone that appear to count the cycles of the moon. But perhaps they watched the movement of the sun as well as the moon, and perhaps they celebrated it -- with fertility rites, with fire festivals, with offerings and prayers to their gods and goddesses.

And perhaps, our impulse to hold onto certain traditions today -- candles, evergreens, feasting and generosity -- are echoes of a past that extends many thousands of years further than we ever before imagined.

"Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

--Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas

The ancients: Huge efforts to observe the Solstices

An utterly astounding array of ancient cultures built their greatest architectures -- tombs, temples, cairns and sacred observatories -- so that they aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many of us know that Stonehenge is a perfect marker of both solstices.

But not so many people are familiar with Newgrange, a beautiful megalithic site in Ireland. This huge circular stone structure is estimated to be 5,000 years old, older by centuries than Stonehenge, older than the Egyptian pyramids! It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on winter solstice. The light illuminates a stone basin below intricate carvings -- spirals, eye shapes, solar discs. Although not much is known about how Newgrange was used by its builders, marking the solstice was obviously of tremendous spiritual import to them. Here's more on this incredible ancient site.

Maeshowe, on the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, shares a similar trait, admitting the winter solstice setting sun. It is hailed as "one of the greatest architectural achievements of the prehistoric peoples of Scotland."

Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. Likewise, sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Even cultures that followed a moon-based calendar seemed also to understand the importance of these sun-facing seasonal turning points.

And now a new book, The Sun in the Church reveals that many medieval Catholic churches were also built as solar observatories. The church, once again reinforcing the close ties between religious celebration and seasonal passages, needed astronomy to predict the date of Easter. And so observatories were built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. Typically, a small hole in the roof admitted a beam of sunlight, which would trace a path along the floor. The path, called the meridian line, was often marked by inlays and zodiacal motifs. The position at noon throughout the year, including the extremes of the solstices, was also carefully marked.

A linguistic puzzle

The rebirth of the sun.
The birth of the Son.

Christmas was transplanted onto winter solstice some 1,600 years ago, centuries before the English language emerged from its Germanic roots. Is that why we came to express these two ideas in words that sound so similar?

A family fertility ritual from Romania

You may have heard of apple wassailing, the medieval winter festival custom of blessing the apple trees with songs, dances, decorations and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility. Here's another, more obscure tradition that most certainly predates Christmas, and was probably once a solstice ritual, because it is so linked to the themes of nature's rebirth and fertility. In Romania, there's a traditional Christmas confection called a turta. It is made of many layers of pastry dough, filled with melted sugar or honey, ground walnuts, or hemp seed.
In this tradition, with the making of the cake families enact a lovely little ceremony to assure the fruitfulness of their orchard come spring. When the wife is in the midst of kneading the dough, she follows her husband into the wintry garden. The man goes from barren tree to tree, threatening to cut each one down. Each time, the wife urges that he spare the tree by saying:

"Oh no, I am sure that this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this day."

Winter solstice in many cultures

Winter solstice was overlaid with Christmas, and the observance of Christmas spread throughout the globe. Along the way, we lost some of the deep connection of our celebrations to a fundamental seasonal, hemispheric event. Many people--of many beliefs--are looking to regain that connection now.

I gain inspiration from the universality of the ancient idea--winter solstice celebrations aren't just an invention of the ancient Europeans.

Native Americans had winter solstice rites. The sun images at right are from rock paintings of the Chumash, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Solstices were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice celebration lasted several days.

In Iran, there is the observance of Yalda, in which families kept vigil through the night and fires burned brightly to help the sun (and Goodness) battle darkness (thought evil).

Winter solstice celebrations are also part of the cultural heritage of Pakistan and Tibet. And in China, even though the calendar is based on the moon, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi, "The Arrival of Winter." The cold of winter made an excellent excuse for a feast, so that's how the Chinese observed it, with Ju Dong, "doing the winter."

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season?

The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. It commemorates an historic event -- the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year. As a symbolic celebration of growing light and as a commemoration of spiritual rebirth, it also seems closely related to other observances.

In song

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

Now, where do you suppose the first couple of lines of this carol came from?

There is a whole series of medieval English carols on the subject of the rivalry between the holly and the ivy. In many of them, the holly and ivy symbolized male and female, and the songs narrated their often rowdy vying for mastery in the forest or in the house. And the next time you find yourself in a store, getting annoyed at incessant repetitions of "the Carol of the Bells," consider this: it's a remnant of the pre-Christian winter solstice celebration in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian carol called "Shchedryk" has the same melody as the Carol of the Bells, but different English words. The word "Shchedryk" means the "Generous One". It refers to the god of generosity, the Dazh Boh - the Giver God, which is the sun.

