DECK THE HALL
Deck the hall with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la!
'Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la!
Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la la la la!
T'roll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la la la!
See the blazing yule before us, Fa la la la la la la la!
Strike the harp and join the chorus, Fa la la la la la la la!
Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la!
While I tell of Yuletide treasure, Fa la la la la la la la!
Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la!
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, Fa la la la la la la la!
Sing we joyous all together! Fa la la la la la la la!
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la la la la!
Starting December 22nd 2019 CE on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the beginning of growing daylight hours. Observed by Germanic peoples, Yule is the modern name of the Old English words ġēol or ġēohol and ġēola or ġēoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of "Yule", and the latter indicating the month of "Yule", whereby ǣrra ġēola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġēola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic 𐌾𐌹𐌿𐌻𐌴𐌹𐍃 (jiuleis); Old Norse, Icelandic, Faroese and Norwegian Nynorsk jól, jol, ýlir; Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian Bokmål jul. Jölföðr (Yule-father) and Jölnir (Yule) are names of Odin. (God Wodan)
Fertility rites, feasting, drinking, and sacrifice are common for celebration
Yule falls approximately on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. After Yule the period of daylight begins to wax, until it reaches the longest day on June 21, the Summer Solstice. For folks in Northern climes, the Winter Solstice was a most welcome day to anticipate at the dark end of the year, and although months of darkness lay ahead, folk could rest assured Sunna's might was on the increase and darkness was waning. Yule is actually a span of thirteen days, usually counted from the night before the solstice (19 or 20 December, as it varies from year to year ), to the thirteenth night, (usually January 6 called "Twelfth Night" later by Christians). Bede called Yule eve "Mother Night", and it is thought this night was devoted to honouring the Idises (or Disir, female ancestral spirits) the family protectors. The Solstice itself, either 20, 21 or 22 December, is the most important of the days, when the dead and other beings of the dark fare most freely, Winter arrives, and humans are closest to the spirit worlds.
Jölföðr (Yule-father) and Jölnir (Yule) are names of Odin. Some think Odin was the original "Alf" or gift-giving "Elf" ( Julesvenn in Norway, Jultomten in Sweden, and Jule-nissen in Denmark). Before Santa Claus was popularised in the Victorian era as a fat jolly Elf, he was seen as tall and lean, wearing a dark cloak, not a red and white tunic. Earlier legends describe "Santa" as riding a white horse, not driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer. This reminds us of Odin's steed Sleipner. The elder "Yule Elf" was a bit stern also, and could be quite a terrifying figure, especially to rude or ill-willed folk. This forbidding Yule Father probably arose from ancient legends of the Odensjakt or Wild Host who during Yule tide ride the stormy Winter skies, led by Odin as Oskoreidi. Sometimes people would be taken to join the Wild Host in tumultuous flight. In the Christian era folklore advised people to stay inside at night to avoid the furious Host, which was much feared. There are many accounts, especially from Germany, of wayfaring folks being picked up and transported from one place to the other by the throng of the dead, only to be left there lifeless. Other legends tell of those who could lie as dead (presumably in a trance state) while their souls fared aloft with the Wild Host. However, it is quite possible that fearful reputation of the Wild Host was especially encouraged by Christians, who claimed the Wild Huntsman was their devil. From a Heathen perspective it is likely that originally the Wild Host was made up of ecstatic human devotees of the God Wodan. He is the God of ecstasy, but also of death, so the dead probably always made up part of the Wild Host, which rode with great clamor upon skeletal horses and accompanied by ghostly hounds.
In contrast to the solely horrific nature of the Hunt as seen by Christians, there is a great deal of evidence that Heathens believed fertility and blessings were brought by the Wild Host . Oski, "Fulfiller of Desire," or "Granter of Wishes," is an aspect of Odin that could well be associated with the Yule Elf, for Oskoreidi, Leader of the Wild Host, was known to give gold or other boons to those who were courteous or clever. The greatest boon believed wrought by the Furious Host was that as they rode above the fields they ensured fertility and fruitful harvests. An interesting related custom survived in Germany of leaving the last sheaf of grain cut in the field for the Huntsman's horse, eight-legged Sleipner, Odin's magical steed. This fertility aspect of the Wild Hunt could be connected in some way with the return of the dead to their earthly homes at Yule, for it was thought they brought blessings with them and bestowed them upon their kin. These 'evolved' dead were considered to be Alfar (male Elves) or Disir (powerful female ancestral spirits), a higher soul state some benevolent humans were believed to achieve upon death. These holy Ancestors became guardian spirits of their kin's land, much involved with the continued fertility of the land and its inhabitants. Folk would honour the ancestors by bringing gifts of food and drink to the family howe (burial mound). There also survives the custom of sitting out on a mound in order to get the highly valued advice of the Ancestor within. Indeed the kindred Dead were considered to still be an integral part of the family by Heathens, and were treated as such. The ghostly Wild Hunt is another manifestation of the pervasive Heathen beliefs of the eternal connection of the living with the dead, and the fertility bestowing powers of the Ancestors.
