The Yule Sabbath began on December 21st, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
In the old traditions of some, it is the time of the departure of the Holly King and the arrival of the Oak King.
The tradition of the Yule Log, in the old Norse faith, represents the Giant Ash Tree of the World called Yggdrasil—remember Avatar the movie—and was traditionally taken from an Ash tree, usually harvested from one’s own land (preferably that had fallen without the help of man), or received as a gift. It was usually quite large, a veritable log, which would burn for twelve days and keep everyone warm during the Yule celebrations. When placed in the hearth of the home, the fireplace, the source of heat and life—or at least one end of it—it was decorated with holly and mistletoe in a spirit of joy and reverence, offered libations and sustenance—cider and flour—and then lit by a piece of the previous year’s log which was saved for the occasion, thus bringing the wheel of life full circle.
It was burned for a full night and then kept smoldering for twelve days—the twelve days of Christmas—and then extinguished and a piece kept back as explained above.
We can see many variations have come from this practice, even our own Christmas tree, the upright version of Yggdrasil, a Tree of the World for ourselves.
This year take a moment to think about the tradition of the Yule Log. If you honoured the festival by using a modern Christmas Tree, consider using natural decorations in addition to the artificial ones you may already have in place. Holly abounds in the Pacific Northwest and so can be found everywhere in the forest. Cinnamon sticks and food offerings like candy canes and popcorn can represent the libations offered to the original Yule Log.
Leave your tree up for the full twelve days, just like the Yule Log would be burned and run it right through to January the 6th, Epiphany or Christmas of the Eastern Orthodox Church. If you started your Yule Celebration this year of the 21st of December, you would keep the tree up or the log smoldering till New Year’s Day.
Either way, this could be a fun thing to add to your seasonal celebrations. Teach your children all about the Tree of the World and what it means and how you can bring it into your own home to honour and respect its gift.
Many traditions have trees in their celebrations and stories of trees, from the tree in the Garden of Eden, the Vedic Tree of Life, or the ‘tree’ i.e. ‘cross’ Jesus was crucified on. Interesting note: in Norse traditions, Odin hung on the Tree of the World, Yggdrasil, for nine days wounded by a spear. It is said He sacrificed Himself to Himself, God to God. Sound familiar?
All these stories should be reassuring to us and unite us in understanding that the beliefs we have do come from an original source, Whether the Tree of Life or the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil from the Garden of Eden, or the Tree of Life from the Kabalah, the Celts or the Navajo.
Let’s embrace the similarities of the traditions, research our own stories and those of others, and add respect for universal spirituality to our celebrations this year.