A time of magic

In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination--foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.

In Russia, there's a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.

The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.

In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-togehter. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along, as well.

In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.

And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So keep those candles burning!

www.candlegrove.com/sostice.html 5/7/01 © Teresa Ruano 1995-2000

Roman Saturnalia
Titled: Sacaea-Saturnalia
by Teresa Ruano

Ancient idea, probably much older than written history. The harvest is in. It's not yet time to plant again. We're stuck indoors with each other. What do you do with the time between two seasons of heavy work? Why not have a festival? Ancient societies clustered around the Mediterranean perfected this idea over centuries -- and gave us traditions still in use today. Four thousand years ago or so, ancient Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month. The annual renewal festival of the Babylonians was adopted by the Persians. One of the themes of these festivals was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and slaves exchanged places. A mock king was crowned. Masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed.

The Egyptian and Persian traditions merged in ancient Rome, in a festival to the ancient god of seed-time, Saturn.

The people gave themselves up to wild joy. They feasted, they gave gifts, they decorated their homes with greenery.

The usual order of the year was suspended: grudges and quarrels forgotten; wars interrupted or postponed. Businesses, courts, schools closed. Rich and poor were equal, slaves were served by masters, children headed the family. Cross-dressing and masquerades, merriment of all kinds prevailed. A mock king -- the Lord of Misrule -- was crowned. Candles and lamps chased away the spirits of darkness.

As Roman culture became more licentious, so did Saturnalia. You can well imagine...

But don't take my word for it...

Read it from the pen of Seneca the younger...he writes here about Rome during Saturnalia around 50 A.D:

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.
--From the Epistolae

A recipe with an ancient heritage
Or choosing the King of the Bean
.

Saturnalia and related festivals of its day were ruled by a mock king, chosen by bean ballot. This evolved into the holiday practice of baking a cake containing a bean. Eventually, this tradition was linked to Twelfth Night. Medieval versions contained a bean and a pea...one for the King and the other for the Queen. A Candlegrove visitor explains the tradition thusly: "The Bean is for the King and the Pea is for the Queen. If a female gets the bean or a male gets the pea then they get the honor of choosing the King or Queen."

TWELFTH DAY CAKE

1/2 cup rum
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
1 cup seedless dark raisins
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon mace
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 dried pea
1 dried bean
1/2 cup blanched almonds, roughly chopped
3 cups flour, approximately
Fancy Icing

In a bowl, combine the rum with the raisins and currants. Let stand for several hours. Drain the fruit and reserve the rum.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch cake pan that is at least 3 inches deep with butter or shortening. Line with baking parchment.

Cream butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until very light and frothy. Beat in 3 T of the reserved rum and stir in the spices and lemon rind. Stir in the pea and the bean. Stir in the almonds and the flour and mix well to make a smooth batter.

Spoon the batter into prepared cake pan and bake at 275 degrees F for about 2 hours, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in cake pan until just warm. Turn cake out onto cooling rack and peel away baking parchment. When completely cool spread top with Fancy Icing.

FANCY ICING

2 egg whites, room temperature
pinch salt
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Beat egg whites with salt till very frothy. Beat in sugar and lemon juice till stiff peaks form. Add more sugar if needed to make a stiff paste. You can separate out portions to color with food coloring.

Fun yes, but fear as well.

The fear engendered by the failing of the light shaped a striking legend in Greek culture. It's the story of the Kallikantzaroi--ugly monsters of chaos who, during most of the year, are forced underground. During the 12 days of Christmas, the demons are said to roam freely on the earth's surface. They are known more for malicious practical joking than any real harm--braiding horse's tails, souring milk, putting out the home fire in a particularly indelicate manner.

To scare them away, the Greeks kept their Christmas log burning. They also burned old shoes, believing the smell would repel the creatures.

Any child born during the twelve days was in danger of becoming a Kallikantzaroi. The antidote? Binding the baby in tresses of garlic or straw, or singeing the child's toenails!

Constantine, early ecumenist.

A fascinating book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" discusses the pragmatic political motives of the fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine, who first moved the celebration of Christmas to December 25. The authors claim that Constantine followed the cult of Sol Invictus, a monotheistic form of sun worship that originated in Syria and was imposed by Roman emperors on their subjects a century earlier.

"His primary, indeed obsessive, objective was unity -- unity in politics, in religion, and in territory. A cult or state religion that included all other cults within it obviously helped to achieve this objective...In the interests of unity, Constantine deliberately chose to blur the distinctions among Christianity, Mithraism [another Sun cult of the time] and Sol Invictus..."

