Also known as Mithras (for the Persian Sun God), Saturnalia (for the Roman God of sowing and husbandry) and The Great Day of the Cauldron (from Druid Legend). It is the celebration of the return, or rebirth, of the Sun God, the Lord of Life. The celebrations were traditionally performed with the utmost solemnity, yet also with the highest rejoicing, for they resolve the paradox of Death and Rebirth. It represents the redemption of the world from Death and Darkness, as such it is a celebration of hope and joy amidst the gloom of winter.
The word Yule can be traced to the Celtic word `Hioul” which means wheel. This festival is an important point in the turning of the wheel of the year. Wreaths were made to symbolize this wheel, combining solar significance with tree-god significance. In ancient times Celts venerated trees as earthly representatives of the Gods, and it was felt that nothing short of the sacrifice of a mighty tree-god would cause the receding sun to take pity on them and return.
The burning of the Yule log was thought, through sympathetic magick, to increase the brightness and strength of the Sun, and would therefore bring good luck. Passersby would tip their hat or nod in salutation to the log. It is traditional to cut the log from oak or from a slow-burning fruit tree. The fire was lit from a piece of the previous years Yule log, which had been saved for this purpose. It was believed that this piece of the old log was a charm against fire, because it would refuse to burn until it was time to light its successor. A wish was also made while pouring wine over the burning log. It was believed to be bad luck if the log burned out before the 12 days of Yuletide were over. The ashes from the fire were spread in the fields to bring fertility to the next crop.
The Wassail bowl is another favored part of Yule celebrations. A large bowl or pot was filled with wassail, a mixture of cider and spices, and warmed over the Yule fire. The meaning of the word wassail is to be `hale or hearty’, and was the reason for the many toasts and salutations made from the bowl. It was also common for a procession to go to the nearest orchard and wassail the trees, thus blessing them and encouraging them to bear a good yield in the coming season. Libations of wassail were also poured over the roots of the trees, and cider drenched cakes were left in the forks of the older trees as an offering to the trees spirit.
Mistletoe is a regeneration symbol, considered to be the Essence of Life due to the resemblance of the juice of the berries to male semen. It was often gathered at this time. Evergreen boughs are also symbols of renewal. Evergreens were decorated to show honor to the tree spirits. The lights on modern trees were the candles of old, and represent the newly born sun god. Trees were not cut down and brought indoors.
The Sacred Seed of Life, having been nurtured by the foster mother Tailltiu, sprang forth from her breast, and was born. As the Wyrrd had foretold, here was the Child of Promise, son of the Gods and of the Earth. This baby was the Sun God, born in the Rule of Darkness, by the magick of the Gods. He was destined to grow in strength and knowledge. It was his task to bring back life and warmth to the land, and to wrest the power from the Lord of Darkness. To appease Cernunnos, who is at the peak of his strength, the people made sacrifices of roasted boar. To distract Callieach, the Wise Ones, or Witches invoked her to teach them of her mysteries. To aid the new-born Sun God the Celts felled a giant oak tree, and burned the log as a sacrifice, that the sun would gain strength from it, and grow.
Despite the powers of Cernunnos and Cailleach, the signs of new life were still upon the land. The sacred seeds which had fallen onto the barren branches of the winter-dead trees had come to life, and thus became the Mistletoe, which could be seen hanging from the oaks in the forests. Upon the land these sacred seeds had grown into the sweet smelling evergreens, and thus they were decreed to be a part of the celebration.
In honor of this magickal birth the people decorated the evergreens with candles and other symbols of life. The Druids told of Hu-Gadarn, the first druid, who had fled from the Atlalntean flood with his family on this day on the Ark, “The Great Cauldron” in which they brought the Essence of Life, and the knowledge of magick into the world. They would also tell tales of the Killing of the Wren, and of the Battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Throughout the land the people rejoiced, and there was light in the midst of the darkness.
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn. Originally it was held on 17 December of the Julian Calendar, but the party later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days”.
