Yule, which many people know as the 12 days of Christmas is a very powerful time of the year, and sacred to the Norse/Germanic peoples! Yule is a 12 night festival, yes 12, that celebrates many things. The Winter Solstice, and we all know how important solstices are. The new year. It is a time to honor those ancestors who have passed to the world beyond. It is a general time of merriment and celebration. It is interesting that one can observe that each night of Yule can represent each of the 12 months of our calendar, and some celebrate each day in accordance with what is going on in the month that it represents. There is even a legend that says that whatever befalls you during each of those 12 nights can be prophetic regarding how that correlated month will go for you.
The history of Yule as with most heathen and pagan festivals dates back into prehistory. Peoples around the world have been celebrating the winter solstice and the turning of the year for thousands, upon thousands of years. It has always been an important time. It was a time of sacrifice to honor Thor for fighting back the frost giants, to the ancestors for at this time the veil is thinnest. A time to celebrate for they knew that Ragnarok was not upon them. There was great feasting, and many rituals were performed. This went on every year for thousand of years. Christianity did it’s level best to stamp out most of these practices. Recognizing that they would never be able to get rid of all of our ancestors Yule traditions the church decided to incorporate those it could and try to take over the rest. They did so with some success, but not with total success. Red Thor became Santa, and the reason behind some of the traditions were obscured or forgotten. The Christians moved the date of Jesus’ birth to December 25th in order to take over the holiday from the Mithra worshippers, but it also put his “birthdate” in the middle of our Yule. But we still burn the Yule Log, we still swear New Year’s Oaths, we still put up holly and mistletoe. We still tell the kids that Santa is coming! So many of our important traditions were never interrupted. I’d like to tell you where some of these originated!
Yule starts on the Mother Night, which is generally either December 20 (in the northern hemisphere), and ends on December 31, new years. The second night is the winter solstice itself.
We honor the beginning of the Sun’s return and the breaking of Winter, (which is most noticeable in five days) and is celebrated over a twelve day period. We know there will be no Fimbulwinter which proceeds Ragnarok.
It is a time of the year when our deceased Ancestors are closest to us; this is when the dead (draugar) are more active than any other time. Yule is when Jólnir another name for Odinn leads the procession of the Wild Hunt through the sky’s with spirits of humans, horses and dogs. This procession occurs during all twelve days of Yule.
It is a time for great feasting, honoring Thor for driving back the frost etins, Frey to give us prosperity in the coming year, Odinn as leader of the Wild Hunt, and of course our Ancestors. Jólablót, have a Yule party with family and kindred. Decorate a tree with sunwheels and light a Yule Log.
The Yule Tree is the symbol of our cosmology; it’s the Great tree Yggdrasil. From the Voluspa;
“Yggdrasil its name.
With water white is the Great Tree wet;
Thence come the dews that fall in the dales.
Green by Urths well does it ever grow.”
And so the evergreen tree is the most appropriate, to remind us of the eternity of Yggdrasil, as it last through out winters Ever Green.
The burning of a Yule Log is an ancient ritual; our ancestors kindled a huge oak log in honor of Thor. Today we burn a smaller log during the Yule Season. When lighting the new Yule Log it should be with the charred remains of the previous year’s log, which is, keep to guard the house against lightning and fire.
Twelfth Night (December 31st) culminates the traditional twelve days of Yule. Our Ancestors at this time consecrated a boar to Frey, led it out so everyone present could lay their hand on the boar and swear a solemn Oath. This was to honor Frey for prosperity. Oaths sworn on the Oath-Boar are very binding during this time, than any other time of the year. Make a New Year’s resolution in the old way by swearing your oath on Frey’s boar or on your hammer.
The Yule is no exception when it comes to christian plagiarism of other cultures Holidays. There is no doubt that the Yule Tree, Yule Log, the Singing and exchanging of Gifts are from our Northern Culture.
Some more information from another source: “I’m sure we have all seen signs that remind us to “remember the reason for the season”. These signs are put up every Yuletide by well-meaning people who have forgotten that the season is the reason. Yule is celebrated because of winter, the darkest, coldest season.
Yule is a twelve night festival, starting on Mother Night, December 20. The following night is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. As Yule continues, the days slowly begin the get longer, and the nights shorter. Yule ends on Twelfth Night, December 31.
Each of the days and nights of Yule can be viewed as a miniature of the months of the year. On Mother Night one can recount the past January and plan for the next January. On the second day of Yule, remember last February and look forward to next February. Continue this way ending with December on Twelfth Night.
During Yule, we honor Thorr for driving back the frost etins, Frey to give us prosperity in the coming year, Odinn as leader of the Wild Hunt, and our Ancestors. During Yule, we are closest to the dead. Death surrounds us, the dead flowers and plants that were so alive a few months ago. The trees all appear dead, except for the evergreens.
We decorate an evergreen tree with sun wheels, runes, items of food such as cranberries and popped corn, and bright pretty things, to remind us of the eternity of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, as it lasts throughout the winter.. Ever Green.
Of course, I guess by now we all know how our ancestors offered gifts to the land-wights and forest spirits (tree spirits) by tying ribbon and bells on evergreen trees and leaving out cookies and milk so that the spirits of the land would look upon them favorably and not sabotage their crops or animals during the year.
During the twelve nights of Yule, we burn a Yule log, give gifts, and feast (especially on ham and pork, which are sacred to Frey).
In days of old, our ancestors would swear their oaths for the coming year (remembered today as the weaker New Year’s resolutions) on the sacred boar on Twelfth Night. Now, it is our Kindred tradition to swear our oaths on the bristles of the boar, then share the meat and mead as a part of our yearly Yule party.
On Twelfth Night, we take down our Yule trees and pack up our Yule decorations for the year. This is the end of Yule and the old year. We save the trunk of the Yule tree for next year’s Yule Log. Now we turn our attention to making it through the rest of the winter, and the rest of the New Year.
Kissing under the mistletoe became a tradition after the death of the god Baldur – second son of Odin, god of truth and light — who was so beloved by the other gods that they sought to protect him from all the dangers of the world. His mother, the goddess Frigg, “took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, from trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creeping things, that they would not hurt Baldur.” And thus the beautiful god was deemed invincible. What does this have to do with mistletoe? Bear with me…
At a large gathering soon after, stones, arrows, and flame were all flung at Baldur to test his might. Nothing worked, and he walked away unscathed. Jealous of Baldur’s new powers, the mischievous Loki set out to find the one thing on Earth that might be able to hurt him. He found that the goddess Frigg forgot to ask mistletoe — tiny and forgotten — not to harm her beloved son. In the end, a dart fashioned from the little plant was used to murder Baldur in front of all the other gods who loved him so dearly.
Frigg, of course, was devastated, her tears became the berries of the plant, and it was decreed that ”mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it.”
And thus we hang mistletoe underneath our doorways come the holidays — so that we never overlook it again.
Holly has prickly green leaves and red berries and was used throughout ancient Europe as a ward for the house during Yule. As we learned earlier, Yule was a time when the veil between the spirit world and that of the living is lowered, so during this time good and bad spirits have easier access to our lives. Holly was considered a barrier, a protective plant that could ward off the evil spirits by it’s core nature. So it was hung over doorways and windows to to keep unwanted spirits from trespassing into your house during Yule!