The History of Yule, and How Ancient Traditions Were Tied In With Christian Traditions . . .

Dec 21st

I’m running a late today.  I started getting snuffly at work yesterday, and today it’s a full blown head cold, for which I took some night time cold medicine, and it knocked me out.  I barely remember going to bed.  I don’t have time to be sick!  Really, I don’t!  Doing the best I can to be “normal” though.  I have potatoes and onions frying up as I type this, bacon cooking in the oven (smells really yummy – what aroma is getting through the stuffiness anyway).  The dishwasher is happily running, I have laundry ready to go in, I’ve straightened up and arranged the kitchen for baking (I’m a little OCD about how things have to be so I can bake) and as soon as breakfast is done I’m going to start in on the baking – Round 2. . . or 3.

Forefather’s Day – Today we commemorate the day the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.  It was a difficult time for the people of Europe, as they were told that they had to believe and worship God in the way they were told to, not how they felt in their hearts.  So this group of people left for the New World to escape religious persecution and live their lives and their faith as they wanted to.  Now, the pilgrims set sail in two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, but the Speedwell was leaking so badly that they were forced to return to England, and cram everyone onto the Mayflower, which was what made it much later than they’d planned.  This put them setting sail in the late fall. They also had to deal with strong fall west winds, delaying their arrival even further. Ultimately they landed on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts just before Christmas.  Forefather’s Day is celebrated in New England, but if you aren’t from there, chances are you haven’t heard of this day before now.  Don’t you wish they had the ability to do video footage of these types of events?  I can’t imagine the hardships they had to endure at home, forcing them to leave the only place they’d ever known, to set sail with far too many other people to a destination that was completely foreign to them.  I have to respect their choice though – for they stood up for what they believed, no matter the consequences.  Sadly, I look around our own country and the freedoms our forefathers sought and sacrificed for seem to being stripped, and we have no place new we can go to seek the freedoms that we are losing.  This means we need to take a stand now, to retain the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom to make our own choices to live our lives as we see fit, before the persecution starts.  Look to other lands and see what they are going through.  I don’t want that for us . . . do you?

Humbug Day – we all know someone who is a Scrooge – someone who frowns and fusses about how much they just HATE CHRISTMAS.  I can’t understand those people, because honestly, Christmas truly is my favorite time of the year. Everything it means, the history and purpose behind it – it is special in its entirety.  But to a Scrooge, they just want it to be over, the fuss and decorations, the scurrying about, the frivolity and fun . . . they want it gone and life to go back to normal.  Today is for those people, they can  vent to their little heart’s desire – letting out all of their frustration about their feelings for Christmas.  If you are feeling stressed, even if you LOVE Christmas, let your frustrations out too.  You’ll fit right in! Just don’t let it get to you and turn you into an actual Scrooge.  Bah Humbug Day is just a stress reliever, so take it as such.  As for the REAL Scrooge’s, I feel their childhoods had to have been sad and completely deprived not to take joy in this amazing time of year.  If you’re a Scrooge and really don’t want to be, maybe use this day to be a turning point to enjoying Christmas – do something for someone else to make them smile, and it may just melt your heart a little bit and make this day as special to you as it is to the rest of us.  Happy Humbug Day! I may have to celebrate by watching A Christmas Carol later.

National Flashlight Day – Today is the Winter Solstice, and what that means is it is the shortest day, and longest night, of the year.  And you don’t want to be left in the dark!  So Flashlight Day was created to get yourself prepared for being in the dark.  Put new batteries in your flashlights, put them around your house where you can easily find them in case of a REAL dark time when the power goes out, put one in your car.  I have one in my purse that I need to actually recharge.  You never know when you will need one, and what better day than the darkest one of the year to get prepared for when that need should come up!?        Did You Know? The flashlight was invented in 1898 by Joshua Lionel Cowen. However, this wasn’t his greatest invention. He also invented the Lionel train.

Yule – This one could get long, but it’s fascinating so I’ll try to condense it down, while not taking away from the historical details.   First I’ll tell you that much of the historical/mythological information comes from The Edda – which is a collection of ancient Norse poems used to pass down the mythological stories from one generation to the next.  The Edda was written in, or about, the 13th century.  As early as two thousand years before Christ was born, Yule-tide was celebrated by the Aryans – or Nordic tribes.  These people were sun-worshipers and believed that the sun was born each morning, rode across the upper world, and sank into his grave at night.  As the year progressed and the daylight hours grew shorter, these people believed that the sun’s power was diminishing, and they were afraid that it would eventually be overcome by darkness and forced to stay in the underworld.  After several months of shorter, darker days, the sun would grow stronger and stronger, with more daylight hours each day, they believed that the sun had been born again.  This is why at Hweolor-tid (or the turning time) there was great rejoicing at the annual re-birth of the sun. 

