My wife and I come from differing religious backgrounds so we wanted our children to have a varied cultural experience growing up. Each year we decide upon which winter holiday to celebrate beyond Christmas and Hanukkah (my wife and I’s family traditions). My children don’t consider themselves to be of one religion or another and as parents we don’t pressure them to conform.
One year we celebrated Kwanzaa, another we observed Ramadan, and we even celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali many years ago. One of the first times we had a non-traditional Judeo-Christian winter holiday was when we decided to observe Yule.
Background of Yule
Yule as a festival is dated to ancient Norse traditions in Scandinavia according to the History Channel’s website. Norse pagans burned a giant yule log around the winter solstice so as to keep a light burning all for weeks during the darkest period of the year.
In northern latitudes near the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t appear for very long during the winter months. Yule was a way to take back the night and prepare for the dark winter ahead.
Yule or Winter Solstice Celebrations
Many celebrations surround Yule and other winter time pagan festivals. Here’s a look at some of them. If they sound familiar it could be due to the fact that many contemporary Christmas celebrations borrow from local pagan roots in Europe.
Burning a yule log on the winter solstice is one of the more dramatic winter celebrations according to NoelNoelNoel.com. You can dress up your yule log with holly branches or other small saplings to add a pine scent to the fire. If you don’t have an outdoor setting for a bonfire or a fireplace, a decorated natural log is perfect for keeping the outdoors in your house when it’s cold.
Greenery is another pagan tradition according to an article on Witchvox.com. Natural or artificial greenery in the house is a Germanic tradition (think “O Tannenbaum”) when druids would bring an entire tree inside. Because people rarely went outside during the harsh winter, the idea was to spruce up the inside of the castle or cottage with a tree and other natural greens.
Light is a huge factor in winter celebrations. In Sweden, candles play a large part in winter celebrations. Christian and Jewish traditions of lighting candles are also prevalent. Whether you have real candles or electric ones having many reminders of flames around your house brings the pagan holiday spirit to your house all winter long.
Wassail is associated with warm winter holidays because it is a spiced drink that makes people feel warm inside. Usually alcoholic, wassail has many non-alcoholic recipes which taste just like spiced apple cider. You can peruse many versions of wassail at CDKitchen.com.
Caroling is also a pagan tradition, believe it or not. Singing songs about winter holidays and going around to people’s houses is often referred to as “wassailing” or “mumming.” Dressing up in disguise is optional. The point was to spread cheer to your neighbors during the darkest part of the year according to WhyChristmas.com.
Adding some pagan touches to your holiday can be simple or you can go all-out. Observing the shortest day of the year goes back thousands of years when humans dealt with the dark days of winter. Get in touch with some earlier winter celebrations when you observe Yule instead of more common ways to spend the winter holidays.