Wednesday, 12 December 2007

December - celebrating Yule

We are now moving towards the Winter Festival that we call Yule.
The original Yule feast was held according to the lunar calendar, so it would have taken place late December or early January. When the Scandinavian countries were Christianised, the date was fixed at 25th December in line with Christmas. But Yule is still used as the name for this festival on greetings cards and the Jewish festival of Hannukah (this year the eight days of Hannukah begin on December 5th) is called Jewish Yule!
Like many other festivals at this time of year Yule is a festival that reminds us of the light during the darkest time of the year. Young girls wear crowns of holly with lighted candles, and lights are kept in windows. The tradition of the Christmas Tree developed out of the ancient idea of bringing home the Yule log to keep the community hall warm, but it was not until the German Prince Albert married Queen Victoria that the British started to have Christmas trees in their homes. Until then, the pre-Christian tradition of the ‘bower’, a circle of branches that included holly and mistletoe, hung in the hall to welcome guests, was the popular way for the British to decorate the house for the festive season. The mistletoe bunch is a remnant of that tradition.
Christmas these days has something of a split personality. On one hand it is the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ; on the other hand it is a traditional time of eating, drinking, present-giving and partying which has been largely commercialised in recent years. To some extent, both are dependant on each other. The Church needs the fun side of Christmas to keep people interested in it and the commercial world needs the religious overtone of the season to lend some legitimacy to the celebration.