TUESDAY, DECEMBER 22: Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere brings the longest night of the year—so pull up a chair, pour a glass of wassail or hot cider and celebrate Yule! (Note: Date may vary by location.) Yuletide was originally observed by Germanic peoples, as a welcoming of winter and the return of lengthening days; today, the Yule log and Yule singing are still seen in several regions of the world. Whether a Yule log is placed on the fire or eaten as a buche de noel, the longest night of the year is the perfect time to get warm by the fireplace and revel in the joy of the season.
Did you know? One of the largest Yuletide celebrations in the United States is actually an interfaith ceremony at William & Mary. The Yule Log ceremony has taken place at William & Mary since 1934, and encompasses throwing holly sprigs, singing carols and sharing the holidays of different faiths.
The custom of bringing in a Yule log still held immense popularity in the 19th century, and centuries before, bonfires were lit in fields as the center of Yule activities. Tradition has it that the Yule log is chopped from the base of a Yule tree, and then allowed to burn through the entire night of the solstice. The log smolders for the next 12 days. Ancient Druids gathered what they regarded as the most sacred of Yuletide plants—holly and ivy—and decorated their homes with the live greens.
Today, Wiccans and Pagans may greet the Sun King on Yule and smolder a Yule log; Christians observe the time as Christmastide.
YULE: SOLSTICE, SATURNALIA & INTIHUATANA
Though Germanic peoples are credited with Yule, festivals for solstice are embedded in almost every culture. In ancient Rome, Saturnalia and Brumalia were festivals for the sun god, with food, gift giving and more. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as an Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.
RESOURCES, NEWS & MORE
- Sip from a pot of hot wassail, with a recipe here and from the New York Times.
- Bake a tasty Yule log of chocolate frosting, a dash of mocha flavoring or a few marzipan log bumps, with recipes from Food Network, Martha Stewart and AllRecipes.
- Give a warming scent to your home with homemade pomanders, created by decorating oranges with cloves. (Get instructions from Martha Stewart).
In Beulah, Colo., the annual community-wide Yule Log Hunt has been tradition for more than 60 years. Read the news story about this year’s hunt, which drew hundreds for the small mountain town’s annual search.
At Indiana University, the second annual Yule Ball brought purple lighting, hanging candles and orchestral music to hundreds of attendees, in what organizers say has become an immensely popular event. The ball was inspired by the Yule dance of the “Harry Potter” series.