Monday, December 21, 2009

Yule: Yesterday and Today

When I started focusing on Christmas this month, I realized that there are other holidays as well. That's why I invited Erin Eisenberg to blog about Chanukah at the start of that Jewish festival and why today on the Winter Solstice, I've asked my awesome critique partner Ashlyn Chase to share about her holiday--Yule.


Ashlyn has a new title coming out next June (same month as my Stroke of Genius). It's a hilarious contemporary paranormal called Strange Neighbors. But today, she's sharing about Yule, so take it away, Ash!

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From Ashlyn Chase . . . The Wiccan religion (yes, it’s a religion) celebrates Yule on the day and evening of the Winter Solstice. This year, that day is Dec. 21st. It’s a minor holiday among Pagans and bares a few similarities to the way Judeo/Christian holidays are celebrated at this time of year. Even Kwanza, which began in 1966 and honors African heritage celebrates with many of the same traditions.

Light: Wiccans light a Yule log in the fireplace or outdoors. It’s often decorated with evergreens and gives off a wonderful aroma. Originally, it was meant to help the Goddess through her time of confinement until she gave birth to the sun in spring and ended the long, harsh winter. Today, if burning a log is impossible, lots of candles are lit around the home.

Fellowship: The village gathered around the Yule log and danced. Long ago, people were connected to nature and recognized life as a constant cycle of endings and beginnings. They bid farewell to the past and embraced with joy that which was to come.

Food: Sharing a feast was a common part of the yuletide celebration in the past as it is today. Whatever special game was brought back by the village’s hunters was prepared along with lavish garnishes and shared in a communal way.

Ritual: It’s hard to say what type of ritual took place centuries ago. Today a pagan family will draw from what has been passed down through the ages, gathering around their altar to honor the Goddess. If solitary, they’ll celebrate with the God and Goddess plus any minor deities they invite to attend in a ritual circle.

Gifts: Historically, no gifts were exchanged as far as I know. Today I give my pagan friends a little something like a special candle or a handmade decoration, but gift giving is no where near the commercialized craziness of Christmas.

Did you know the Christians elected to celebrate Christmas at this time of year, specifically to replace the pagan holiday? People are reluctant to give up their beloved traditions and in order to convert as many pagans to Christianity as possible, new holidays were invented to replace the old. Thus, Dec. 25th became the day to celebrate the birth of Christ. He was actually born in the spring according to astronomers.

The most important pagan holiday is Oct. 31st, called Samhain. This became Halloween and took on a very different set of traditions. For Wiccans, it’s a solemn holiday meant to honor one’s ancestors. But Yule celebrates rebirth and hope. Community and gladness. Nature and the cycle of life.

Have a cool Yule!

7 comments:

EmilyBryan said...

When I was writing my Diana Groe viking books, I did some research on their beliefs. The Norse were the last European group to convert to Christianity (which they did on Iceland in 1000 AD by popular vote!) so their pagan customs existed long enough to be recorded by their historian Snorri Sturlson.

They celebrated a mid-winter holiday called Jul (which would be pronounced "yule"). It involved copious drinking and a nightwatch. They believed the veil between the worlds (there were 9 in their cosmology) was very thin on the solstice and feared the dead would visit the living on that night. Offerings of food and drink were left to appease any ghostly visitors.

Shannon McKelden said...

Really interesting, Ashley! And can I say what an ADORABLE cover for your new book! Totally cute!

Happy Yule!
Shannon

Ashlyn Chase said...

I just tried to post an answer. It was long and detailed and when it didn't go through, I pouted.

I'll just say, thanks Shannon! And, Emily, if today is when the veil is thinnest, I have bird seed in the feeder which will (I hope) draw some birds, which my folks loved to watch.

N.J.Walters said...

Happy Yule, Ash. Great blog post.

Angela said...

Emily, thank you so much for opening your heart to other beliefs and showcasing them on your blog. Ashley brought it all together nicely. I'll have to look for her book release :-)

EmilyBryan said...

My pleasure, Angela. If I want people to respect my beliefs, it follows that I have to respect theirs first.

librarypat said...

Emily, thank you for hosting Ashley. The more people understand other's beliefs and customs, the less the will fear and mistrust them. Wicca is very misunderstood and most people don't realize it is a religion based in nature and peace.
Christianity usurping other holidays and celebrations to cut down on competition was common. It made it easier to overlook the continuation of practices related to the previous belief system. Yule, Yuletide, Yule log, etc. were all welcomed into the christian way of celebrating.
I hope you had a wonderful celebration.