That's why Constantine decreed that Sunday -- "the venerable day of the sun" would be the official day of rest. (Early Christians before then celebrated their holy day on the Jewish Sabbath -- Saturday.)

That's also why -- by his edict, the book claims -- the celebration of Jesus' birthday was moved from January 6th (Epiphany today) to December 25, celebrated by the cult of Sol Invictus as Natilis Invictus, the rebirth of the sun (confused yet? don't be!)

And are you wondering about the concept of the 12 Days of Christmas? The midwinter festival of the ancient Egyptians celebrated the birth of Horus (the prototype of the earthly king) son of Isis (the divine mother-goddess). It was 12 days long, reflecting their 12-month calendar. This concept took firm root in many other cultures. In 567 AD, Christians adopted it. Church leaders proclaimed the 12 days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season.

www.candlegrove.com/sacaea.html 5/7/01 © Teresa Ruano 1995-2000

History of Yule V
Titled: Yule
by Teresa Ruano

However, Scandinavian visitors to Candlegrove tell me that the association of "Yule" with "wheel" (a fond belief you will find in many places) is a myth. The two words have about as much similarity in their language as in English. The debate points out how ancient the word is. For ancient Germanic and Celtic people, the impulse to celebrate solstice was the same as for their neighbors to the south -- a celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life. But the style and substance of their celebrations took very different shape. These northern cultures survived a colder, darker winter for one thing. And they were just as likely to be herders and hunters as farmers.

It's cold, it's dark many more hours than light, and snows cover the fields where your herds might forage. What is there to do but make a delight of necessity, with a great slaughter and feasting?

And what better time to do it than at the point that marks the return of the sun's light and warmth?

It isn't hard to figure out why.

Imagine living in, say, Scandinavia a thousand years ago.

At solstice, the sun rises around 9 a.m. It sets about 3 p.m. A mere six hours of daylight. Even if you sleep for eight hours, you spend much more of your waking time in darkness than in light.

What a relief when the days begin to lengthen again!

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.

Take holly, for instance.

Evergreens were cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly 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.

Sort of like flypaper for faeries.

Of goats and elves.

Scratch the surface of Christmas folklore in Scandinavian countries, and you find images and traditions that probably go way back. Perhaps this is because Christian missionaries didn't reach these countries until the 10th and 11th centuries, so the old traditions had longer to settle in.

There's the Julbock or Julbukk, or Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, who had his beginnings as carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge.

I've even read somewhere that the Finnish version of this goat character, the Joulupukki, does the present deliveries himself by riding on a bicycle! Here’s a perspective on that from a Finnish visitor to Candlegrove.

The Yule elf is called Jultomten in Sweden, Julesvenn in Norway, and Jule-nissen in Denmark and Norway. Jule-nissen was remembered fondly in 1908 by Jacob Riis:

"I do not know how the forty years I have been away have dealt with Jule-nissen, the Christmas elf of my childhood....He was pretty old then, gray and bent, and there were signs that his time was nearly over. When I was a boy we never sat down to our Christmas Eve dinner until a bowl of rice and milk had been taken to the attic, where he lived with the martin and its young, and kept an eye upon the house--saw that everything ran smoothly. I never met him myself, but I know the house cat must have done so. No doubt they were well acquainted, for when in the morning I went in for the bowl, there it was, quite dry and licked clean, and the cat purring in the corner.....the Nisse, or the leprecawn--call him what you like--was a friend indeed to those who loved kindness and peace."

The YULE CAT

From Iceland comes the legend of the sinister and gargantuan Yule Cat, who, it seems, is ready to eat lazy humans. Those who did not help with the work of their village to finish all work on the autumn wool by Yule time got a double whammy -- they missed out on the Yule reward of a new article of clothing, and they were threatened with becoming sacrifices for the dreaded Yule Cat.

O! Mistletoe!

And from the Celtic tradition comes mistletoe. There's so much to share about this amazing evergreen that it needs its own page.

Of course, there's the tree, so layered over with folklore and speculations about its origin that one could write an entire book about it. Indeed, someone already has. California writer Sheryl Ann Karas brings us The Solstice Evergreen, highly recommended. One historical note about Christmas trees I found most odd--originally in many places, they were hung upside down.

