The Twelve Days of Yuletide: A History Now, I know that we all sing about the Twelve Days of Christmas, but you might not have realized that the pagan celebration of Yule is twelve days long, starting with the winter solstice on December 21 and ending on December 31. (Christmastide is also twelve days long from December 25 through January 6th —Epiphany.)
THE BALANCE TIPS TOWARDS WINTER, AND WE ARE REMINDED THAT EVEN IN OUR DARKEST AND COLDEST HOUR, LIGHT AND WARMTH CAN STILL SHINE THROUGH
The gift of light we thankfully take But not shall it be alone for our sake The more we give light The one to the other It shines and it spreads and it glows still further Until every spark by friends set aflame Until every heart with Joy to proclaim In the depths of our souls a shining sun glows.
Solstices are especially notable, as they mark the longest and shortest days of the year. In essence, they signify how life on Earth changes in connection to the Sun and how our seasons shape our world. When a solstice occurs, the Sun reaches its absolute highest or lowest point relative to our celestial equator. What Does Yuletide Celebrate?
Beginning with the Winter Solstice celebration, Yuletide kicks off with a celebration of the lengthening amount of sunlight that we welcome as we move away from the day with the least “daytime” during the year. Indeed, nearly every celebration has origins invoking the rebirth of the sun or the sun god in some way. This is also referred to as Mother’s Night, honoring the Mother Goddess (& the coming of spring) along with the protective female ancestors who watch over us.
Yuletide concludes with the celebration on the Twelfth Night, which often coincides with the modern New Year celebration—full of revelry, food, and drink. The Twelfth Night is also associated with the burning of the greens for good luck. This is not directly attributable to pagan culture or Yuletide, but seems to be linked more to Christian Epiphany. (However, I liked the timing of this so much that I adopted it as part of the pagan culture’s Twelfth Night in my Circle of Nine series.) Modern pagans often have a Yule tree as part of their celebration, although it is noted that pre-Christian pagans would likely not have done so. Instead, they would have only cut boughs of evergreens for decoration within their homes. These may have been left up until Imbolc at the beginning of February when they would have been removed and possibly burnt.
Other traditions that were initially part of the pagan or pre-Christian festival of Yule have come to be part of the Christmas tradition, including the use of holly and ivy and mistletoe as decorations, the burning of the Yule log, and gift giving, which was an important part of the Roman Saturnalia festival. And, of course, songs were sung in celebration at the time of the winter solstice and throughout Yuletide.
Here’s a Yuletide Carol to wish you a Blessed Holiday Season – whichever way you celebrate this special time of year!