In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of innocence. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age, not all of them desirable. The Greek equivalent was the Kronia.
Although probably the best-known Roman holiday, Saturnalia as a whole is not described from beginning to end in any single ancient source. Modern understanding of the festival is pieced together from several accounts dealing with various aspects.
Here’s some History:
Saturnalia festivities began with ritual and sacrifices in the Temple of Saturn. The statue of the god was hollow and filled with olive oil, as a symbol of his agricultural functions. His feet were bound with woolen strips, that were unbound at Saturnalia.
After the rituals, the Senators (who had to be present) dismissed the crowd with the cry of “Io, Saturnalia!”, a sign for the happy festivities of family parties and other private gatherings to begin. The traditional gifts were wax tapers and little dolls, although gifts of silver later became traditional.
The custom of the Lord of Misrule was appropriated and survived through to English Christmas traditions.
The biggest part of Saturnalia was attitude more than decoration. Feasting, drunkenness, merrymaking, hopefully the conception of more children (or at least enjoying those activities which led to conception!), pranks, gift giving, role reversals (not true ones, only symbolic ones – slaves weren’t really free to make a freedman’s decisions and anything they did or decreed would reverse at the end of Saturnalia, children weren’t really adults and could not enter into any binding contracts or make business deals, etc.) and so forth.
The role reversals seemed to be more for minor privileges – slaves and children got to be waited on for meals, and to lead the rituals, and to participate in the revelry as if they were their parents/masters. The parents/masters jokingly played the part of slaves and children by waiting on them and making rude and bawdy jokes at their expense. Sometimes, it descended into cruelty.
Many of the decorations involved greenery – swathes, garlands, wreaths, etc – being hung over doorways and windows, and ornamenting stairs. Ornaments in the trees included sun symbols, stars, and faces of the God Janus. Trees were not brought indoors (the Germans started that tradition), but decorated where they grew.
Food was also a primary decoration – gilded cakes in a variety of shapes were quite popular, and children and birds vied for the privilege of denuding the trees of their treats. The commonest shapes were fertility symbols, suns and moons and stars, baby shapes, and herd animal shapes (although, to be honest, it’s hard to tell if some of those ancient cookie cutters are supposed to be goats or deer). I would imagine coins were also a popular decoration/gift.
People were just as likely to be ornamented as the trees. Wearing greenery and jewelry of a sacred nature was apparently common, based on descriptions, drawings, and the like from the era. Although the emphasis was on Saturn, Sol Invictus got a fair share of the revelry as well.
On a modern note:
This ancient midwinter festival falls at the time when non-Romans are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice and/or Kwanzaa. In Nova Roma, individual Citizens have chosen different approaches to the challenge of celebrating in the spirit of Rome without cutting themselves off from the culture in which they live.
Gold, because the sun is yellow, is always a sure choice for a good Saturnalia decoration. For modern Saturnalia, those golden glass ball ornaments are ideal, as are gold sun faces, gold stars, and gilded anythings. Gilding nuts and pine cones and nestling them among the swags and wreaths of greenery would be a lovely way of acknowledging the ancient roots of this ceremony.
Indoor trees are not ancient Roman, but if you have plants growing indoors, decorating them would certainly be in the spirit of the holidays. If you just have to have the now-traditional indoor tree, try decorating it in gold ornaments with a solar theme. Swathe it in bright red or purple ribbons (2 colors quite in favor with the Romans, and looks great with the gold ornaments). Top the tree with a sun, rather than a star, for after all, this is a solar celebration.
Wild parties with lots of food and drink is good. Letting the children of the household lead the common rituals, and waiting on them (assuming you don’t do so in everyday circumstances….) at mealtimes, and deferring to them in decisions on party ideas would work for role reversals.
No children in the house? Maybe you can borrow one for a day. We don’t have slaves, but, for a nice touch of role reversal, we could purchase the services of a nanny or a housekeeper for the duration of Saturnalia. It would be a role reversal of sorts, for instead of being the slave of your home, someone else would be doing the chores and cooking and childcare while you got to party down!
