We would, you might say – if we only knew what the dickens a yule is! Undoubtedly, a few amongst you do actually know what we’re talking about, but just as many don’t, even though you have all sung “See the blazing yule before us” dozens of times at Christmas! But yule is a word we only ever hear at this time of the year, so yule be forgiven for not having done any homework on it – excuse the pun!!
In articles written last winter, we commented on the frequently found fusion between Christian and pagan traditions, where remnants of ancient customs were incorporated by the church in nativity celebrations, and here we have yet another example of this cultural cross-over. Yule was originally a winter festival which took place in December and January on the German lunar calendar. When, in the fourth century, the 12 day feast was instituted by the church in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it was planned to correspond to a pagan holiday – the feast of Sol Invictus which marked the winter solstice. The gradual lengthening of the days and the increasing hours of sunlight in that period was of fundamental importance to the people who survived on what the land could yield them, and was an excellent reason to celebrate. As time went by, these two important cultural landmarks merged into what we currently know as Christmas, but even now, many references to the original feasts are still to be found in carols and traditions. So, going back to our initial comments, yuletide – the Christmas season – rings a familiar bell. But the blazing yule?
The yule log was a centuries-old European tradition; it was lit on Christmas day and burned for the following twelve days of Christmas, in the belief that it would keep misfortune away. For this reason, it was kept in the home all year long, and a piece was always salvaged with which to light the next year’s log. Although nowadays nobody has a real yule log at Christmas, many of them turn up on tables in the form of cakes and desserts! As a remnant of the past, hardly anyone knows what the meaning of the yule is; various christian and pagan customs have been thrown into a huge cauldron and shaken well, and the results are the celebrations which we are all familiar with – and certainly not associated with paganism. But when all is said and done, it is a time to spend with our family, counting our blessings – yule or not!