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Winter Holidays Melting Pot – Yule

With so many holidays at the end of the year, many of them combined so that civilizations were able to celebrate in unity. This created a mix of cultures and traditions that made new traditions for future generations. In this section, we are exploring what Yule is and what parts of our newfound traditions came from this holiday. 

What is Yuletide?

Yule is one of the oldest winter traditions. It is hard to completely find the origin part, however, it can be traced to Germanic peoples, also known as pagans, a small group out of the Wiccan coven. The season celebrated the winter solstice and majorly featured Norse mythology. The Norse festival was called Jol celebrated on the shortest day of the year and looked forward to the sun coming back. Because the festival was celebrated in a large area; the spelling/name can be seen as Jul (Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish); Joulud (Estonian); Joulu (Finnish); and Jol (Icelandic). The root of the celebration was from the power of the season moving from the Holly King to the Oak King. 

The celebration spans over 12 days. On the first day, the ritual was to cut down a tree and have it burn for the full duration. This is how the Yule log was introduced. As the Yule log was burning the society would dance in a circle, singing joyful carols known as wassailing. While this was the harshest part of the year, livestock was often sacrificed to feed the population (as it was difficult to keep people and livestock well-fed and healthy during winter months). Some of the meat was used as a sacrifice to Odin or shared with their community. The most common livestock was boar. It was told through folklore that Odin (Norse god of the dead) would visit the Vikings on a sled that was pulled by an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. To please both Odin and Sleipnir, pork was laid out for Odin while sugar and hay were left for Sleipnir. In Scandinavian and Northern European folklore Thor rode in a chariot pulled by 2 goats: Tanngnjostr and Tanngrisnir. To look forward to the sun coming and to permit protective spirits in their homes, they would decorate indoors with as much green nature as they could find. This primarily includes evergreens, holly, ivy, and mistletoe.

Where did this tradition fuse with other traditions and cultures? 

In the 10th Century in Norway, King Haakon Haraldsson combined the Norse Yule celebration and Christian Christmas. Haakon was raised by the English King Athelstan who established Haakon in the Christian church. When Haakon turned 15, he was sent back to Norway to remove his half-brother Erik Bloodax from power. Haakon brought English missionaries with him when he took the throne and made a law that Yule was to be celebrated alongside Christmas. Everyone was required to have ale from a measure of grain and to celebrate until the ale was gone. Those who did not celebrate would be fined. 

Today, the Yule festival (winter solstice) is celebrated on the shortest day of the year;
December 21st for the Northern Hemisphere and June 20th in the Southern Hemisphere. Following tradition, families provide Christmas hams and Yule logs for dinner. In Gävle, Sweden they have the largest Yule goat made of straw. It can be assumed our connections of reindeer, singing carols, and decorating in evergreen had been introduced through Yuletide Cheer. In all cases, we wish you a merry little Christmas and to make the Yuletide gay!

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