We celebrate the light overcoming the dark, as
the two are brothers, rivals or the flip sides of the same coin. The Oak
King rules from midwinter until midsummer, and the Holly King rules from
midsummer until midwinter. Every year at Yule, the Oak King cuts off the
Holly King's head and rules for six months until midsummer, when the Holly
King kills the Oak King and the cycle begins again. You can see the vestiges
of the myth in the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Janet and
Stewart Farrar devote a whole chapter to these two in their book The
In Celtic tradition, Yule is the time when the Oak King triumphs over the Holly
King. The Holly King represents the death and darkness that has ruled since the
onset of Samhain. At Winter Solstice, the Oak King brings the opportunity to be
reborn and begin new life. The Yule Season raises one's spirit and brings
tidings of comfort and joy as the carol goes... It is a period of reflection.
During Samhain, one has recognized the lessons given in past experience and now
Yule brings the opportunity to be reborn with new light. The customs created at
this time are what are now identified with Christmas. A Yule tree is decorated
and the house is adorned with holly, ivy and candles to represent the
approaching light. Father Winter, complete with a white beard and red coat
trimmed with fur, visits each home bringing gifts. The Yule log, which is made
of oak from the previous year is burned into the fire to symbolize the Newborn
Another version of the Oak/Holly King theme is the ritual hunting and killing of
a wren. The wren, little King of the Waning Year, is killed by the Robin
Redbreast, King of the Waxing Year. The robin finds the wren hiding in an
ivy bush (or as in some parts of Ireland - a holly bush).
or Winter Solstice, represents the rebirth of light. During this longest night
of the year, the Goddess gives birth to the Divine Child of Promise. His is the
promise of summer and the return of the sun.
In early human civilization, as the days grew colder and the nights grew longer
and darker, candles and fires were lit to lure back the sun. At this "time of
darkness", while the Earth was sleeping, many did not survive. Winter was a time
of death and stagnation. Shelter was drafty, disease was common and food was
scarce. The night of the sun's "rebirth" was celebrated with much joy. From this
day forward, the days would become longer. Even though the cold and darkness
still prevailed, hope was renewed and the people began to look forward to the
warmth of summer.
Yule was not celebrated in early Celtic traditions. It was brought to Britain by
the invading Saxons who viewed Yule as the "turning time". Yule literally means
"wheel" in Old Norse. Because the symbolism of the wheel was so important to
this Sabbat, it became a day sacred to Goddesses of the spinning wheel. Wreaths
were a popular representation of the endless cycle…the Wheel of the Year.
Evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not "die" thereby
representing the eternal aspect of the goddess. Mistletoe represented the seed
of the God, and at Midwinter, the Druids are said to have gone deep into the
forest to harvest the mistletoe. They cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle and
caught it in a white cloth for it was not to touch the ground in deference of
Yule is loosely translated to mean "Christmas". Though according to an online
dictionary, the word yule is derived from the Scandinavian words "yol" and
"geol" both of which mean a midwinter celebration of "pagan origin" (I love that
phrase!) and also another word, "hjul" means "wheel". Now on to the phrase
"pagan origin"... that is just the lazy way of saying "Our traditions come from
so many different cultures and time periods, we just thought it would be easier
to lump them all together in one term."
Yule is also known as the Winter Solstice. It is the time of the shortest
daylight hours in the year, and of course, the longest night. The Goddess gives
birth to the God at this time, representing a rebirth of light. It is the time
of year when the Earth (wood) spirits are encouraged to rest, in preparation for
all the hard work ahead of them to replenish the Earth with the fresh blooms of
new life, the forthcoming of spring. Celebrations were held in honor of the wood
spirits. Trees were brought into the homes, and decorated with bells, candles
and brightly colored threads to attract the spirits. Bread, fruit and nuts were
hung from the branches to provide food for the spirits. Group singing (caroling)
was also a way of guiding the spirits towards the shelter of the homes and Yule
logs were lit to provide warmth. This festival has been adapted since its
earlier Pagan origin to be known as the more popular festival Christmas.