And there's the famous Yule Log, immortalized in carols and in a delicious French dessert. And from time immemorial, Yule has been a time of peace and charity. In Norway, work had to be reduced to a minimum, and no wheels were to be turned, for that would show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. As part of this time-- called Julafred, or Peace of Christmas--neither bird, beast nor fish is trapped, shot or netted.

www.candlegrove.com/yule.html 5/7/01 © Teresa Ruano 1995-2000

Titled: The History Of The Yule Log I
by Anonymous

The history of the Christmas Yule Log originates in the ritual known as Yuletide, a pagan festival of fire. This festival uses the burning of a log on the eve of the Winter Solstice to usher in the power of the sun. The day traditionally falls on December 20 and is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Thereafter nights will grow shorter and the sun will grow stronger in the longer days. However the name Yule derives from the Norse words "Yul" or "Jul", meaning wheel. The earliest known burning of a Yule-style log was in ancient Egypt in about 5000 BC to honor Horus, their sun god. The Sumerians had a similar ritual.

To the Celtic Druids this was a solar festival with the log being burnt after dinner. Oak logs symbolized life. Pine logs represented death. It was also the end to a dangerous time between Samhain (Halloween), or summer's end, and Yule. After the Viking invasion of Britain in 1100 AD, local Celts adopted Thor, the Viking god of thunder. He was now at the center of Yule Log celebrations. Strangely, Christian Teutonic Knights also adopted this by the early 4th century.

The Druids also called this time Midwinter or Fionn's Day. They decorated their logs with holly and pinecones. Then, after the burning, the ashes were given as medicine to cure plant rust, swollen glands and animal complaints. Celtic Britain and Gaelic Europe used a large tree or log to fit into their hearths. They anointed it with salt, holly, wine and evergreens. Then it was lit and young girls or a mother kept the remnants to light the next year's log. Some put it to one side of the hearth, burning it for days, even the whole year. The ashes were highly prized - apparent protection against evil and lightning. Birch, oak, willow and holly woods were most often used.

In 68 BC the Romans adopted Mithras, Persia's sun god, into their Saturnalia Festival. For the whole of the first of 10 nights they burnt a Yule-style log to usher in Mithras' strength. Even after the Roman invasion of Britain in 54 BC the influences of Mithrasism remained. In 1954 a Mithras temple was uncovered in the City of London.

The Saxons and Visigoths also celebrated the Winter Solstice Festival with fortune telling by the fire. Charred log remnants were kept because of their so-called magic powers. The log itself symbolized good against evil.

In about the 4th century AD the early Christians, who celebrated Christmas, then called the Feast of Lights, burnt a log to symbolize the end of the world's darkness and the rebirth of Christ as the light of the world. The adoption of the Yule log most likely came from the Romans.

To pagans the Nativity celebration symbolized the rebirth of Frey, Viking god of fertility. It was a time to reflect on love, family and past achievements. Logs were decorated with ribbons and processed home. Passerbies tipped their hats in a silent salute to the log. For some unknown reason barefoot women, squinters and flat-footed people were excluded from the burning. Norman England celebrated the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival. The ceremonial log burning symbolized the Christian vision of good versus evil and Christ's triumph over sin. The fire represented family warmth.
Even in Christian 12th century France and Italy the Yule Log (ceppo) survived. It was not until the 19th century that France and Quebec, then a French colony, replaced the log. Hearths were few and cast-iron stoves were popular. Soon the log was small and a table centerpiece decorated with candles and greenery.

In 1340 AD, after its foundation, Queens College, Oxford used the Norman festival along with song and literary readings. As a result the Yule Log became a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in English manor houses.

In 1888 AD Dr. Tibbits, an episcopal rector established the festival in colonial New York. Then, in 1940, Christ Church, Cincinnati adopted the festival for the church praising of Christ. Carols were sung as the log was brought into the church and a blessing was prayed for. Cornish English kept children up till midnight to drink to the Mock (Yule Log).

Nearby the Devonians used ashen faggot, a bundle of ash sticks bound together with bands of green Ash wood. Once at home the household's unmarried girls chose a band and the one that ignited first predicted that the girl would be the next to marry. Even today some country inns carry on the tradition.

Meanwhile, back in France, the Yule Log was replaced by the "buche de Noel" (Christmas Log), a log-shaped cake. It was served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve at a supper called Le Reveillon.
Modern times see the Yule Log as party fare. The real meaning has been lost. However there are modern Druids and pagans who still celebrate the Winter Solstice. Wiccans still adhere to the Roman traditions, following the old 4th century Justinian calendar. Ironically Caesar Justinian I adopted Christianity as the main religion of Rome, but years later converted back to paganism.

The Yule Log, though pagan in origin and adopted where needed by other religions, is thousands of years old. It is very likely to be a part of cultural and religious rituals for as long as society craves traditions.

www.stormraven-cairnet.tripod.com/Yule.html 5/6/01

Titled: The history of the Yule Log II
by PageWise, Inc.

