Monday, December 21, 2009


My blogging friend Ruthie's Christmas Card. Check
out this cool Scottish artist at "Five Precious Things"

We got a tree!! Big deal, you say. But we almost didn't get a real tree this year. Bismarck was sold out of them two weeks before Christmas. For some reason, many more local residents decided to buy real evergreens this year. Of course, chain stores like Wal-Mart only order and get so many trees each season.

Fortunately, a local seller had his father-in-law drive to Wisconsin to cut down 70 more trees on their tree farm. By the time they arrived in town there were a bunch of people at the lot waiting for them. The guy gave out numbers and Dan got Number 6. Needless to say, our tree is very fresh and smells heavenly. It may be just my imagination, but I think it has a stronger scent than a tree that was cut down weeks ago. Dan picked a nice one, even though he had only about two minutes to choose it.


Dan didn't have time to put the bubble lights on until yesterday. After he was through, I decorated the tree with our assortment of ornaments that have been collected over the 27 years we've lived in this house. So here I sit today with the lit tree near the window, and it makes all the difference in our house.

It has brought me the Yuletide Magic I had been searching for. If we had not gotten a real tree this year, it would have broken a chain that has gone back 39 years of spending Christmases together! After we managed to get a tree, Dan said he didn't mind cutting back on other things this holiday season, but not having a real tree would have been sad.

"LADY OF WINTER" by Nicky Flamingo

My mantel is decorated with gold angels and cherubs, plus more greenery and more lights. I know I have more fairy lights - I'm going to try to hunt some up to string here and there. It's a good day to talk about evergreens and lights, because the ancient Norse and Celtic celebration of Yule was all about bringing in greenery, firelight, warmth and celebration. Yule took place on and around the winter solstice, and our solstice arrived at 11:47 a.m. today in the Central Time Zone.

I must confess, I was not welcoming the holidaze season this year. It seems so much less dear to me than when I was a child. There are no small children to bring their joy and laughter, and it just seems all too much, especially in a year when we are cutting back.  Fortunately, I watched a couple "History of Christmas" shows yesterday on the History Channel. I learned something very important by watching these shows. Everyone NEEDS a big celebration this time of year. People have always needed a celebration at this time of year.

No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. According to Earl W. Count, author of "4,000 Years of Christmas", the Mesopotamians were first to observe it, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

It was a cold, dark world back then. The ancients were fearful that the warm sun, which had gone away, would never return unless they performed certain rituals. My Scottish and Irish ancestors, the Celts, would bring in holly, mistletoe, ivy and other evergreens to add color to their white world and remind them that the earth would be green again soon.

My other ancients, the Norsemen, celebrated Jol by dragging the hugest log they could find into the home and stuck it end first into the fire. As it burned, they pushed it further and further in. Day after day, it brought them warmth and light. The Yule Log later became a short log that could fit sideways into the fireplace.

For the Celts and the Norse, Yule was a natural time for feasting because for once there was plenty of meat, since most of the cattle had been slaughtered.

"YULE HOLLY KING" Artist Unknown

The Roman winter solstice celebration was called Saturnalia. As the name implies, this was a holiday in honor of the agricultural god, Saturn. This week-long party typically began around December 17th and lasted through and beyond the day of the solstice.

Fertility rituals were performed at the temple of Saturn, including sacrifices. In addition to the large public rites, many private citizens held ceremonies honoring Saturn in their homes. One of the highlights of Saturnalia was the switching of traditional roles, particularly between a master and his slave. All in all, it was a very debauched, riotous time.

"YULE Herne " Yule Card by Briar

Here's something else I learned yesterday: Shepherds don't abide with their flocks by night in the dead of winter. In fact, they're out in the fields at night only one time of year - during birthing season. Therefore, Jesus was likely not born in December but in April. Not knowing exactly when Jesus was born, Christians wisely tied the celebration of his birth into pre-existing solstice celebrations. That way, they weren't forcing pagans to entirely give up their festivities, just asking them to transform them.

"YULETIDE" by Meredith Dillman

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season? The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice.

It commemorates a historic event — the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year.

"YULE" Artist Unknown

For the Celts, the winter solstice was the scene of one of the two yearly battles between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King them rules until Yule.

"LIGHTS OF YULE" by Helene Grasset

Egyptians welcomed Ra’s triumph over death. With the Daygan festival, the Persian Zoroastrians dedicated the day after the Solstice to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Mithras was a Zoroastrian god created by the Ahura Mazda to save the world. The day of the virgin birth of Mithras was also referred to as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means the birthday of the unconquered sun. Mithras was popular with Roman soldiers and thus Rome also celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.

Brumalia was a Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. By the time of the winter Brumalia, the wine was ready to be poured into jars for drinking. Although a Greek holiday, the name Brumalia is Latin, bruma being the Latin for winter solstice.

In China and East Asia, the Winter Solstice is the occasion for one of the most important festivals, called Dong zhi, “the extreme of winter”. The Native Americans too had Winter Solstice rites, as is attested by the paintings of the Chumash people of California. So did the Incas: their festival called Inti Raymi honors Wiracocha, the Sun god.

"THE YULE LADY" by Natalie Smillie

Winter Solstice is the time of year when the night is longest and the day shortest. What happened to the sun? If, in ancient times, you believed in gods and goddesses who take an active interest in human life, you might have thought it smart to do something to make the gods happy again so they might bring back the light. Why not honor them either with a great festival to persuade them to bring it back or a kind of gift-giving birthday party for the sun's annual rebirth? This may be at the crux of the origin of the winter solstice holidays, where ever they occur.


I hope you enjoy the images I found to go with this post. I especially love Briar Yule Cards and have been blessed to have received a couple of them from English blogging friends. I only show one this time because I have used most of them in Yule posts the past two years.

No matter what name we give it, we all need a celebration at this bleak time of year to bring us warmth, color, light, feasting, music, gifts, family and friends. Happy Yule to everyone.



Kate Robertson said...

Great post on Yule and the solstice. I love all the art on this post that you've collected to show us. I loved it all.

Wishing you a wonderful Solstice..


Rowan said...

Such an interesting post Julie and the illustrations are lovely especially the one of the Holly King. I'm wondering if our History Channel has the History of Christmas programmes, I must check and watch them if they are on. I'm so glad that you have your real Christmas tree, one of the great pleasures of the season for me is to see the tree decorated and covered with lights. A very Merry Yule to you and Dan!

Jane said...

Beautiful post, I loved reading every bit of it and the pictures are wonderful. Bright Blessings xxx

Autumn Leaves said...

Wonderful and informative post, as always, Julie. I love the historical information you so beautifully share and the art work? Simply phenomenal.

Lynda said...

Lovely post, Julie! So glad you managed to get a real tree ... we've always had a real one and I can't imagine not being surrounded by the scent of evergreen during the holidays.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Anonymous said...

wonderful post Julie! We all do need a celebration this time of year. I just popped over to wish you and your family avery Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope your life is filled with tons of blessings next year and always ♥

Shopgirl said...

Lovely post, love the pictures too.
May you always keep Christmas in your heart. You have given so much to me this year, things that have only meaning to me. Love, yesterday,today and tomorrow, Mary