Dancing and singing in the streets is now frowned upon, unless you can get a parade permit. A parade, if you could organize it, would be fun. Imagine – giant floats of the Gods tended by the priests and acolytes, musicians and dancers, contortionists to amaze and delight, acrobats and jugglers, all in honor of Saturn!
For a compilation of Saturnalia celebrations reported by Nova Romans, visit Saturnalia practices of Nova Romans.
Here is a nice little article about the history of midwinter celebrations from Delaware Online:
Long ago, people worshiped the sun as a god. His cycles were watched and measured with great care because it was thought the quality of life on Earth changed dramatically according to his whims.
As the season changed and winter fell, survival became much harder for ancient man. Many would not live through a cold winter, when food became scarce. As the days shortened, they feared the sun would disappear completely and leave them helpless in the dark.
So they lighted fires and performed elaborate rituals to ensure the sun’s return. They also feasted when the sun reversed its course, and days began to grow long again.
One of the earliest solstice celebrations was the Mesopotamian holiday Zagmuk. When light waned in mid-winter, Mesopotamians would re-enact their god Marduk’s battle against the forces of darkness and chaos and then celebrate the victory of light and order.
More than 4,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians called their sun god Ra-Horakhty, later known as Horus. As winter arrived and his appearance became more brief each day, it was seen as a sign that he was growing weak and ill. In late December, when days began to grow longer, they celebrated his recovery and renewed health. They decked their homes with palm fronds, which symbolized the victory of life over death.
Romans honored the god Saturn by celebrating Saturnalia in early December. This festival was followed, on the solstice, by Brumalia, from the word bruma meaning “shortest day.”
By 70 A.D., many Roman soldiers had joined a cult around the sun god Mithras, whom they adopted after fighting in Persia, modern day Iran and Syria. Dec. 25 was recognized as Mithras’ birthday.
Because Mithras was so popular with soldiers, his cult spread quickly to all parts of the Roman Empire, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, the Balkans and gained a strong foothold in Britain. His temples, called Mithraeums, can be found throughout England and Germany.
In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed Dec. 25 the birthday of Jesus Christ, according to many scholars.
“The popularity of Mithraism in the Roman Empire was probably why the early Christian Church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus at that time,” said Alan Fox, a philosophy professor at the University of Delaware. It was thought that it would be easier to persuade the local people to accept new beliefs if the new religious rituals were superimposed on a holiday from their own religion.
Our Christmas celebrations closely resemble the ancient Roman festivals. People went visiting, gifts were exchanged and feasts were shared. Decorated cookies and cakes were baked and given out to friends. Trees were hung with pieces of metal, and homes were lighted with candles and festooned with holly and other greenery, often in the form of wreaths.
As their earliest ancestors did, many Delawareans will celebrate the shortest day of the year, Dec. 21, with reflection and celebration.
Ivo Dominguez Jr. plans to mark the event outside his rural Georgetown home with a bonfire and rituals that symbolize new light and life. Under the night sky, Dominguez, an elder in a religious community known as the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, will gather with more than 50 fellow Wiccans.
Wicca, a nature religion whose central deity is a mother goddess, is one of the nation’s fastest-growing spiritual traditions, according to the American Academy of Religion. It was formally founded in the United Kingdom in the late 1940s.
To Dominguez and other practitioners, the fascination with the cycles of nature goes back tens of thousands of years. And for people atuned to the Earth and the sun, the winter solstice is an important time.
“It’s a time to gather and renew hope,” Dominguez said.
Many spiritual traditions also have rituals of light at what is also the season of greatest dark.
Judaism has Hanukkah, a festival of lights. And Christians have numerous traditions, including the lighting of a Christmas tree. An annual celebration that remains popular in Delaware’s Swedish community is the St. Lucia Festival.
Because St. Lucia’s name means light, she was known as the saint of light in Norway and Sweden and was considered responsible for turning the tide of long winter days and bringing back the sun.
