In the month of December, religions from across the globe start to celebrate various holidays. From Christmas, to Yule, to Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, the holiday season is rich with traditions, both old and new. The celebration of Yule comes from German Paganism, though it eventually gave way to Christmas, the ancient traditions still appearing in modern day celebrations. Modern day Paganism brought back the celebration, adding it to their wheel of the year as the beginning of the year and the rebirth of the God.
Also known as Yuletide, this holiday stems from ancient Germanic traditions. The word Yule comes from the old English word ġéol which referred to the twelve day celebration. Some scholars connect it with the woodland god Odin, who is the leader of the Germanic and Norse gods who lived in Asgard. Scholars have also connected this holiday to the Wild Hunt, a hunt led by various individuals after a creature, normally a white hart (stag/buck). Anything that gets in the way of the hunt gets ridden down.
Traditions Carried On
When Christianity came into existence, it drew upon the cultures it around and the cultures of those who converted to the new religion. Cultures and religions naturally grow by drawing on those around them and so no culture is entirely original. Christianity was no different, growing into a culture the same way every other religion has. Yuletide season became Christmastide season and brought with it Yule singing (caroling), the Yule feast (the Christmas feast), and the Yule log.
The Yule log, which is still used in some Christmas celebrations and in modern Pagan celebrations, was widespread tradition to in old Europe. Many scholars believe that, like Yule itself, the origins come from Pagan Germany, though the actual origins are unknown. Generally a huge log placed on the fire, it was supposed to last all twelve days of the traditional celebration. One of the important parts of the tradition was the fact that the Yule log was not completely burned during this celebration, rather, a small part of it was kept to light the next year’s Yule log. In between celebrations, the leftover wood was kept around the mantle to ward off bad luck.
Modern Day Revival
Yule has been adopted by the modern day religion of Wicca and is celebrated on either the 21st or 22nd of December, during the winter solstice. Considered the beginning of the New Year, it is during this time that the God is reborn into the world. The God is normally represented as the Horned God, also known as Cernunnos, who is connected with the Wild Hunt. Some paths of Neopaganism celebrate Yule as one night, while others celebrate it for twelve nights. The symbols of Yule include the colors red, green, and white, evergreen, the Yule log, and mistletoe. As Yule takes place on the winter solstice, it’s also a celebration of the sun and the return of warmth.