Yule, also known as Saturnalia, Alban Arthan or the Winter Solstice is a Winter celebration of light. It has been observed by our ancestors for thousands upon thousands of years, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The Winter Solstice typically falls between 21st – 23rd December. It is a day when the sun is at its lowest, making it the shortest day of the year.
This Midwinter celebration brings our hope for the returning light to the fore and it gave our ancestors great joy in the middle of a terribly bleak time. Daylight lengthens minute by minute as the waxing half of the year comes around once more. But instead of yearning for the warmer months during this dark half of the year, we can instead use the opportunity to go deep within, just as Mother Nature does. To go still, reflect and gain wisdom so that we too can grow with the ever increasing light. Our visions, hopes and goals are slowly germinating, readying to burst forth in the new year.
Yule was typically celebrated by the Norse and the Romans and it is from these cultures that many of our traditions of today come from. The name Yule comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lul” meaning wheel or “jol” for the Germanic peoples. The Northern peoples would celebrate Yule with feasting and sacrificing.
Not much is known about how the Celts celebrated this time of year, but ancient writings do tell of how Druids would sacrifice a white bull and gather mistletoe. The Celts also hung evergreens above their doors to keep evil spirits away.
The Romans, however, celebrated a festival called “Saturnalia” which would last a whole week from 17th – 23rd December to honour the God Saturn who is the God of agriculture. It was also a time of gift giving, feasting and sacrifice. The Romans would gift coins for prosperity, cakes for joy and burning lamps to light the way through one’s life. Slaves were also allowed to take on the role of their master which meant no work was undertaken during this week.
Another Roman festival was called “Brumalia” which honoured the Gods Saturn, Cronos and Bacchus as well as the Goddesses Ceres and Demeter. The festival began 24th December and lasted four weeks.
In Scotland there was a tradition called “first footing” in which the first person to cross the threshold would bring good luck to the household for the coming year. However, this only applied if the visitor was a dark haired male. It is believed that this tradition goes back to the time of invading Vikings who would have had fairer hair.
Tomorrow I will be writing in more detail about the traditions of our Europen ancestors and how some of them are still practiced today.
Many blessings of love and light.