The History and Traditions of Yule
There have been festivities around the winter solstice for as long as history has been recorded. These celebrations have gone by many names, but we know that a mid-winter festival called Yule was practiced in the Nordic countries well before the year 1000. There is evidence to suggest that Yule was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity in the Northern Hemisphere.
Evidence of fire festivals celebrating the rebirth of the sun god held on or near the winter solstice can be found throughout history. For the Persian Mithraists, December 25th was the sacred birthday of their sun god Mithras. The day was celebrated as a victory of light over darkness. The festival of Saturnalia was also held each year on the winter solstice. On this day, homes were adorned with evergreen boughs and gifts were exchanged. In Sweden, bonfires were lit on the winter solstice to honor Odin and Thor.
The solstice festival has long been associated with the birth of older pagan gods such as Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and Arthur. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth is a common thread in each of these mythologies. It is no surprise that in an emerging Christian religion, this same time of year was chosen to represent the birth of Christ, also mystically linking him with the sun.
Our modern day Yule celebrations have integrated traditions and practices from ancient times. Although the celebration varies throughout countries and regions, many share some common characteristics--bonfires abound and homes are adorned with holly and mistletoe. Gifts of clove-spiked apples and oranges may be given as a representation of the sun, and traditional ash Yule logs are burned throughout the night.
For many, Yule is celebrated in recognition of the longest night and the much anticipated return of the sun. The history and wisdom of times long past have endured and continue to be practiced throughout the world.