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So what is Yule?  Well, Yule is the original Germanic December Holiday whose traditions became absorbed by what we now celebrate as Christmas.  You heard right.  Many of the traditions associated with what we know as Christmas are actually much older, and were originally practiced by the Germanic pagan peoples occupying what is now Scandinavia.  So where do those traditions come from?  Glad you asked.

Yule was originally celebrated primarily by the Norsemen, and most of the decorations both inside and outside the home that we associate with Christmas actually come from the Old Norse traditions, where the plants themselves retained special symbolic meaning. Holly, for example was an integral part of both indoor and outdoor celebratory display, and was often hung near a house’s doorway along with mistletoe, to encourage the spirits and energies associated with good fortune and happiness to come into the home. Today, many celebrants wear images of holly for exactly the same reason: to attract good luck and positive energy.  Evergreen boughs and wreaths also found their Holiday start as Yule decor, and were used in many ways to symbolize immortality and the cyclical nature of the seasons.

Yule itself is observed beginning on the Winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year, and is a celebration of the cycle of rebirth and new life associated with the impending Spring.  After the solstice, the days begin to once again get longer, and the sun brings peace and renewed vigor to the land.  Traditionally, this celebration would last for 12 days, while another Christmas adoptee, the Yule log, smoldered in the family hearth.  This is in fact where we get the concept of “Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Even the underlying religious sentiments associated with Christmas are mirrored in the Yule Holiday festivities, as the primary giving of thanks was to the Norse god, Odin.  In fact, one of the many Old Norse names commonly interchanged to reference Odin is Jólnir, or “Yule Figure.”

During Yule festivities, just as with Christmas, many feast-goers would wear bells with pieces of evergreen, poinsettias, and sprigs of ivy, as all of these plants were indigenous to the region and tied to the traditions of late Fall harvest.

Some other things the Yule Holiday lent Christmas: spiced cider, egg nog, cakes soaked in ciders or spiced rum, nut breads, candied fruit peels, oranges spiked with clove, log shaped cakes and spreads, pine scented decor and candles, the red and green color scheme, sleigh rides, tree decorating, exchanging gifts, and even “Santa Clause,” or as the Scandinavians would say, Kris Kringle.

Steeped in tradition, anchored in our European ancestry, and adapted for a relaxing addition to a hectic modern Holiday season, Yule may just be the best Holiday that you never knew you were celebrating.

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