Saturday, 1 November 2014

Y is for Yule

Although it is only November and not yet the Yuletide season, I have reached the letter Y. As a Yorkshire woman with Viking roots living in Sweden, it is nevertheless appropriate to consider the word and what it symbolises.

Besides being associated with Christmas (Jul in Swedish), Yule is also connected to the winter solstice (the summer solstice for those living south of the Equator). According to the Celtic tradition, on Solstice Night (the longest night of the year) bonfires were lit in fields and trees and crops were toasted with spiced cider. Children visited houses carrying baskets made from evergreen boughs (symbolising immortality) and what stalks dusted with flour (the former symbolising the harvest and the latter triumph, light and life) and filled with oranges and apples spiked with cloves– both of which represented the sun. Holly and ivy was used to decorate the exteriors and interiors of houses to entice Nature Sprites to come and join the celebrations. Holly was hung near the door all the year round as a constant invitation of good fortune and mistletoe was hung as a decoration to represent the seed of the Divine.

The Yule log, usually of Ash, was the highlight of the festival of the Solstice and by tradition must either have been harvested from the householder’s land or received as a gift (but never bought). Inside the house it was decorated with greenery, splashed with cider or beer and dusted with flour before being set alight using a piece of the previous year’s log. The log then burned throughout the night and left to smoulder for 12 days before being ceremonially extinguished. (Reference source:

In recent years I have begun to write ‘Yuletide greetings’, rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ during the Yuletide season.  Somehow it seems more authentic in this secular and materialistic age, when Christmas is increasingly associated with tinsel and tat, spending up and stocking up, and begins already in October.  It may also be connected to my inner desire to reconnect with the earth, and cherish it.

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