The history of the Christmas Yule Log originates in the ritual known as Yuletide, a pagan festival of fire. This festival uses the burning of a log on the eve of the Winter Solstice to usher in the power of the sun. The day traditionally falls on December 20 and is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Thereafter nights will grow shorter and the sun will grow stronger in the longer days. However the name Yule derives from the Norse words "Yul" or "Jul", meaning wheel.

The earliest known burning of a Yule-style log was in ancient Egypt in about 5000 BC to honor Horus, their sun god. The Sumerians had a similar ritual.

To the Celtic Druids this was a solar festival with the log being burnt after dinner. Oak logs symbolized life. Pine logs represented death. It was also the end to a dangerous time between Samhain (Halloween), or summer's end, and Yule. After the Viking invasion of Britain in 1100 AD, local Celts adopted Thor, the Viking god of thunder. He was now at the center of Yule Log celebrations. Strangely, Christian Teutonic Knights also adopted this by the early 4th century.

The Druids also called this time Midwinter or Fionn's Day. They decorated their logs with holly and pinecones. Then, after the burning, the ashes were given as medicine to cure plant rust, swollen glands and animal complaints.

Celtic Britain and Gaelic Europe used a large tree or log to fit into their hearths. They anointed it with salt, holly, wine and evergreens. Then it was lit and young girls or a mother kept the remnants to light the next year's log. Some put it to one side of the hearth, burning it for days, even the whole year. The ashes were highly prized - apparent protection against evil and lightning. Birch, oak, willow and holly woods were most often used.

In 68 BC the Romans adopted Mithras, Persia's sun god, into their Saturnalia Festival. For the whole of the first of 10 nights they burnt a Yule-style log to usher in Mithras' strength. Even after the Roman invasion of Britain in 54 BC the influences of Mithrasism remained. In 1954 a Mithras temple was uncovered in the City of London.

The Saxons and Visigoths also celebrated the Winter Solstice Festival with fortune telling by the fire. Charred log remnants were kept because of their so-called magic powers. The log itself symbolized good against evil.

In about the 4th century AD the early Christians, who celebrated Christmas, then called the Feast of Lights, burnt a log to symbolize the end of the world's darkness and the rebirth of Christ as the light of the world. The adoption of the Yule log most likely came from the Romans.

To pagans the Nativity celebration symbolized the rebirth of Frey, Viking god of fertility. It was a time to reflect on love, family and past achievements. Logs were decorated with ribbons and processed home. Passerbies tipped their hats in a silent salute to the log. For some unknown reason barefoot women, squinters and flat-footed people were excluded from the burning.

Norman England celebrated the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival. The ceremonial log burning symbolized the Christian vision of good versus evil and Christ's triumph over sin. The fire represented family warmth.

Even in Christian 12th century France and Italy the Yule Log (ceppo) survived. It was not until the 19th century that France and Quebec, then a French colony, replaced the log. Hearths were few and cast-iron stoves were popular. Soon the log was small and a table centerpiece decorated with candles and greenery.

In 1340 AD, after its foundation, Queens College, Oxford used the Norman festival along with song and literary readings. As a result the Yule Log became a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in English manor houses.

In 1888 AD Dr. Tibbits, an episcopal rector established the festival in colonial New York. Then, in 1940, Christ Church, Cincinnati adopted the festival for the church praising of Christ. Carols were sung as the log was brought into the church and a blessing was prayed for.

Cornish English kept children up till midnight to drink to the Mock (Yule Log). Nearby the Devonians used ashen faggot, a bundle of ash sticks bound together with bands of green Ash wood. Once at home the household's unmarried girls chose a band and the one that ignited first predicted that the girl would be the next to marry. Even today some country inns carry on the tradition.

Meanwhile, back in France, the Yule Log was replaced by the "buche de Noel" (Christmas Log), a log-shaped cake. It was served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve at a supper called Le Reveillon.

Modern times see the Yule Log as party fare. The real meaning has been lost. However there are modern Druids and pagans who still celebrate the Winter Solstice. Wiccans still adhere to the Roman traditions, following the old 4th century Justinian calendar. Ironically Caesar Justinian I adopted Christianity as the main religion of Rome, but years later converted back to paganism.

The Yule Log, though pagan in origin and adopted where needed by other religions, is thousands of years old. It is very likely to be a part of cultural and religious rituals for as long as society craves traditions.

www.allsands.com/Religious/Christian/yulelog_wtz_gn.html 5/6/01 © PageWise, Inc 2001

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