Yule Meaning and History
Guest Author – Leslie Ravenwing
Yule, pronounced “you all”, or jol is the Winter Solstice, the
shortest day and the longest night of the year. Yule, in Old Norse
means, Wheel. As the Wheel of the Year is significant in pagan
culture, it is important to note that Yule of the year means wheel.
Which, if having read the previous article, Samhain, in the 99,
October issue of The Seeker, it was noted that Samhain, may not have
been the Celtic New Year, but rather Yule. Yule, starting with the
birth of God, and a celebration of beginning of longer days, makes
sense as the beginning of the New Year.
Yule, of all the Sabbats, is the one that causes the most confusion
among those who follow the pagan path. Specifically those who are new
to the path and are breaking away from their Christian faith and way
of life. Yule, is, has, and always will be a pagan holiday. With that
said, I guess I need to further elaborate.
Yule has many pagan elements and more pagan history in it’s
foundation and pagan rites than Christian has. Yule has been
celebrated since the beginning of time in the Northern Hemisphere.
Many of the cultures located in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate
Yule, all with a common theme, the birth of a God. Most of these Gods
are associated with the Sun or with death and re-birth. Yule, like
Christmas, celebrates the birth of God. Several pagan Gods, have Yule
as their birth date:
This list is my no means complete, but does give you a general idea,
that more than one God has celebrated his birthday during Yule.
However, the Roman God Mirthra plays a most important role in the
preservation of Yule, and it’s other name, Christmas.
Approximately in the year 312, Constantine, Emperor of Rome, declared
Rome Christian. This however was not done because Constantine was
Christian, he was not baptized until 337, it was more do to the fact,
that Rome was declining, and Constantine saw in Christian religion,
what Rome lacked, moral fortitude and the ability to self organize.
To attempt to persuade his fellow pagan Romans, he choose Mirthra’s
birthday (Yule) as the same a Jesus’, and from there just let human
nature take its course. It didn’t hurt that after many hard fought
battles, of which he won, had all armor and shields painted with
Christian symbols, and that he told the populace that the Christian
God granted Rome these Victories. In Rome, whoever controlled the
Army controlled Rome. Which raises the question of confusion again.
Did the Christians steal Yule, or did they preserve it for us? It is
important to understand that while historical facts and data are important, they are not necessary to enjoy the Sabbat. If one believes that Yule is a celebration of the coming of light, warmth, and the birth of (insert god of your choice) that whether we call it Christmas, Yule or the Winter Solstice is unimportant. Yule is the one Sabbat that allows us to celebrate with other faiths without compromising our own. There are many pagan/pre-Christian customs that are still part of the Christmas celebration. The giving of gifts was first founded in Rome to celebrate Saturn’s Festival. The use of jingle balls is and Old Norse custom to drive away the evil spirits, in a time and place where night was longer than day. Mistole is an old Celtic custom and is commonly part of every household during Yule. The wreath, the complete circle, representing the Wheel of the year, is also still a custom.
Which brings us to the Yule tree. The tree of choice is the Fir, Evergreen or Pine. The reasons these particular trees where probably use is because that these where the only trees that were considered to be still alive, enternal. According to McCoy, these trees where sacred among the Druids, as they were the trees that didn’t die. The Druids would decorate the trees with images that represented their wants and desires for the coming year.
It should be noted that while Yule is considered a primarily Christian Holiday, it does not do anyone any good, declaring their theft. Rather we should be thankful that they have done such a great job of preserving it for us, and relish the fact that you know, and understand, why they decorate the tree, give gifts, and use bells. It might make Yule at the homestead easier on those families of mixed religion philosophies. So when someone wishes you a “Merry
Christmas”, don’t tell them I am not a Christian but rather say, “Merry Yule to you also”, and know that Jesus wasn’t a bad guy, but rather in a very elite group of Gods, who all celebrate their Birthday on Yule.