Yule - also known as Alban Arthan (Druid), Jul (Norse), Yuletide (Teutonic), Feill Fionnain (Pecti-Wita), Gwyl Canol Gaeof (Welsh), the Longest Night, Midwinter and, of course, Christmas (Christianity).
Brightly burns the Yule log tonight
Magic dances in firelight
Hold my hand and join the song
Raise the Sun King bright and strong
Dark is giving way to light
As brightly burns the Yule log tonight.
- Yule chant adapted by Akasha Ap Emrys.
Tonight at sunset (here in the northern hemisphere) sees the beginning of the Winter Solstice - Solstice being derived from the Latin 'Sol' (Sun) and 'sistere' (to stand still).
One of the lesser festivals, Yule is a celebration marking the death and rebirth of the Sun in Midwinter and is the second of two solstices dividing the year - the first being Litha which celebrates the Sun at it's peak in Midsummer.
Marking the longest night and shortest day of the year, Yule celebrates the birth of the Sun God, born of the Goddess after her return from the underworld. Fires and candles are lit to welcome the return of the Sun God's light while the Goddess rests after delivery and the hardships of her Winter in Labour.
Particularly important to our ancestors, occurring at a time when many were not expected to live throughout the winter, this Midwinter festival was a their last feast before the deprivations of Winter set in.
Traditionally the festivities would see streets, homes and churches decorated using natural resources such as Mistletoe, Holly and Ivy (sound familiar?). Their use bringing both colour and life into the home, acting as a means of contact with the spirits of nature.
The Druids especially prized Mistletoe with it's white berries representing the male aspects of the Sun God invoking fertility (hence the Christian tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe at Christmas?) and on the Eve of the Winter solstice would harvest the plant with a Golden Sickle.
Equally sacred was the Holly, a wreath of which was hung on doors to protect the home, as when all the other trees have lost their leaves, the holly's evergreen nature symbolised immortality by adding a splash of colour to an otherwise barren woodland, the red berries seen as a representation of the menstrual blood of the Goddess.
And finally, Ivy. Another evergreen plant, it is associated with one of the most popular of the ancient Egyptian Gods, Osiris, a God of the Sun, Agriculture and health.
And so for all those who will be celebrating Christmas this year, please remember this much more ancient celebration as you decorate your home and sing your carols.
For more information about Yule, it's symbols and customs please click HERE whilst to view the words of the carol, The Holly And The Ivy, click HERE for I think many of you may be surprised just how connected these words are to Yule.