Yule coincides closely with the Christian Christmas celebration. This Sabbath
represents the rebirth of light. Here, on the longest night of the year, the
Goddess gives birth to the Sun Child and hope for new light is reborn. Some
covens hold a Festival of Light to commemorate the Goddess as Mother giving
birth to the Sun God. Others celebrate the victory of the Lord of Light over the
Lord of Darkness as the turning point from which the days will lengthen.
The Christian tradition of a Christmas tree has its origins in the Pagan Yule
celebration. Many families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood
spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells
were hung in the limbs so you could tell when a spirit was present. Food and
treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star,
the pentagram, symbol of the five elements, was placed atop the tree. The colors
of the season, red and green, also are of Pagan origin, as is the custom of
exchanging gifts. As a solar festival, Yule is celebrated by fire and the use of
a Yule log. A piece of the log is saved and kept throughout the year to protect
the home. That piece is used to light the next year's log.
Christmas - Ravenna's Family Memories
Christmas is probably one of the most well known of the Winter Holidays in the
world. And every culture that celebrates Christmas has its own quirks and
traditions that are used.
My family is primarily German, Swedish, and Finnish (really we have a ton more,
but I won't go into that), so we had some fantastic Christmas's during my
childhood. My sister and I would open the presents at our house first, to see
what Santa brought us, and then we would all pile up into the car for a ride to
Gramma's house. We always went to my Maternal Gramma's house - that's where the
WHOLE family would gather on Christmas day. We'd drink our Traditional toast of
homemade EggNog to Baby Jesus (which came from my Gramma's side of the family),
and then open our presents there. Breakfast would follow, and of course we'd
watch "A Christmas Story" on TV (my fave scene... after the boy gets his mouth
washed out with soap, he imagines going blind and his whole family cries and
begs him to tell them what happened and he replied in a very dramatic way... "it
was... it was...soap poisoning!" What a riot!!). The rest of our huge
family would arrive, all my aunts, uncles and cousins, and then we'd have our
Yummy traditional Ham dinner!
There were many Christmas's like that. Filled with love and joy and happiness.
It makes me smile at the memory. After my sister and I moved in with our
Grandparents during Christmas of 1990, things got even more interesting. My
Grandpa and I were known as the Holiday Decorating Fiends. He and I went nuts
when it came to decorating. The whole house would be beautiful on the inside,
with bells, and holly, mistletoe, ribbons, tinsel, our tree... it was perfect.
And then we went to work on the outside. We hung garland for days, with more
bells, and evergreen wreaths! Oh what a sight it made when we put the lights up
around the house! I found the magic there in those precious weeks with him. We
would spray fake snow in the window with all sorts of Christmas greetings, a new
one every year. My Gramma's favorite greeting was from her Finnish heritage (a
distant family member in Finland sent us a Christmas card one year), "Hyuää
Christmas mornings we'd get up and drink the traditional toast of EggNog, that
much never changed, and then opened our stockings and presents. Family still
came, though every year it seemed the family grew larger and larger - one year
we had around 50 family members running around the house!
I won't talk about the sadder memories I have of Christmas, those thankfully
didn't come until I was in my mid-teens, but still, those memories of the Great
Christmas's make me smile and fill me with warmth and hope. I can only hope that
my children will have those kinds of memories, and will carry on the traditions
that have been in my family for generations.
Other Names: Midwinter,
Alban Arthuran, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Yuletide
Colors: Red, green, gold, white,
Symbols: Evergreen trees,
Yule log, Holly, Wreaths, Spinning Wheels
Ritual Meaning: Rebirth of
God, Honor of the Triple Goddess, Return of the Sun and the Waxing Year.
Key Action: Meditation and
Ritual Oils: Rosemary,
Myrrh, Nutmeg, Saffron, Cedar/Pine, Wintergreen and Ginger.
bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, and diamonds.
Plants: Holly, Ivy,
Evergreens, Mistletoe, Poinsettia, and Myrrh.
