Yule: the history of the holiday spirit


Photo via Patheos

While you and your family gather around the fire singing Christmas carols while wearing festive pajamas and digging into your stockings, it is essential that you remember one of the most important origins of the Christmas we’re all familiar with today: Yule.

Yule is a Pagan holiday that takes place on the day of the winter solstice, which is usually around December 21 in the northern hemisphere. Traditional customs such as the burning of the Yule log, the decorated tree, and wassailing can all be traced back to Norse origins.

Photo via Historic UK

In Pagan tradition, which was later adopted by Wiccans, the origin of Yule stems from the Celtic legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King, representing the light of the new year, tries each year to usurp the old Holly King, who is the symbol of darkness. 

When Christianity appeared and began to increase its influence, the Christians were having difficulty converting Pagans to their customs. Christian churches ended up being built upon old Pagan worship sites, and thus Pagan symbols were gradually incorporated into Christianity. Within a few centuries, the Christians were celebrating a new holiday (that was suspiciously similar to Yule), on December 25, called Christmas.

Yule is celebrated through a variety of customs. One of the most famous of these is the burning of the Yule log. Families usually begin with writing down a wish for the new year on a piece of paper and wrapping it around the Yule log and then decorating it with holly. Finally, the log is set on fire, which represents the release of the energy from each family member’s wishes into the world. The log is traditionally supposed to burn for 12 days, but of course, that is a bit unrealistic nowadays and also presents a fire hazard.

One of the tastier customs during Yule is the Yule log cake. It is essentially a spiral cake, usually made with dark chocolate, that is elaborately decorated to mimic an actual log. There are plenty of recipes for Yule log cake online, so anyone has the ability to spruce up their Yule celebration with a little sweetness!

Photo via Delish

So for this holiday season, please be respectful of your Pagan friends and family members as they celebrate Yule this year. Yule is a holiday which has had an extremely significant impact on our modern holidays and culture. We mustn’t forget the true source of the holiday spirit and be considerate of one another as we deck the halls and put up the tree, no matter what we’re celebrating.