Yule or Yule-tide, yet another celebration that hasn’t anything to do with christianity and we clearly know now that Christ wasn’t born on December the 25th. In truth, Yule is a pagan festival that has been held throughout centuries, a winter festival to honor the female deities of the Norse/Germanic peoples, that is where it actually originated. But where do the pagan festivities and the christian beliefs met? and why?
Originally, the night where this festival took place was during the “new year’s night” and it was so called Mōdraniht, meaning, Mother Night. During this pagan holiday a sacrifice was made and everyone involved, all the celebrants, would share the feast afterwards. But throughout history people have come together and mingle by means of trade or invasions and people end up adopting customs and ideas from each other. So there came a time in history when the Norse/Germanic lunar calendar was changed by the Julian calendar which was adopted and the date of the Yule festival changed to December the 25th. Since then it has been absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas as a form of propaganda, so the pagan peoples wouldn’t feel much changes and still held their celebrations but now turned to a different faith and a different deity, slowly forgeting the old traditions by the force of habit, replacing their beliefs by foreign ones. Nowadays these pagan festivities have emerged again and it is now celebrated among Wiccans, and Pagans of Europe or European descendance during the winter solstice on December 21st. It is believed that the pagan Yule festival was influenced by both the Wild Hunt and the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia.
The Wild Hunt goes by many names, and its connection to Yule goes fat back to the folklore myth / legend of Odin’s Hunt, and the most known versions of it are the christianized ones. “The legend is that a group of huntsmen with hounds and horses make a mad dash across the ground or through the sky in pursuit of something unknown. The huntsmen, depending on the folklore, are often undead, demon possessed clergy or fairies of the underworld. The legend goes on to warn mortals from viewing the hunt because if one sees it, a catastrophic event such as the plague, famine, or war could follow. Another warning in the legend against the viewing of the Wild Hunt is that the spirit or soul could be grabbed by the riders and taken to the underworld.” The vision of the Wild Hunt takes place during the time of the year when the wind blows the strongest and storms begin to form.Odin’s Hunt begins on October 31st and ends on May Eve or April 30th. However, the height of the hunt takes place on Yule, the shortest day of the year. Odin and his Valkyries ride across the sky searching for those worthy to join the ride, many heroes of old also join this hunt, along with the Einherjar, the Elite warriors of Odin. Also this is the time when souls are “collected” and bought to the next world. During christianization fear replaced the tales of old and Yule fires were lit to keep the hunters at bay.
Saturnalia was a Roman winter festival with the objective of honoring the dedication of the temple to the god Saturn, or Cronus to the Greek. Originally the festival was celebrated on December 17th but grew in popularity and was extended to a week long event. A lot of feasts were held during this week, trickery and tomfoolery. A common practice was for slaves to dress as masters and masters to dress as slaves.
Great feasts would take place during the week of Saturnalia after the religious rites were performed in the temples of course. Visits to family and friends would take place and the giving of gifts was a common practice. Such gifts included wax candles and lamps, very common gifts by this time. It was believed that this was to light up the area and chase the spirits of the dark away.
So Yule and Christiams at some point in history came together and made a fusion and we see nowadays in Christmass many things that belong the the pagan festivals of old, like decorating the trees, the type of food we eat during this time, many decorations with elves, goats (the story of the Julbock), Reindeer, snow, pine trees, fir trees, the colors of Red and White and so on, things that were never common in the lands where Christ was born, but to keep this time of the year with its true essence and magic, we kept Christmas in a very pagan manner. During Yule it is a common practice to light Yule logs for Yule fires and to eat goat or boar and fill the air with singing and merriment. During Christmas it is common to light a Yule log, celebrate the birth of Jesus through the Virgin Mary, feast with family and friends, give gifts and witness religious rites in church. Throughout history the combining of these pagan festivals made it easier to convert the heathen pagans to Christianity.