On the winter solstice, on the longest night of the year, people would place and set afire an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would be lit from the remains of the previous year’s log which had been carefully stored away and slowly fed into the fire through the Twelve Days of Christmas.
It was considered important that the re-lighting process was carried out by someone with clean hands.
Tradition has it that the burning of the Yule log was performed to honor the Great Mother Goddess. The log would be lit on the eve of the solstice using the remains of the log from the previous year and would be burned for twelve hours for good luck and protection.
As the fire began all other lights would be extinguished and the people would gather round the fire. In thanksgiving and appreciation for the events of the past year and in bidding the year farewell each person would toss dried holly twigs into the fire.
The next phase of the burning of the Yule log commenced with people tossing oak twigs and acorns into the fire and they would shout out their hopes and resolutions for the coming New Year and sing Yuletide carols. The celebration of the Yule log fire ended with unburned pieces of the Yule log saved to start the fire of next winter’s solstice Yule log.
The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe and different kids of wood are used in different countries. In England, Oak is traditional. The “mighty oak” was the most sacred tree of Europe, representing the waxing sun, symbolized endurance, strength, protection, and good luck to people in the coming year. In Scotland, it is Birch; while in France, it’s Cherry. Also, in France, the log is sprinkled with wine, before it is burnt, so that it smells nice when it is lit.
The earliest Yule Log in France can be traced back to Celtic Brittany. When the Catholic Church stamped out the Pagan tradition, it adapted. In the 12th century, the ceremony became more elaborate.
Families would haul home enormous logs and in some regions, the youngest child was allowed to ride the log home. As families dragged their logs home, passers by would raise their hats because they knew the log was full of good promises and its flame would burn out old wrongs.
For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julfest; on the log, they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them.
People would also use the log as a way to predict events in the upcoming year. They would hit the burning log with tongs and the embers emitted would tell them what the harvest would be like. The more embers, the more corn. The fire was read and predictions were made for the coming year based on the sparks and flames they saw, like how many chickens or calves would be born, marriages in the family, health, wealth, etc. If the fire cast shadows on the wall, there would be a death in the family that year.
The remaining cinders would be placed in the soil so they would prevent grain diseases and produce a good harvest. They’d be spread around chicken coops to keep away foxes and in the barns and lofts where corn was stored to keep rats and weevils away. During a storm, throwing a handful into the fire would keep the house safe from lightening.
The ashes of the Yule Log were believed to hold magical and medicinal powers that would ward off evil spirits for the coming year. Ashes from the Yule log are very beneficial to garden plants, however, it is considered very unlucky to throw out the ashes of the Yule log on Christmas day.
Various chemicals can be sprinkled on the log like wine to make the log burn with different colored flames! Here’s a short list. Be sure to follow safety precautions if you plan on using them!!
- Potassium Nitrate = Violet
- Barium Nitrate = Apple Green
- Borax = Vivid Green
- Copper Sulphate = Blue
- Table Salt = Bright Yellow
Here’s how they celebrate Beltane in Edinburgh!
First organized in the 1980’s, the Beltane Fire Festival has become a popular festival in Edinburgh. Here we have photos of the Beltane Fire Society celebrating Spring and the coming of summer. This lively procession celebrates the ending of winter and is a revival of the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane which is the Gaelic name for the month of May. More about Beltane can be found here: Beltane
The Easter Fire is a custom of pagan origin spread all over Europe. It is a symbol of victory, the victory of beautiful and sunny spring over the cold days of winter.
On Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, in rare occasions also on Easter Monday, large fires are lit at dusk in numerous sections of Northwestern Europe. These regions include Denmark, parts of Sweden as well as in Finland, Northern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
The fire is lit usually on the top of the mountains – Easter mountain, Osterberg – and it is obtained from wood by friction. In Germany, the Easter fire is created by gathering all the Christmas trees and burning them into a huge fire, a sign for everyone to leave behind winter and prepare for spring.
Though not documented before the 16th century, the custom presumably is based on Saxon, pre-Christian traditions, that are still performed each year. There are several explanations of the meaning of these fires. The Saxons believed that around the time of Easter, Spring becomes victorious over Winter. The fires were to help chase the darkness and winter away. It was also a symbol of fertility, which works in a literal sense in that the ashes were scattered over the meadows and thereby fertilized the soil.
The pre-Christian meaning of Easter fires is hardly experienced anymore. Nowadays they are meant to bring the community together, which guarantees a pleasant night combined with the consumption of beer, mulled wine or liquor, and snacks.
This is the name given to two festivals held in ancient Boeotia, which was a part of Greece, in honor of the reconciliation of Hera and Zeus. The dates of these festivals are somewhat nebulous and varied from place to place and year to year. One source cites March 10th.
