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The History of Yule

They were singing “Yuletide carols.”

“Light the Yule Log, it’s cold in here!”

We talk about Yule a lot this time of year. But, what is it?

Yule is the ancient Norse holiday celebrating the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. As we approach December 21st, our days continue to get shorter and nights longer. On the 22nd, the days will begin to grow longer again.

In today’s world, we hardly notice these things. Our lives aren’t as dependent on the seasons, and we force ourselves to go and go all year round. For our ancestors, this meant more time indoors, while surviving off the food harvested in the earlier months, as well as more hunting. Inevitably, this led to more time together, celebrations, and hot meals. Yule also held religious importance. Similar to Passover, every nine years, Germanic farmers would give sacrifices, offerings, and feasts at the temple hof. The color red, so common in Christmas decorations, originally represented blood, the life force, which was often painted on the altars.

In fact, most Christmas traditions stem from Yule. Bringing greenery into your home, such as a tree, and decorating it is about as pagan as you can get. The Yule log was first intended to keep evil spirits away, as this is thought to be when the veil is thinnest in Celtic and other Germanic cultures. Santa Claus, caroling, and mistletoe are all also based on pagan traditions. Decorating Christmas trees was even illegal at one point.

So, when did it change from Yule to Christmas?

In the 9th century, the church was working hard to convert pagans to Christianity. As they did with Samhain and Halloween, they created a Christian holiday to coincide with the winter solstice. This would make it easier for new Christians to convert, as they could still celebrate like they normally would.

And thus, Christmas was born. Yule decorations became nativity scenes, pomanders became baubles. But, in some ways, this is good news! If you would like to celebrate Yule this year, you can still do all the things you normally do. Just have a pagan mindset while doing it. Celebrate the beauty of the winter season and feel grateful for this time with your loved ones.

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