Yule tree, Gift giving, and Storytelling.
Fires, and Traveling.
Animals: Stags, Squirrels,
and the Wren/Robin.
Mythical Creatures: Phoenix,
Trolls, and the Mermecolion
Deities: Newborn God,
Triple Goddess, Brighid,
Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother, Mary, Amaterasu, Pallas
Athena, Rhea, Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The
Green Man, The Divine Child, Balder, Father Christmas, the Lord of Misrule,
Jesus, Mithras, Santa Claus
Foods: Cookies and caraway
cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, and turkey.
Drinks: Eggnog, ginger
tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted
Christian tradition of a Christmas tree has its origins in the Pagan Yule
celebrations, but using evergreens as a decoration was commonly used in the
Roman and Greek cultures during their winter celebrations. The idea to use in
during Christmas originated in 8th Century Germany, where legend has it that St.
Boniface was trying to convert a group of Druids. He tried everything that he
could think of to convince the Druids that the Oak tree was not sacred or
invincible. He finally tried one last desperate measure... he cut the oak tree
down. As the tree fell, it took down everything in its path, save but one small
evergreen sapling. St. Boniface declared it a miracle and that the evergreen was
sacred to the Christ-child, and ever after, trees were brought into the home and
decorated for the holidays.
Pagan and Christian families would bring a
live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm
during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell
when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the
spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five
elements, was placed atop the tree. The colors of the season, red and green,
also are of Pagan origin, as is the custom of exchanging gifts.
Another reason that trees were first decorated with fruits, nuts and artificial
flowers was to bring about the return of spring and fertility, warmth, and
light, and to restore and maintain the balance between darkness and light,
coldness and warmth, and death and rebirth.
In the earlier parts of the 20th Century (and
I'm not sure how long it dates back...) many families would decorate their trees
with candles. Then the family would come together for the lighting of their
Christmas trees - it was a spectacular event, filled with the beauty of the
candle glow from the evergreen branches... but it was also a one time of the
year event. It wasn't exactly a safe thing to do, it was very easy for the
lovely candles to cause the tree to catch on fire. Still, it sounds like it
would have been a lovely sight to behold!
Yule trees are cut and decorated with images of what we wish to receive during
the next year, such as love charms to draw love, nuts for fertility, fruits for
a successful harvest, or coins to ensure wealth and prosperity.
The Legend of Santa Claus
Many believe that Santa Claus is really another form of the Norse God, Odin.
Legend says that Odin was a nocturnal god, capable of flying around through the
stormiest clouds on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
Legend also says that the real St. Nick is an ancient Dutch bishop, Nicholas,
who took pity on a poor family during the Christmas season and threw bags of
gold into their home. One bag landed under the tree, and another bag landed in
an old stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry overnight.
Today's version of Santa Claus was actually created by the Coca-Cola™ in the mid
1900's, and Santa's costume was designed after Nicholas' bishops robes.
is a solar festival; Yule is celebrated by fire and the use of a Yule log. A
piece of the log is saved and kept throughout the year to protect the home, and
was thought to bring the home prosperity and good luck throughout the year. That
piece is used to light the next year's log.
The Yule log, a phallic symbol, was usually cut from the God-related oak tree.
Originally, the Yule log was brought into the home amid much dancing and
ceremony before being lit in the fireplace.
Some Wiccans drill three holes in the Yule
log and fill them with three white candles, or one white, one red, and one black
candle to symbolize the Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother, and Crone). The Yule
logs are then decorated with holly and evergreens to symbolize the intertwining
of the God and the Goddess who have been reunited on this day. Bayberry candles
are burned to ensure wealth and happiness in the coming year.
The idea of gift giving is thought to have originated with the Babylonian
celebration of Zagmuk, which is their Winter Solstice holiday. The practiced
gained popularity during the Roman Saturnalia celebration, and finally was
adopted by the Christians, who attribute the practice to the Magi who brought
gifts to give to the Christ-child.