This year, about 300 people gathered Sunday at the Old Swedes Episcopal Church in Wilmington to watch the pageant. It begins with a procession led by a young girl chosen to represent St. Lucia.
During the pageant, St. Lucia wears a crown of candles, and her attendants wear white gowns with red sashes to symbolize Lucia’s bloody death by sword. She was said to have been beheaded in the year 304 during Christian persecutions in Sicily. St. Lucia’s feast day (the day of her martyrdom) falls on Dec. 13, which, by the Julian calendar, was also the solstice. In 1300, with the change to the Gregorian calendar, the solstice came to fall on Dec. 21.
“The festival of St. Lucia is very important in Sweden because they have a lot of darkness.” said Jo Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Old Swedes church. “The solstice was a signal that spring is coming.”
At Mill Creek Unitarian Universalist Church, an outdoor gathering will help participants connect with nature, said church minister Nancy Dean. The church will celebrate the solstice at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday with a bonfire and service.
“Winter was always a difficult time,” Dean said. “Dread of winter is still a part of our biology.”
The celebration also is a way to honor religions that predate modern ones. Ancient people felt “a need to honor the deities perceived to be in charge of all this,” she said.
Dean will gather fellow celebrants in a circle and join them in chanting and singing. Each participant will hold an evergreen branch, usually holly, and toss it into the fire. The group will share what has been important in their lives during the year. Afterward, a party with a jazz band, cookies and hot chocolate will continue the festivities.
Other area churches also note the winter solstice. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pa., plans to focus on rebirth. Congregants will gather at 7:30 tonight to welcome the return of the light with song, drumming, dancing and candlelight.
People gain comfort from these celebrations, Dean said.
“It is a hope-filled time because, though it is dark and cold, you know things will get better as the days lengthen,” she said. “Honoring the longest night reminds [people] to see hope during the other dark times of their lives.”
Art from: Megalithic
The sixth day of Christmas (Dec 30) is the day of “Bringing in the Boar.” Two traditions honor the importance of the boar at Solstice tide. In Scandinavia, Frey, the god of sunshine, rode across the sky on his golden-bristled boar. Gulli-burstin, who was seen as a solar image, his spikes representing the rays of the sun.
In the ancient Norse tradition, the intention was to gain favor from Frey in the new year. The boar’s head with an apple in his mouth was carried into the banquet hall on a gold or silver dish to the sounds of trumpets and the songs of minstrels.
In Scandinavia and England Saint Stephen (whose feast day is Dec 26) is shown as tending to horses and bringing a boar’s head to a Yuletide banquet. Christmas ham is an old tradition in Sweden and may have originated as a winter solstice boar sacrifice to Freyr.
Here’s a song from 1607:
The Boar is dead,
Lo, here is his head,
What man could have done more
Than his head off to strike,
And bring it as I do before.
His living spoiled,
Where good men toiled,
Which makes kind Ceres sorry;
But now, dead and drawn,
he is very good brawn,
And we have brought it for ye.
Then set down the swineherd,
The foe of the vineyard,
Let Baccus crown his fall;
Let this boar’s head and mustard,
Stand for pig,goose and custard,
And so ye are welcome all.
From: The Winter Solstice and other sources.
The wren, the wren, The king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day Is caught in the furze.
One of the most remarkable and dramatic Solstice customs involving animals is the Hunting of the Wren, which traditionally takes place on Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day. The custom lasted longest in Wales and the Isle of Man and still takes place today in Ireland. A description from 1840 describes it thus:
For some weeks preceding Christmas, crowds of village boys may be seen peering into hedges, in search of the tiny wren; and when one is discovered the whole assemble and give wager chase until they have slain the little bird. In the hunt the utmost excitement prevail; shouting, screeching, and rushing, all sorts of missiles are flung at the puny mark… From bush to bush, from hedge to hedge, is the wren pursued until bagged with as much pride and pleasure as the cock of the woods by the more ambitious sportsman… On the anniversary of St. Stephen the enigma is explained. Attached to a huge holly bush, elevated on a pole, the bodies of several little wrens are borne about… through the streets in procession… And every now and then stopping before some popular house and there singing the Wren song.
