Yule - Winter solstice
or the Midwinter Solstice is the time of year when we experience
our shortest day and longest night - the sun is at its lowest
point in the sky at noon. Yule meaning 'wheel' is one of the oldest
winter celebrations in the world.
Our ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the Sun god at Yule, and
the expulsion of the evil winter spirits. The winter solstice
was considered a mysterious and powerful time, for it is at this
point the sun begins to make the return journey across our skies.
After the longest night of the year the sun is seen
as growing stronger and the return of the warmer season is welcomed
- the concept of rebirth became strongly associated with the Winter
Three days after Yule many people exchange gifts and celebrate
Christmas - the birth of Jesus, as our ancestors celebrated the
return of light and the sun growing in strength. The well-known
figure of Father Christmas may have derived from the Pagan god,
Herne the Hunter.
Yule was celebrated with bonfires to stimulate the ascent of the
sun, and lamps illuminated houses decorated with evergreens to
It is a time to look on the past year's achievements. The days
will now grow longer up to the mid summer solstice.
Yule Log - 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.
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
Wiltshire the winter solstice is still celebrated by the lighting
up of the white horse at Alton Barnes.
Tea lights in jars are placed on the chalk, so that the horse
glows with candlelight.
Wassailing - New Year's Eve was
the traditional time that this ceremony took place, and was originally
held around the oldest tree in the apple orchard. The first cider
crop was poured on the roots of the apple tree to thank the tree
spirits for the crop of apples, and to ensure a good harvest next
and bamging sticks would beat away any bad spirits, and the wassail
cup would be passed around. Toast dipped in cider would then be
hung on the oldest tree, as an offering to the tree dryads.
'Wassail' was Saxon for 'good health'.
In the eleventh-century, the Danish rule over England brought
the Scandinavian term for Christmas - Yule. Christmastide was
the time to bring out the wassail bowl or cup. The leader of the
celebrations would call 'Wassail', which was Old English for 'your
health', and the answer was 'Drinkhail', at which the bowl was
passed round so everyone took took a drink and handed it on with