According to the myth, Hera and Zeus quarreled and Hera went away to Euboea and refused to return to his bed. To trick her into coming back and on the advice of Cithaeron, Zeus dressed up a carved oak-trunk to resemble a bride and let it be known that he planned to marry Plataea, the daughter of Asopus. Hera was so angry she tore the clothes from the statue, discovered the deception, and was so pleased that the two were reconciled.
The Lesser Daedala (Δαίδαλα μικρά) was held every four to six years. The people of Plataea went to an ancient oak grove and exposed pieces of cooked meat to ravens, attentively watching upon which tree any of the birds, after taking a piece of meat, would settle. Out of this tree they carved an image, and having it dressed as a bride, they set it on a bullock cart with a bridesmaid beside it. The image seems then to have been drawn to the bank of the river Asopus and back to the town, attended by a cheering crowd.
After fourteen of these cycles (approx.59 or 60 years), the Greater Daedala (Δαίδαλα μεγάλα) was held, and all Boeotia joined in the celebration. At its start one wooden figure was chosen from the many that had accumulated through the years and designated the “bride”. The wooden figure was prepared as a bride for a wedding, ritually bathed in the Asopus, adorned and raised on a wagon with an attendant. This wagon led a procession of wains carrying the accumulated daedala (all the other images that had been created over the years) up to the summit of Mount Kithairon, where a wooden sacrificial altar was erected out of square pieces of wood.
This was covered with a quantity of dry wood, and the towns, persons of rank, and other wealthy individuals, offered each a heifer to Hera and a bull to Zeus with plenty of wine and incense, while at the same time all of the daedala were placed upon the altar. For those who did not possess sufficient means, it was customary to offer small sheep, but all these offerings were immolated in a hecatomb in the same manner as those of the wealthier persons. The fire consumed both offerings and altar
An ancient account of myth behind the festival is related by Pausanias:
“Hera, they say, was for some reason or other angry with Zeus, and had retreated to Euboia. Zeus, failing to make her change her mind, visited Kithairon, at that time despot in Plataea, who surpassed all men for his cleverness. So he ordered Zeus to make an image of wood, and to carry it, wrapped up, in a bullock wagon, and to say that he was celebrating his marriage with Plataia, the daughter of Asopus. So Zeus followed the advice of Kithairon.
Hera heard the news at once, and at once appeared on the scene. But when she came near the wagon and tore away the dress from the image, she was pleased at the deceit, on finding it a wooden image and not a bride, and was reconciled to Zeus. To commemorate this reconciliation they celebrate a festival called Daidala, because the men of old time gave the name of daidala to wooden images… the Plataeans hold the festival of the Daidala every six years, according to the local guide, but really at a shorter interval.
I wanted very much to calculate exactly the interval between one Daedala and the next, but I was unable to do so. In this way they celebrate the feast.”
Found at Wikipedia
Up Helly Aa refers to any of a variety of fire festivals held in Shetland, in Scotland, annually in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season and celebrate the arrival of the Vikings. Traditionally held on the last Tuesday in January, the festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes.
The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barreling which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly-Aa. After the abolition of tar barreling, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. The first yule torch procession took place in 1876. The first torch celebration on Up Helly-Aa day took place in 1881. The following year the torch lit procession was significantly enhanced and institutionalized through a request by a Lerwick civic body to hold another Up Helly-Aa torch procession for the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. The first galley was burned in 1889.
There is a main guizer who is dubbed the “Jarl”. There is a committee which you must be part of for fifteen years before you can be a jarl, and only one person is elected to this committee each year.
The procession culminates in the torches being thrown into a replica Viking longship or galley. The event happens all over Shetland, but it is only the Lerwick galley which is not sent seaward. Everywhere else, the galley is sent seabound, in an echo of legendary Viking sea burials.
After the procession, the squads visit local halls (including schools, sports facilities and hotels), where private parties are held. At each hall, each squad performs its act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing, usually in flamboyant costume.
Due to the often-flamboyant costumes and the large quantity of males dressing up as females (Traditionally, the Capital festival does not permit women to partake in the squads) in the Lerwick festival, it has earned the joke name ‘Transvestite Tuesday’. The photos below show a few examples of the festival’s highlights.
Bonfire Night is a name given to various annual celebrations characterized by bonfires and fireworks. The event celebrates different traditions on different dates, depending on the country. Some of the most popular instances include the following:
- Walpurgis Night – Apr 30 – Scandinavia
- St John’s Eve – Jun 23 – Ireland, Spain, Northern Portugal
- Eleventh Night – Jul 11 – Northern Ireland
- Feast of the Assumption – Aug 15 – Northern Ireland
- Guy Fawkes Night – Nov 5 – in Great Britain, Newfoundland and Labrador
Note: This is by no means a complete list of celebrations referred to as “Bonfire Night.”