There are many myths that all tangle up around this time, of gods and goddesses who traveled the world and set up kingdoms, but I won’t go into those – it would get too long.  There is one though, that ties in with our current use of mistletoe as part of our Christmas celebrations that I thought was pretty interesting – and in the end it all ties in to Yule celebrations.  The Edda tells an ancient story of Balder, the sun-god, who was killed because of the jealousy of Loki (fire).  Loki knew that everything in nature except the mistletoe had promised not to injure the great god Balder, so he searched for the mistletoe until he found it growing on an oak tree on the eastern slope of Valhalla.  He cut off some and went back to the place were the gods were amusing themselves by using Balder as a target throwing stones and darts, trying to strike him with their battle axes.  All of the weapons were harmless, for nothing could injure Balder.  Loki gave the twig of mistletoe to the blind god, Höder, helped him aim, and told him to throw it.  The mistletoe struck Balder, and it pierced through him and he fell to the ground, lifeless.  There was a lot of excitement among the gods and goddesses gathered when Balder was struck dead, and sank into Hel.  They would have slain the god of darkness had all of this not happened during their time of peace, which was never to be desecrated by violent acts.  This was supposed to be a season of peace on earth and good-will to man. Now I told you that story to give you the general mind-set around the time of the birth of Christ – these were the things that the ancient people believed, celebrated and worshiped – among many others. 

On to ancient Yule traditions.  These traditions are usually attributed to time of the angels singing at the birth of Christ, but according to a much older story, the idea of peace and good-will at Yule-tide was taught centuries before Christ was born.  According to The Edda, gift from gods and goddesses were laid on Balder’s bier and he turned around and sent gifts back from the realm of darkness into which he had fallen when he was hit with the mistletoe.  Even with all of that though, it is likely from the Roman Saturnalia celebration that the ancient yule traditions of the exchange of presents and the party spirit came about.   The Yule-Tide time was very merry for the ancient people who ate feasts, drank and danced in honor of the sun, the god of light and new life.  When messengers went throughout the various countries bringing the word of a new religion and the birth of a Son who brought light and new life into the whole world, the ancients tried to retain as much of their established yule traditions as possible, but gave to the old-time festivals a finer character and significance.  Since Christ’s birth wasn’t actually recorded in any official capacity, there wasn’t any certainty as to a specific date, so the early Christian fathers very wisely ascribed it to Yule-Tide, changing the occasion from the birthday of the sun, to that of the Son.  For awhile the birth of Christ was celebrated on dates that varied from the first to the sixth of January, on the dates of other religious festivals like Jewish Passover, or the Feast of the Tabernacles, but the 25th of December, the birthday of the sun, was always the favorite date.  Pope Julius, who reigned from 337 to 352 A.D. investigated the matter, and considered it settled beyond doubt that Christ was born on or about the 25th of December, and by the end of the 5th century, that date was generally accepted by all Christians. 

This transition from the old celebration of Yule-tide to the new way of doing it happened so quietly and naturally, that it made no great impression on the minds of the masses, so nothing authentic can be learned of the early observance of Christmas.  Holly, laurel, mistletoe and other greens that were used by the Druids still were used as decorations of the season, not as a shelter for fairies as they were in former days, but were now seen as emblems of resurrection and of immortal hope.  The glorious luminary of day, whether known as Balder, Baal, Sol, or any other of the many names it was called by primitive peoples, still makes the hearts of mortals happy at Yule-tide by “turning back” as of old, only today it gives way to God, in whose honor Yule-tide is now observed.

Even though we are a little more than a week out from the New Year, I thought I would connect these together, since we are so close and I may forget to come back to it.  New Year’s Day as a feast day is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, on record.  It was mentioned by Tacitus in the First Century, but first mentioned as a Christian festival in about the year 567.  In Rome the day was dedicated to by Numa to honor the god Janus, for whom Julius Caesar named the month January.  Numa said that it should be observed as a day of good-humor and good fellowship, during which all grudges and hard feelings were to be forgotten. Sacrifices of cake, wine and incense were to be made to the two-faced god who looked forward backward.  People were expected to give to the god the best they had to offer.  It was the greatest occasion of the entire year and even today is a huge celebration.  Various dates have been used for New Year’s Day, from March 1st to December 25th.  It was as late as the 16th Century before the date of January 1st was universally accepted as the New Year by the Romans.  There are nations that go by the Gregorian calendar, such as Russia and Greece, that observe New Year’s 13 days later than those who follow the Julian calendar.  Among northern nations the love of fire and light started the custom of having bonfire to burn out the old year, destroying all evil connected with its past.  Light has long been an expression of joy and gladness among many different nations of people.  The Greek and Latin churches still call Christmas the “Feast of Lights”, making it a period of brilliancy in the church and in the home.  Protestants cover their Christmas trees with lights and build a glowing fire in their hearth (provided we have one of course). 

So many of our current holidays, especially this time of year, are infused with features from our pagan forbears, and the fathers of the early church showed wisdom in retaining the customs of these pre-Christian festivals, but filling them with the spirit of the new faith, making them examples of a purer love and hope.  I have heard of many people who refuse to celebrate BECAUSE the origins of many traditions are from pagan origins, but seriously, God knows our hearts, and He knows the reason we celebrate.  There is nothing wrong with including traditions of the ancients, with all of their rich heritage and beauty, with our current practices, as long as the reasons for these celebrations honors our beliefs and the reason for this season.  I know that got really long, but there was just too much information to leave anything out!

This Day In History

1620 – The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Food Celebration of the Day

National Kiwifruit Day – Kiwifruit didn’t always have such a cute namesake. New Zealand farmers actually changed the fruit’s name from “Chinese gooseberries” when they first began exporting it to the U.S.

Well, that was a lot of research, and I’m sorry for how late in the day it is.  It’s time to get to the kitchen and get something yummy in the oven! Merry Christmas, God Bless You and I’ll see you tomorrow!


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