The winter solstice has been celebrated in many cultures under different names: Yule, Kolyada, Meán Geimhridh.
The modern New Year has absorbed many old traditions and attributes, and almost every element of the holiday keeps its historical roots.
A Christmas tree, ornaments in the form of balls, candles, songs and dances – all this is a successful relic of the past, flourishing every December with renewed vigor.
We can say that Yule is that ancient holiday that will never die for humanity.
→ What was the ancient festival dedicated to?
→ What was Yule and what did it signify?
→ What traditions have we adopted?
We will analyze these and other questions in a new series of articles. Let’s start, perhaps, with Yule and with some inclusions of Kolyada – for comparison.
What is Yule named after?
This historical note was written by the wonderful Shellier.
Yule is the celebration of the Long Night, the time of the longest night of the year and the shortest day. However, then the length of the day increases, and light gradually begins to prevail over the darkness.
Yule is a celebration of balance, one of the four main astronomically calculated points of the annual wheel.
The holiday itself is predominantly German-Scandinavian – it was there that it was celebrated regularly and on a large scale.
In some areas of Norway, during these festivities, the sun did not really rise above the horizon and only reappeared after 12 days.
The period of the “underground sun” was called Yoltaid and ended on the twelfth, Yule, night.
Therefore, the name Yule is also taken to the Old Norse hjul – “wheel”, which is probably due to the fact that in its motion the wheel came to the lowest, darkest point of the year, but soon it will turn again and again begin to move towards the light.
However, there is a second version of the origin of the name of the holiday: it is traced to the Old English word gūol, etymologically closely related to modern English yellow – “yellow”, as well as English gold – “golden” (simultaneously with the Indo-European root ghel – “to shine”).
Twelve Nights of Yule
On the above-mentioned twelve days and nights after Yule, they were guessing about the future for the twelve coming months. It should be noted that this is both a Slavic and a Western European tradition.
The night preceding the day of the solstice is called Modranecht – the mother’s night.
The day following the Mother’s night is considered “the day of fate”: everything that was done and said on that day before sunset determined the events of the whole coming year.
The belief that “as you meet the new year, so you will spend it”, originates from here.
The twelfth night (in fact, the thirteenth, if we take into account Modranecht) is a kind of culmination of “fortune-telling days” – and there are no more faithful dreams, predictions and signs than those revealed on this night.
Each word spoken on this day has a special meaning.
It is believed that a vow or oath pronounced on the twelfth night is unbreakable, and the words of spells and conspiracies are more effective than ever.
On Yule, a special place is given to evergreens: holly holly, spruce, fir, pine, juniper, mistletoe, ivy. They are symbols of eternal life and a particle of summer in the heart of winter.
Their branches are brought into houses, hung on the walls and woven into wreaths, so that the power of plants, so resisting winter dying, helped to survive the cold and brought people out of the timelessness of the twelve Yule days.
Rituals with mummers are present in virtually any tradition of celebrating the winter solstice.
Among the Scandinavians, Yule partially assumed the functions characteristic of the Celtic Samhain: it was believed that while a new sun was born, the line between the worlds was very thin and a wide variety of creatures, including the dead, both of their own kind and others, could come into the world.
In particular, this is connected with the common European tradition not to deny food and shelter to anyone knocking on the door these days: you never know who can come in while the terrible evenings last.