In Great Britain, Bonfire Night is associated with the tradition of celebrating the failure of Guy Fawkes’ actions on 5 November 1605. The British festival is, therefore, on 5 November, although some commercially driven events are held at a weekend near to the correct date, to maximize attendance.
Also known as:
- Bonfire Night
- Guy Fawkes Day
- Firework Night
Bonfire night’s sectarian significance has generally been lost: it is now usually just a night of revelry with a bonfire and fireworks, although an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned on the fire. Celebrations are held throughout Great Britain; in some non-Catholic communities in Northern Ireland; and in some other parts of the Commonwealth. In the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, 5 November is commemorated with bonfires and firework displays, and it is officially celebrated in South Africa.
There are many food items that are associated with Bonfire Night. Toffee apples, treacle toffee, black peas and parkin, and even the jacket potato, are traditionally eaten around Bonfire Night in parts of England.
This Day in History
The history of this annual commemoration begins with the events of 5 November 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.
Within a few decades Gunpowder Treason Day, as it was known, became the predominant English state commemoration, but as it carried strong Protestant religious overtones it also became a focus for anti-Catholic sentiment. Puritans delivered sermons regarding the perceived dangers of popery, while during increasingly raucous celebrations common folk burnt effigies of popular hate-figures, such as the pope.
Towards the end of the 18th century reports appear of children begging for money with effigies of Guy Fawkes and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day. Towns such as Lewes and Guildford were in the 19th century scenes of increasingly violent class-based confrontations, fostering traditions those towns celebrate still, albeit peaceably.
In the 1850s changing attitudes resulted in the toning down of much of the day’s anti-Catholic rhetoric, and the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed in 1859. Eventually the violence was dealt with, and by the 20th century Guy Fawkes Day had become an enjoyable social commemoration, although lacking much of its original focus. The present-day Guy Fawkes Night is usually celebrated at large organised events, centered on a bonfire and extravagant firework displays.
Settlers exported Guy Fawkes Night to overseas colonies, including some in North America, where it was known as Pope Day. Those festivities died out with the onset of the American Revolution. Claims that Guy Fawkes Night was a Protestant replacement for older customs like Samhain are disputed, although another old celebration, Halloween, has lately increased in popularity, and according to some writers, may threaten the continued observance of 5 November.
One notable aspect of the Victorians’ commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night was its move away from the centers of communities, to their margins. Gathering wood for the bonfire increasingly became the province of working-class children, who solicited combustible materials, money, food and drink from wealthier neighbors, often with the aid of songs. Most opened with the familiar “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot”.
The earliest recorded rhyme, from 1742, is reproduced below along with one bearing similarities to most Guy Fawkes Night ditties, recorded in 1903 at Charlton on Otmoor:
Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.
The fifth of November, since I can remember,
Was Guy Faux, Poke him in the eye,
Shove him up the chimney-pot, and there let him die.
A stick and a stake, for King George’s sake,
If you don’t give me one, I’ll take two,
The better for me, and the worse for you,
Ricket-a-racket your hedges shall go.
When told by Roman officials to surrender the church’s valuables, St. Lawrence brought the city’s poor and sick. “Here is the church’s treasure,” he said. Rome didn’t find this amusing, and legend says he was put to death in A.D. 258 by being roasted on a grate, although some scholars say he was more likely beheaded. In either case, folks in southern Europe still mark this day.
- It is customary there to eat only cold meat in recognition of the reputed manner of his death.
- Fair weather on St. Lawrence’s Day presages a fair autumn.
In the book 365 Goddess, she has some different ideas about how to celebrate St Lawrence day. They are as follows:
Bonfires of Saint John is a popular festival celebrated around June 24, (Saint John’s day) in several towns in Spain. For this festival, people gather together and create large bonfires from any kind of wood, such as old furniture, and share hot chocolate while teens and children jump over the fires.
A pie of tuna (coca anb tonyina) and early figs (bacores) is traditionally eaten while setting up the events.
The festival is celebrated throughout many cities and towns; however, the largest and most elaborate version is in Alicante. On the night of St John, gigantic (20 to 30 foot high) explosive caricatures (ninots) are paraded through the streets and exploded in a spectacular finale with fireworks and pyrotechnics, making this festival into the most important (and loudest!) cultural event in Alicantinian society.
Collected from various sources
St Sara of Egypt is the Romanies’ patron saint. Throughout the eve of May 24 and during May 25th, Gypsies exalt the elements of fire and water. From wood the men have gathered, Gypsy women build a healthy campfire. They cook a huge feast and gather around the fire to exchange presents and good cheer.
On May 24th many Romanies still make a pilgrimage to attend an annual service at the shrine of St Sara of Egypt, in the crypt of the church of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Ile de la Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhone, France. They carry the statue of St. Sara, who is black, into the sea (from where she originated) and out again.
From: The Good Spell Book