Tuesday, December 18, 2018

YULE - The ancient traditions live on

Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
The shortest day and longest night of 2018 falls on Friday, December 21st.

We call it the Solstice, and it marks the point at which the days begin to lengthen. Our ancestors rejoiced in the return of the sun, seeing it as a rebirth of life as well as light. We get pretty excited about it too! 

The Solstice also marks the beginning of Yule or Yuletide, which will run for 12 days until January 1st, 2019. The word Yule is likely from an old Nordic word for wheel. With the coming of Yule, the “wheel of the year” has rolled around to its beginning once more.  

We still refer to the Christmas season as Yuletide. Many of the old traditions associated with the solstice have lived on, although some have evolved to better fit modern life. There are too many to list, but I've touched on a few favorites. See if you recognize them!



In ancient times, the Yule Log was not a tidy piece of wood but a whole tree! Selecting it was governed by a number of customs - sometimes the tree had to be a gift from someone else, sometimes it could be a tree already growing on your land. It could never, ever be bought. 

Once chosen, it was dragged into the house with great ceremony, and the wide end would be set in the fireplace, leaving the remainder of the tree extending far into the room! 

A piece of last year's log would be used to kindle the new one. And slowly the massive log would be pushed into the fire over the course of twelve days. Afterwards, the ashes were scattered over fields to ensure a bountiful harvest in the year to come. Some of the ashes might be kept to be used in medicines for both man and beast.

Medieval tradition favored a large ash or oak log rather than the entire tree. It was often decorated with evergreens, and pouring ale or wine on the log was customary. So was sprinkling flour or breadcrumbs on it, or even placing coins on the log. All were said to bring good fortune, and the blackened coins were later given as gifts.

In Victorian times the size of your fireplace dictated the size of your Yule log. As large fireplaces fell out of fashion, smaller logs were decorated and holes were bored into the wood to hold candles, which would then be burned for 12 nights. 

The French were the first to create an edible Yule log, calling it "Buche de Noel", and Victorian confectioners made these Yule cakes famous. You can still find them in bakery departments today.



The Celts were just one of many peoples who believed evergreens to be symbolic of immortality, of continuing life in the midst of death. In the coldest, darkest and dreariest of winters, evergreens held forth hope of returning spring. Throughout many cultures and over countless centuries, homes and barns have been decorated with evergreen boughs and other bright winter greenery. The branches were often believed to provide protection for both people and livestock from dark spirits, faeries, and other supernatural beings.

The practice of decorating actual trees originated long before what we know as Christmas today. Druidic customs called for the adorning of sacred trees, especially oak, which were leafless at this time of year.

The trees were never cut down and brought into the house, but left alive and decorated wherever they grew with offerings of trinkets, trophies, sacred plants such as holly and mistletoe, bits of metal and sometimes replicas of gods and goddesses. 

The Romans later adopted this tradition of decorating trees for their own solstice celebration called Saturnalia.



Wreaths have symbolized the wheel of the year since ancient times, and the word wreath comes from the Old English writhen, meaning "to twist".  In many European countries, evergreen wreaths were lit with candles during the darkest winter days, symbolizing hope that light would return. 

Holly wreaths were said to ward off the evil spirits that abounded during the darkness of midwinter, and holly might be kept near the door all year long to invite good fortune.



The Yule Goat or Julbock was central to solstice traditions in Scandinavia and northern Europe. A human dressed in goatskins and wearing long horns acted out a skit in which he “died” and returned to life. This was symbolic of the sun’s resurrection at solstice. (The goat guise was chosen because the Norse thunder god Thor had two goats which drew his chariot across the sky. He would occasionally kill the goats and use them to feed guests, then would restore them to life with a blow of his magical hammer.)

Goats were originally slaughtered as offerings during Yule, but later, goats made of straw were created annually as both decorations and effigies. Since 1966, a 42-foot straw goat named Gävlebocken - who weighs 3 tons! - has made the town of Gävle, Sweden, famous. 

(PS - You can keep track of Gävlebocken on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Gavlebocken , and see if he makes it through the season this year. Many "Friends of Gävlebocken" watch over him and try to keep him intact, because a tradition has emerged to burn the giant straw goat to the ground in the middle of the night!)



The Victorians were famous for telling ghost stories during the holidays, but they didn't invent it. The practice actually goes all the way back to pagan times, when the coming of Yule was believed to bring about a thinning of the veil between worlds as the death and rebirth of the sun occurs. 

Not only ghosts, but evil spirits, trolls, witches, faeries, werewolves, and many other supernatural beings were said to wander freely. Even the Wild Hunt was more active during the 12 days of Yule. 

In Scandinavia, gifts were often left outside at this time – bowls of pudding and cream, clothes, tobacco and even ale – in order to appease some of these creatures. The most perilous time occurred between cock’s crow and dawn, when supernatural beings were at the peak of their power. To go outside meant risking death or being carried off by them, never to be seen again.

YOUR TURN - Do you follow any Yule traditions in your family? Do you know of any customs surrounding Yuletide that haven't been mentioned?

This full-length novel is Book One
of The Haunted Holiday Series

A Yuletide Paranormal Romance 
by Dani Harper


Shopping for Christmas, author Kerri Tollbrook is more annoyed than startled when a ghost tells her a gift she's about to buy will end up in the nearest donation bin. He's right, and well... gorgeous with those haunted brown eyes and self-assured bearing. Unlike most men, he's not afraid of her unusual gift. And the connection she feels surprises her. But even she can't date a dead man.


Firefighter Galen McAllister is stunned the petite redhead can see and hear him. It feels almost normal to talk to another human again, but if things were truly normal, he'd alread be asking her out. The woman is a triple threat – smart, funny, pretty, even if she's insisting he needs to "cross over". He can't, not after an ancient evil ripped him away from his body. And he refuses to leave as long as the creature is free to do the same to others.


There's no time to kiss under the mistletoe. The demon with a taste for human life force is coming back for a final feast. Helping ghosts is one thing, but Kerri is determined to banish the monster by any means necessary, even if Galen only wants enough "answers" to help him take the demon down himself.

She can't let Galen die for real. He can't bear to put Kerri in the creature's path. But if they don't work together on this, they aren't the only ones who will die just in time for Christmas.

The Holiday Spirit is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon 


  1. My Mum and Dad alway light up an candle on on each of the 4 Sundays before Christmas increasing the number lite byv1 each week. These are placed in a log with drilled out holes for them and decorated with holy and other greenery. On 21st Winter Solistist they lighy up the house with candles, oil burners and fairy lights and we always ate Lamb (guessing thats a nod to the goat!).

    1. That sounds like a lovely way to celebrate this time of year! Thank you for sharing that with me. :)


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