Yule the mead making season, the season of sparkling lights and glittery tinsel, a time of family and friends, of celebrations and gatherings, of warmth and love. This is probably my favourite season of the year as I get to decorate and be sparkly and enjoy the frivolities that this season brings.
The Yule Spiders
One such stories is the story of the Yule spiders and how tinsel came to be used as a tree decoration at this time of year.
Along time ago in Germany a mother was busily cleaning for Yule, forcing the spiders to flee upstairs to the attic to escape the broom. When the house became quiet the spiders slowly crept back downstairs for a peek at the tree. Oh what a beautiful tree! In their excitement they scurried up the trunk and out along each branch. They were filled with happiness as they climbed amongst the glittering beauty. But Alas! By the time they were through climbing, the tree was completely shrouded in their dusty gray spiders webs. When Santa Claus came with the gifts for the children and saw the tree covered with spider webs, he smiled as he saw how happy the spiders were, yet knew how heartbroken the mother would be if she saw the tree covered with dusty webs So he turned the webs to silver and gold and the tree sparkled and shimmered and was even more beautiful than before. That’s why we have tinsel on our trees nowadays and every tree should have a Christmas spider in it’s branches.
Mythology and legend
Of course you have the classic story of the Sun returning to the earth and being reborn of the Goddess at Winter Solstice, mirroring the Christian story of Jesus being born of Mary and Joseph. So thinking about the sun returning to the earth and what that means for this season, it is a time of hope, a time of peace and a time of settling in and waiting for life to return to the land. A time of the Horned God and Holly King being strong and celebrated for his vitality, strength and earthy endurance and he shows us that light always follows dark and joy returns after sorrow in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
Some still hold the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which runs for a week prior to Winter Solstice and is a festival for its namesake – the Roman God Saturn. This was a time of wild joy, feasting, giving gifts and decorating our homes with greenery. The usual order of the year was given over to making merry, grudges and quarrels were forgiven, wars interrupted and businesses, courts and schools closed. All was shared no matter what your status and many masquerade balls and other parties were held.
Native Americans had winter solstice rites when sun images were painted on rocks by the Chumash tribe, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. The Summer and Winter Solstices were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice celebration lasted several days.
The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements–fire, water, air, and earth–that they would not harm her beloved Balder. However Loki, a sly, evil spirit, found a way round this with mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood and took the arrow to Hoder, Balder’s brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder’s hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder’s heart, and he fell dead. Frigga’s tears became the mistletoe’s white berries. In some versions the legend has a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of mistletoe, making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
The trees stand tall and naked, having shed their leaves they now conserve and pull energy from their roots deep in the earth and hibernate awaiting the earth beginning to warm so that new buds and leaves may grow and the tree may once again awaken to its full power. Nature takes on a feeling of waiting, waiting for warmth, waiting for light, waiting for a sign of the Goddess returning so that spring may grace the land once more. So we are drawn to emulate nature, to come together for warmth around a fire, to share food and drink together over a story (often on TV) and to gather to give gifts and be cosy within one anothers company.
So we pick out a Yule/Christmas tree to decorate our homes forgetting that originally these trees were picked because they were evergreens, a symbol of rebirth and life and vibrant to see against the winter snow. Holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces because its prickliness would ward off evil spirits that would enter the house.
Another tradition at Yule is the carving and burning of the Yule Log through the night, traditionally this is be an oak or ash log that would be lit by last years Yule log, thus ensuring continuity of life and luck in the household for the coming year. It is also a time to leave out of mince pies and brandy or port for your house Brownie and any other spirits and fairys that take care of your land and house throughout the year, letting them know they are welcome to share in the festive season with you and also ensuring your house Brownie is happy and that her mischief will be at a minimum for the year to come.
Mistletoe, also known as golden bough, was held sacred by northern shamanic traditions and the Celtic druids and thus legends of luck being shared with those who kissed under the mistletoe when it flowers at Yule.
When you celebrate with family and friends this Yuletide season, don’t let the commercialism and frantic rushing fill you with dread for the holidays instead take a step back and allow the sparkle and pretty lights into your soul, dance with the fairys in the dark of night and let yourself be lifted and bathed in the love that is offered as the light returns to the world once more..