Y is for Yule

Thursday, 29 December 2011

To our pagan ancestors living in the frozen north of Europe and Scandinavia, the dark days of winter were a frightening time. The darkness was the domain of demons and malicious spirits. On top of that, Odin, chief among the Norse gods, flew through the sky on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, looking down at the world with his furious one-eyed gaze, deciding who should prosper and who perish in the year ahead.

The sensible choice was to stay inside at this time of year, safe from the darkness and the horrors it held. To help keep the darkness at bay, on or around the 21 December, the time of the winter solstice, fathers and sons would go out into the forests and bring back to hearth and home the largest log they could find. This massive piece of timber was then put on the fire and left to burn for the entirety of the season of Yule – twelve days altogether.

Yule was the name given to the Viking festive feast, a time when light and new birth were celebrated in the face of darkness and death as witnessed in the natural world. It was at this time that evergreens were brought into the house; a sign that life persisted, even during these darkest days of the year.
However, despite the deeply-felt need to keep the darkness outside, in Scandinavia people believed that the burning Yule log also warmed the frozen shades of the family’s dearly-departed, who returned to the ancestral home every Christmas Eve. Some families even went to the trouble of laying a place for them at the dinner table.

Did you know...?
The Yule log was once associated with the Norse god Thor, who had a mysterious connection to oak trees.

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You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.


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