Celebrated on the winter solstice, Yule is a holiday dedicated to the return of the sun. Pagan deities associated with the celebration include: all newborn gods, sun gods and mother goddesses. Kris Kringle, the inspiration for Santa Claus, receive the honour of becoming the Germanic Pagan God of Yule. The winter solstice, as the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, has been celebrated for centuries. It signifies the return of the light, as the days become longer and the countdown to the life-giving spring begins. The Yule festival lasts for 12 days and involves great merriment and feasting, as well as many traditions each with its own meaning.
Some of the most well-known and widely celebrated Yule traditions include: lighting of the yule log, decorating the tree and wassailing. Many of these customs have been adopted into the Christmas holiday. During Yule, children would be led from house to house bearing gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges, which were a representation of the sun. The fruits were placed in baskets made of evergreen boughs, greatly revered by the Celts as a symbol of immortality, and wheat stalks dusted with flour, which represented the harvest and the accomplishment of life and light.
Yule dishes were plentiful and included: traditional cakes soaked in cider and fruits, nuts, pork and turkey dishes. Houses were lavishly decorated with holly and ivy, both inside and outside, as an invitation to the spirits of nature to join the celebration. In each household, a sprig of holly was placed by the front door throughout the year to maintain the family’s good luck. Mistletoe was also used as a decoration and represented the seed of the divine. Each year, it would be harvested from deep within the forest by the druids (Celtic priests), before the celebrations began.
The most important part of any Yule celebration is the burning of the Yule log, which would traditionally be made of ash that was considered sacred and a herb of the sun. Tradition demanded that the log should never be bought, but should be received as a gift or harvested from the individual’s land. At the beginning of the season, the log would be placed in the fireplace and decorated with seasonal greenery. Each year, a small piece of the log would be retrieved to light the one of the following year. Before it was lit, the Yule log would be doused in ale or cider and dusted with flour. It would be left to burn for the entire night, and smoulder for twelve days after the extinguishing ceremony had taken place.