Various versions of this song have survived. Here is a typical one:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze;
Though his body is small, his family is great,
So if it please your honor, give us a treat.
On Christmas day I turned a spit;
I burned my finger, I feel it yet.
Up with the kettle, down with the pan.
Give us some money to bury the wren.
The antiquity of this rather barbaric custom is clear enough. At one time the Wren, the “king of all birds,” must have represented the dying year king and was sacrificed on his behalf for the good of the land. The following story from Scotland suggest the reason for this rather plain little bird being addressed as King.
The Parliament of Birds:
At a gathering of birds, it was decided to elect a king by seeing which could fly the highest, and nearest to the sun. The eagle’s broad strong wings bore it higher than any other. It was about to acclaim its prowess, when it became aware of a “whirr-chuck” sound – the little wren had flown yet higher than the eagle, because it was cheekily perched on it’s back.
For many years during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Irish Wren Boys were accompanied by masked guisers, including the ubiquitous lair bhan or White Mare. Nowadays, due in part to a shortage of wrens and to a somewhat more bird-conscious awareness, they are seldom hunted. Although the Wren Boys still circulate in Ireland, they no longer kill a wren, but proceed from house to house with a decorated cage.
Here is a different wren song sung by the guisers in Pembrokeshire, England, where the custom is no longer practiced, but the sacredness of the bird is remembered:
Joy, health, love and peace be all here in this place.
By your leave we will sing concerning our king.
Our king is well dressed, in silks of the best,
In ribbons so rare, no king can compare.
We have traveled many miles, over hedges and stiles,
In search of our king, until you we bring.
Old Christmas is past, Twelfth Night is the last,
And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new.
It is not of the newborn king of Winter, the Wondrous Child they are speaking, but King Wren, who is remembered in a curious song from Oxfordshire, that manages to encapsulate the more ancient significance of the custom.
In Athens and other parts of ancient Greece, there is a month that corresponds to roughly December/January that is named Poseideon for the sea-god Poseidon. The Poseidonia of Aegina may have taken place in the same month. Presumably on or around the Winter Solstice.
There were 16 days of feasting with rites of Aphrodite concluding the festival. Like the Roman festival of Saturnalia, the Poseidonia became so popular it was extended so that Athenaeus makes it 2 months long.
Poseidon as savior of ships, protector of those who voyage in ships, and God of the lapping waters both salt and fresh important for agriculture, is thanked for the many gifts that came from faraway places that were likely given at that time. The immense trade and distribution was nearly all through shipping, relatively little overland, whether it be perfume from Cyprus or pottery from Corinth.
It is interesting today that Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nikolas) is the Patron Saint of seafarers in the Orthodox Church. Celebrating Poseidon’s Festival seems to be lost in modern practice. It likely entailed bonfires, feasting, cutting of trees (probably decorated), and very likely gift giving. As God of begetting, that aspect was not forgotten.
The most complete account of the festival is Noel Robertson’s article Poseidon’s Festival at the Winter Solstice, The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 34, No. 1. (1984), pp. 1-16:
“The record shows that Poseidon was once worshiped in every part of Greece as a god of general importance to the community.”
“The festival falls near the winter solstice, and the ritual business marked by jollity and license, belongs to the general type of solstice festival known the world over. At Poseidon’s festival, however, the sportive conduct has a definite purpose; this purpose arises from the fundamental agrarian background if Mediterranean society, and may bring us close to the origin of solstice festivals.”
“It has scarcely been noticed that festivals of Poseidon, more than those of any other Greek deity, fall at just this time of year; yet the evidence is extensive.”
“The festival Poseidea and some of the rites in question are often claimed for Poseidon the sea-god, but at this season sailing is furthest from one’s mind, and fishing on the shore is by no means an overriding concern. Such details as we have point elsewhere, to Poseidon as the god of fresh water who fructifies Demeter’s fields.”