In Scandinavia it is the God Thor who is thought to be the origin of the Yule Elf.
The Julbock or Julbukk, the Yule Goat, who to this day plays a big part in Norse Yule festivities, is thought to derive from Thor's magical goats Tannginost and Tanngrisnir who draw His chariot through the sky. There are many legends that tell of Thor's benevolent protectiveness of human kind, and of his jolly, fun-loving nature
The Yule goats carry the Yule Elf as he visits the folk, bestows gifts, and gets his traditional offering of porridge. Modern Yule decorations of straw formed into goats, straw-goat ornamented wreaths, and a (mock) Yule goat head bourne about on a stick are all memories of Thor's animals. When the Yule log burns on the hearth, some scholars say, it is an offering on Thor's altar
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us — Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Susan Cooper, in "The Shortest Day"
The central celebration and rite of Yule is the holy feast. It is thought very important to spare nothing in providing for the guests--both living and dead, human and wight. All good wights shared in the Yule feast; dogs and cats ate the same food as humans, and were brought into the house. Offerings of cream, beer, and bread were left out for the house-wights. If the feast were being held by a chieftain (or a wealthy community leader), many people would be invited and it would last many days, with presents being given to the guests upon their departure. For less wealthy folk, there would be as good a feast as could be provided, and of course the Yule ale would be shared in frith between family members and friends. Sumble (ritual toasts) would be drunk to the Ancestors at this time as well, for Yule was the season for the recognition of the continuance of human life.
The Ancestors would naturally be most welcome at the family celebration. Savoury foods such as mutton or leg of lamb, goose, pork, and beef, special Yule breads, porridge, apples, sweets and nuts are traditional. But most important is the Yule ale, brewed stronger than other ales, and considered holy. Oaths were sworn on the bragarfull (holy cup). Sumbles held during the days of Yule, and especially on Mother's Night, the Solstice, and Thirteenth Night are considered to be especially potent, being spoken in the presence of the Gods and wights at the most holy time of year.
THE YULE WREATH
The word "wreath" comes from the Old English "writhan," meaning "to twist". The wreaths used during Yule were meant to symbolize nature and the promise of spring. They held candles that were lit in hopes of the return of the warmth and the sunlight. Rome, too, had an annual midwinter celebration, called Saturnalia, during which they worshiped Saturn, who was the god of agriculture or sowing, from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. For Saturnalia, Romans used holly wreaths as a form of decoration and also gave them as gifts.
THE YULE TREE
Evergreens have long been part of Winter Solstice celebrations. The evergreen tree, which keeps its leaves throughout the year, is an obvious symbol of the endurance of life through the cold and dark Winter months. In South Germany arose the custom of a branch or small tree brought inside and decorated with offerings to the spirit of the tree. This Yule tree was considered to represent the luck of the family (as the old Bairnstock did) as well as being honoured as a powerful wight in its own right, capable of bestowing fertility in the coming year. The cosmic tree, Yggdrasil is an evergreen yew in some traditions, and an ash (rowan = European mountain ash ) in others. Both trees have bright red berries; possibly this is one origin of decorating the modern Yule tree with berries.
Trees are sacred to Germanic and Celtic peoples, and there are many ancient traditions of offerings tied onto trees as gifts to them, this practice is the most probable origin for the custom of decorating Yule trees with gifts.
Another Yule tradition that survives from Heathen times is the burning of a Yule Log. This was a specially chosen tree that was to burn for at least twelve hours, but possibly it originally burned for all twelve days of Yule. In some legends the log was offered to Thor. Oak would be the most appropriate choice, but any hardwood considered holy from the locality is suitable. English lore holds that Yule logs should not be bought, they should be gotten from one's own property, or a neighbour's. The log of course must be massive, and must be handled with care and clean hands, out of respect. In some places a whole tree trunk was brought in, and one end was placed in hearth. Then it was gradually fed in as it burned, to be finally consumed on the final night. The tradition is that the presence of the remnants or ashes of the Yule log in the house would protect it all year from lightning and would bring good luck. The new Yule log should be started with some splinters of the previous year's. Holly and other winter greenery is often used to decorate the Yule log. Today Heathens at need substitute a large candle (or series of candles) for it, and burn them starting on Mother's Night, all through the thirteen nights of the holy tide. This is done to honour and aid Sunna through the darkest time of the year, to ward off ill wights of darkness that might be about at Yule, and to symbolise the lengthening of daylight after Solstice.
As a festive treat
Although it falls during the darkest time of year, Yuletide is holy and a time of peace. Frith is held between everyone, and all are focused on celebration, family, feasting,honouring the Ancestors, making holy oaths, and peace.
Excerpts from Yule Origins, Lore, Legends, and Customs