Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Yule" be Home for Christmas

T-1 entry in my April A-Z blog series on all things mystical! Here's the letter Y...

Picture it: December, a crackling fire; mistletoe; a wassail bowl of hot apple cider; honey-glazed ham, plum pudding, and fruitcake;decorating a tree; celebrating the birth of God. What holiday is this?

Of course this is a no-brainer. Christmas. . . the holiest of holidays in Western belief. Also known as Yule, a celebration that dates back to ancient times.

Yule is held each year at the time of the Winter Solstice, somewhere around the 21st of December. It is a time when the male God (or the sun/son) is born into the Wheel of the
Year, bringing increased light in a time of darkness as the days once again grow longer. Feasting common at this time was done to celebrate the coming return of another year's bounty.

That Yule is an ancient pagan celebration comes as a surprise to many. Christ himself was actually not born in December, but sometime in the summer. When ancient Rome merged Christianity into their beliefs, the similarity in themes made Yule the ideal time to commemorate the birth of the Lord.

Certain aspects of the holiday were either banned or condemned at one point or another. Mistletoe is not commonly seen in churches because of its pagan roots; some also spoke against decorating Christmas trees (though in fact, ancient pagans did not actually cut down trees, but rather decorated their homes with boughs collected from evergreens). Yule was all but banned during the Protestant revolution as well, decried as a sinful heathen practice. Indeed, even in the U.S. Yuletide festivities have been declared illegal--in Boston during the mid 1600's.

The common themes of birth of the "son" and bringing light to the world make for an interesting comparison between varying beliefs. The same celebration, the same reason, merely with a different name.

So the next time you light a yule log or drink from a wassail bowl, you might wonder what these practices signified to your ancestors.