One of Poseidon’s epithets is prosklystios, ‘of the lapping water’. He is also invoked as Poseidon phytalmios which implies natural fertility and human procreation. There are also implications in the legends that imply bonfires at the winter solstice.
Noel Robertson concludes:
“…the celebrants feast to satiety, then turn to lascivious teasing. What is the ritual purpose of such conduct? It obviously suits Poseidon’s mythical reputation as the most lustful of gods, who far surpasses Apollo and Zeus in the number of his liaisons and his offspring. Poseidon the seducer is the god of springs and rivers; his women typically succumb while bathing or drawing water; the type of the river god is a rampant bull. But the ritual likewise treats Poseidon as a procreant force; witness the epithets phytalmios, genesios, pater, etc. as interpreted above. The myths and the ritual reflect the same belief. The rushing waters are a proponent male power, just as the fields which they fertilize are a prolific female. Both water and the fields, both Poseidon and Demeter, can be made to operate by sympathetic magic. The rites of our winter festival rouse Poseidon and bring the rushing waters…”
It is interesting that that Theophrastus tells us that the silver fir was important in ship building, especially for masts. The ‘tannenbaum’ is a silver fir. It is also interesting to compare with the Roman Saturnalia which may very well have borrowed from the Poseidea.
The Death of Tammuz also known as Noosardel (sprinkling water on the path of God) was another Yultide holiday celebrated with an early morning worship service, a tree, and a burning log.
“Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house
which was toward the north; and, behold,
there sat women weeping for Tammuz.”
In the legend, Tammuz dies young and his birth is honored on his birthday which coincided with the Winter Solstice. This was celebrated on or around December 21st. Part of the ritual involved cutting down a young evergreen tree as a way of commemorating the premature death of Tammuz. Along with this, the Babylonians would also burn a Yala (Yule) log, called “the log of the son.” It was burned in the fire to symbolize the death of Tammuz. The next day the evergreen tree would be decorated with silver and gold. The log that was burned was now alive again as the Tammuz tree.
“..for one cutteth a tree out of the forest,
the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax;
They deck it with silver and with gold;
they fasten it with nails and with hammers,
that it move not.”
Found at: Assyrian Voice
Mother Night is traditionally celebrated on the third day of the twelve days of Christmas. I couldn’t find much lore, but I did find this nice little article in The Winter Solstice about Mother Christmas (Frau Holle, Holda, Hulda, Holla):
Honoring the Mothers
There are so many male figures associated with the Winter Solstice, we should give room to at least one female character, and who better than Mother Christmas? On this day, include a figure of Holda upon your Winter shrine.
Here is a modern invocation for Holda by Diana Paxson:
Holy Holla, in the heavens,
A snowy featherbed you’re shaking –
Bless the earth with your white blanket,
Moist the mantle you are making.
Holla high above come riding.
Your Wagon rolls through winter weather;
Turn away your face of terror,
Bless us as we bide together.
Holy Holla, here we gather,
Send us skill in all our spinning.
Huldrefold (Gnomes) to help in housework,
Wealth and health with your aid winning.
Yule occurs on the Winter Solstice. This is the time of year when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky (Northern Hemisphere) and the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn. This usually happens between December 20th and December 23rd. Also known as: Alban Arthuan, the Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year.
The word Solstice means “standing-still-sun” because the sun seems to stand still for this one day before the daylight begins to grow again. The sun will only rise higher and higher in the sky from this point onward. It is from this point that the days begin slowly to become longer and longer. The sun is at its most southeastern point over the Tropic of Capricorn in the northern hemisphere and has no apparent northward or southward motion. Since it appears that the sun’s light is growing as each day passes after this one, this holiday is celebrated as the birth of the sun.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse “iul,” meaning wheel ,and refers to the ‘wheel of the year’, (or the idea of the year, seen as a wheel turning as the seasons change).
