Yuletide is just around the corner

As Christmas approaches, so too comes Yule, or the Solstice. It was celebrated around December 21st by medieval people, and many people today still celebrate elements of the old world. 

Model: Lauren Ball. Photo: Rosalie Gilbert
Model: Lauren Ball. Photo: Rosalie Gilbert

Yule is when the dark half of the year gives way to the light half. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was had as people awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the earth.

Bonfires were lit in the fields in celebration, and crops and trees were wassailed with toasts of spiced cider.  

Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove-spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks represented the harvest, and the flour represented light, and life.  

Our Christmas favourites, holly, mistletoe and ivy decorated the outside and inside of homes. A sprig of holly was kept near the door all year for good fortune.  

The ceremonial yule log, usually made from ash, was the highlight of the festival. The log must have been harvested from the owner's land, or given as a gift. It must never have been bought. Once in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set afire by a piece of last years log, which was held onto for this purpose. The log would burn throughout the night, then smoulder for 12 days before being put out.  

Traditionally, symbols for solstice include the yule log, or small yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs, wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove-studded fruit, wassail and poinsettias. These might be adjusted for country and climate.

Herbs associated with this time of year include frankincense, holly, mistletoe, evergreen, bayberry, blessed thistle, laurel, oak, pine, sage and yellow cedar.

Foods include nuts, turkey, eggnog, wassail, pork dishes, cookies, caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, ginger tea, spiced cider, and an ale made of sugar, nutmeg and roasted apple.


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