THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22: The longer nights that come with winter may seem like a drag—but tonight, be like the Pagans and celebrate the longest night of the year! Today, many Pagans mark Yule, an ancient winter festival that rejoices in the coming of the Sun King and the beginning of longer days.
Of course, depending on your ethnic background and the traditions of your local community, you may still burn a Yule Log at this time of year. The custom was very popular in the 1800s and still exists in some spots around the U.S. One of the largest Yuletide celebrations in the United States today is actually an interfaith ceremony: the annual Yule Log ceremony at William & Mary. The students and staff of William & Mary have marked a Yule Log ceremony since 1934, and this year, hundreds of students gathered to throw Holly sprigs at a burning log, sing carols and share the holidays of their differing faiths: Christmas, Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Deepavali. (Read more here.)
Hundreds of years ago, bonfires were lit in the fields and the center of the festivities—the Yule log—was chopped from the base of a Yule tree and placed in the fireplace, burned through the night, then allowed to smolder for the next 12 days.
Even if you can’t watch a smoldering log for 12 days, pull up a chair to the fireplace tonight! Drink ceremonial hot cider and relax in the midst of the busy season. Don’t forget that you can bake a Yule log, too! (Snatch a recipe from AllRecipes. If you’re short on time, there’s also an article on how to create a “shortcut” Yule log.) Since ancient Yule logs were usually sprinkled with flour, holly sprigs and other natural substances, the Yule log cake evolved and has become a popular tradition amid today’s holiday activities.
The original Yule customs belonged to the Germanic people, although historians disagree as to when the festival originated. (Wikipedia has details.) Modern Pagans and Wiccans interpret this ancient festival in a variety of ways: some observe it at home, while others gather with community members.
Did you know that holly, ivy, mistletoe and Kriss Kringle are all associated with the ancient festival of Yule? Holly and ivy often adorned houses inside and out, as a symbol of good fortune, and mistletoe was believed to be the seed of the Divine; legend tells of ancient Druids traveling far into forests to extract this most sacred of Yuletide plants. (Learn more from Wicca.com.)
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.