To our ancestors, the Sun was often identified with God, and the earth and moon with the Goddess. Since it was at this time that the daylight began to grow, our ancestors believed that this was the day the Goddess gave birth to the ‘sun-Son’. In the time of the ancient tribes this was a time of celebration, for it meant the turning point of winter and the eventual return of spring. Yule is the time when we honor the Goddess for giving birth to the sun once more. It is the time when the Oak King is victorious over the Holly King.
The Holly King represents death and darkness that has ruled since Samhain, and the Oak King represents rebirth and life. The waning (diminishing) sun is overtaken by the waxing (increasing) sun, thus the days become longer after the victory of the Oak King.
Yule is a time when we do Rituals and celebrate the increasing daylight, to renew, and to see the world through the eyes of a child. Spells done at Yule tend to raise our spirits, and bring harmony, peace, and joy. During Yule we see the wisdom of past experience begin to glimmer. The experiences we yielded over the harvest season of the times gone past begin to be reborn as wisdom, new light, to guide us further down the Paths we have chosen.
Because His birth heralds the days growing longer, the God represents hope in the coming cold of Winter and the promise that spring lies ahead. Since we are still in the coldest part of the year, with much cold and darkness still ahead of us, we should emulate the newly born baby. The baby Son draws close to his mother (the Goddess) at this time… we too must draw inward and be thankful for the family we have to help us through the hardships. This is also a time to delve into the depth of your mind and really look at yourself and see what you have learned in the past year.
Yule Traditions and Symbols
It is customary for Witches to decorate the Yule tree, and adorn the house with holly, ivy and pine. It is time when Father Winter, a white bearded chap dress in red, fur trimmed robes, arrives bearing gifts and exchange gifts.
This is the eve when the Yule log from the previous year is burned in the fire. Symbolic of the newborn sun, each year’s Yule log is of oak, charged in a Magic Circle and kept in sacred space the following Yule. This not only celebrates the oak and places it in a place of distinguished honor, but also ensures there will be fuel for the remainder of Winter.
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming”.
It is unknown when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 – and the novelty introduced by the Council of Tours of 567 was to order monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas. Some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles or that it was founded by Saint Peter himself. This has led to the conclusion that it is “impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent”.
For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives. “Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time.” The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.
Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November), in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and in the Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars. In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day (Nov 11).
Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically, through a hanging of the greens ceremony.
The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West. The Eastern Nativity Fast does not use the equivalent parousia in its preparatory services.
In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the “Advent Images”, two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.
In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it was believed driving out such vermin as were likely to damage the crops.
In Italy, among other Advent celebrations is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus: in Italian tradition, the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.
In recent times the most common observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. In many countries, the first day of Advent often heralds the start of the Christmas season, with many people opting to erect their Christmas trees and Christmas decorations on or immediately before Advent Sunday.
Colors of Advent:
The usual liturgical color in Western Christianity for Advent is either violet (or purple) or blue. The violet or purple color is often used for hangings around the church, the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. In some Christian denominations, blue, a color representing hope, is an alternative liturgical color for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England.
The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred color for Advent while the Methodist Book of Worship and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship identify purple or blue as appropriate for Advent. There has been an increasing trend in Protestant churches to supplant purple with blue.
Proponents of this new liturgical trend argue that purple is traditionally associated with solemnity and somberness, which is fitting to the repentant character of Lent. The Roman Catholic Church retains the traditional violet.
On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent. During the Nativity Fast, red is used by Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative color.
The keeping of an advent wreath is also a common practice in homes or churches. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope.
The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets.
The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-colored vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds.
In the Episcopal Church USA, the collect stir up may be read during this week, although before the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer it was sometimes read in the first Sunday of Advent. Even earlier, ‘Stir-up Sunday’ was once jocularly associated with the stirring of the Christmas mincement, begun before Advent. The phrase ‘Stir up’ occurs at the start of the collect for the last Sunday before Advent in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle. The Magnificat or Song of Mary may be featured.
Where an advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and lit during the Christmas Eve service.