Yule Tidings and Happy Winter Solstice! 🌲🌲⛄⛄
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year, and tonight will be the longest night. Starting tomorrow, the sun will be out a bit longer each day as we move into the new year! Solstice, coming from the Latin words "sol" (sun) and "sistere" (stand still) is so named because it is the day when the sun is seen at its highest point from either the north or south pole. Solstices only happen twice a year!
The return of the sun as seen after the winter solstice was celebrated in older times, and still is celebrated today by some, as the holiday Yule! Yule can either be celebrated on the single day of the solstice, or continue to be celebrated through January. This time of year coincides with many other holidays, like the Christian holiday Christmas! There are many different traditions associated with the holidays, but overall, this is a time for celebrating the hope of a coming year, gift giving, and reveling in the wonders of winter!
Yule was celebrated by ancient people as the time when the Earth, or the mother goddess, gave birth to the sun, or the sun king. It was deeply rooted in a lifestyle that revolved around the seasons, and people longed for the return of the sun, because they recognized that spring meant new life for the earth and allowed things to grown again. Yule is still recognized as one of the eight holidays on the Wheel of the Year, a yearly progression of holidays that recognize solstices and equinoxes as well as the cross-quarter days between them. Although Samhain, the holiday that closely resembles Halloween, is known as the first day of the new year on the Wheel of the Year, Yule also is a kind of new year, because it is when the sun is reborn.
One of the ways that Yule was celebrated was with the still well-known yule log. A big log of wood, often oak or ash, was brought into each home, and then lit with a branch from last year's yule log. This was allowed to smolder until it went out on its own. Sometimes the ashes from the tree was used for ceremonial purposes. Though today it is not practical to drag a huge yule log into every home, you can still celebrate this tradition in other ways! Using a smaller branch as a candle holder, or using bits of wood or essential oils derived from wood in incense, a diffuser, potpourri, or tea (always research properties of herbs before use!). You can also use these lovely holiday scents in soaps, bath salts, candles, or any other home and bath product!
Sprigs of mistletoe were hung throughout the house during Yuletide, and other plants were brought into the home as well: evergreens. Christmas trees come from the ancient tradition of decorating one's home with the hardy evergreen trees and branches, which stayed alive throughout the winter, and promised hope for spring, when all plants would be as green as the evergreens again.
Wassailing, or passing around a special drink called "Yule Wassail," toasting, and singing and caroling, was also popular during this celebration. Modern day caroling comes from this tradition and is still similar to it, because the purpose of wassailing was to spread the good year and hope associated with the holiday. Many modern holiday songs, such as "The Holly and the Ivy," "Deck the Halls," and "The Wassail Song" ("Here we come a'caroling/a'wassailing...") have roots in Yule traditions, and are still sung today during the holiday season! Overall, Yule was and still is a time for family and friends to gather together and celebrate.
Gift giving was celebrated during Yule as well. One way this was practiced was for children to take small tokens around to neighbors and friends. One such gift was an orange or apple, decorated with cloves! These fruits represented the sun, and reminded everyone that winter would not last forever. Other tokens of lasting life were used during Yule were resins such as frankincense and myrrh, which were both associated with immortality. These two tree resins are part of the modern Christmas holiday, as they are two of the three gifts the wise men brought the baby Jesus as gifts. The story of the wise men made the tradition of gift-giving even more popular, and now, most holidays around the Winter Solstice incorporate gift-giving into their yearly festivities!
No matter how you celebrate this holiday season, whether it is today, on Yule, or in a few days, on Christmas, make sure you are making time for family, friends, giving, and spreading the hope and joy of the holiday season! Cheers! Wassail!
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