Monday, December 12, 2016

Festivities Warm the Season... the Yule Log

Winter has appeared in all of its frosty finery, with crisp frozen mists and the crunch of ice as one walks about in the early morning.  To lighten these dark days, festivities were created by our ancestors, and many are seated in magical lore.

In Northern Europe, it was believed the dead visited during the time the land was barren, so ceremonies were created to appease them.  One Solstice festival was called ‘Jule’ , pronounced ‘Yule’ and honored Odin. Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death and Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. The bonfires of former ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.

The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged by feasting, drinking Yule, and watching the fire leap about the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as people walked alongside and sang merry songs. Often it was decorated with evergreens and sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.

In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored fabric, and doused with wine and an offering of grain. In an area of France families would go together to cut the Yule Log, singing as they asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. Their ceremony included carrying the log around the house three times and christening it with wine before lighting it.

To all of Europe the Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for twelve hours to twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood was saved to light the next year's log. The ashes that remained from were scattered over fields to bring fertility or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes they were used in the creation of various free cattle from vermin or to ward off hailstorms.

Few homes today contain a hearth so a modest way to include this ceremony is a fire pit… the burning wood may bring the pleasure of smoke and exotic aromas wafting through the night air… and perhaps it may bestow blessings upon your home.

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