Christmas Origins: Yule Solstice
December marks the very well known celebration known as Christmas. The holiday is celebrated by most families around the world, and they get together to celebrate the end of the year, along with their religions and traditions. However, not everyone knows that some of the classic winter traditions are borrowed from Germanic, or more commonly known as Pagan, religions. Christmas as a whole can be tied to Yule; a Pagan holiday that marks the winter solstice (Dec. 20-23) and came before Christmas was a holiday. The exact origins of Yule are unknown, but there are a couple of different theories. A common theory of its origin can be traced back to the ancient Norse festival Jul; a winter festival that involved traditions similar to that of classic Christmas traditions. There are also origins in Scandinavia that were celebrated by Germanic tribes; however, when Christianity spread throughout Europe, Christians incorporated some of these traditions into their own practices to appeal to the idea of converting to their religion.
The yule log is an example of a borrowed Christmas tradition. It is a simple holiday tradition of burning a log of wood during wintertime, thus giving houses the classic warm and cozy feel. Sometimes people also write their wishes down before feeding it to the fire. The yule log might also be regarded as the dessert “Bȗche de Noel,” which is a log-shaped chocolate cake, but it’s more related to the modern day yule log itself. The original purpose of the fire was to welcome the sun back as the days got longer. The druids–high-caste people of Celtic cultures– believed that the burning of the yule log would encourage the sun to return faster. The Pagans burned their yule logs by pouring alcohol over the log before relighting it with last year’s log remains. The main goal was to try to keep the fire alive for twelve days. If the log were to burn out, it’s considered bad luck in the coming year.
Christmas gets some of its icons from Pagan beliefs as well. It is believed that Odin, the Norse god regarded as the All-Father, also holds the title of the first Father Christmas. Odin is described to be white bearded and a wanderer, and sounds quite similar to Old Saint Nice with his own snow white beard and his trait of “wandering” from town to town spreading joy. It is also to be noted that Odin owned an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. In honor of this mythical creature, some children would leave out hay and sugar for Sleipnir the eve of the winter solstice. So there is a possibility that Odin’s horse was translated and adapted into Santa’s eight reindeer.
Today, Yule is mostly celebrated by Neo-pagans, or modern day Pagans. Yes the holiday is not commonly celebrated in America, and may be lost to time as the years go by. However, Yule will remain a key component in the shaping of the holly and jolly winter holiday that people have grown to love and cherish over the years.
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