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Happy to =) ( I couldn't find everything in one link, and most of this actually came from some books I have, so I just paraphrased much of it here)
The Yule log is probably what most people are familiar with in the traditional pagan holiday. The Yule log chopped down from a the house owner's (or a willing friend's) yard, and carried inside with much celebration. The patron of the house would "bless" the log with various spirits and oils (to help it catch). The log would then be lit with the saved tinders from last year's log, either by the matron or eldest daughter of the household. The log would burn all during the family's yule celebration, to help ward the house from evil spirits and bad tidings for the coming year. The log would burn for 12 days, during which time many regions would not do any unnecessary work, so they could reflect and enjoy the yuletide merriment.
Evergreens - Because these trees do not wither and fade when winter rears it's cold head, these forms of greenery have always been popular in the Yule season, as a symbol of life and rebirth, in many cultures (even Egyptians!). These were the first "Christmas Trees", and though it is uncertain who exactly began decorating them, some say it began in Germany and was brought here, though some claim a legend that Martin Luther began the practice.
Edit: I almost forgot to mention - just to be on the safe side as some people might not know this, Holly is a poisonous plant! It can make children and animals sick, and while eating a bit might not be fatal, it's certainly no fun. If you plan to decorate with real holly, make extra sure it's in a place where your animals and children can't reach and chew on. If you want to be doubly extra safe, use silk holly instead
Holly - prized for it's prickliness, some say it either wards off, or captures and holds evil spirits, to prevent them from harming the household.
Mistletoe (^_~ everyone's favorite I'm sure) - This was found in Yule time decor in both the Celtic Druidic religion, and the Norsemen. Mistletoe has a very long history as being a sacred plant to many. It has been used to cure the ill (and still is in some cases). In Scandenavia, if two foes met by chance under the mistletoe, they would not engage in battle and form a truce until the next day. In Celtic Druid fashion, the Druids would cut the mistletoe with a (supposedly) golden sickle. The branches must be caught before they touched the ground. Any that touched the ground were discarded. They were then divided and passed out amongst the townspeople, to hang over their doors to protect against the harsh winter.
As you may notice, a lot of pagan Yule traditions focus on celebrating life and warding off illness and death. This of course is because they lacked the modern comforts that are provided to us now that keep us safe and warm, even through the harshest snowfalls. That doesn't necessarily mean that the pagan "reason for the season" if you will, is obsolete. At the end of the year it is still just as important to celebrate life and bring harmony with you into the New Year as it ever was. Remember that Yule is a celebration of your hard work throughout the year, a time of good cheer, and a time to show your love to those closest to you, and not a time of burden
Thanks As stupid as this sounds, I had found all of those and was trying to determine if there were any that hadn't been swiped for Christmas I didn't have time to read the sites I was on though, so I do appreciate the short version of the reason for everything
Lol...well there's christmas lights! I don't think the ancient pagans had those nifty pattern blinking runner lights. Maybe this was just because I was raised in California, but poinsettia bushes were also popular Christmas decorations, and so far as I know they cannot be traced back to European pagans, as they are native to Mexico.
I had found all of those and was trying to determine if there were any that hadn't been swiped for Christmas[/b]
Christmas lights symbolize the candles that used to be put in the trees and it manifested into a secular obsessions with trying to outdo each other.
Pagan traditions: Many Pagan cultures used to cut down evergreen trees in December, moved them into the home or temple and decorated them. 7 Modern-day Pagans still do. This was to recognize the winter solstice -- the time of the year that had the shortest daylight hours, and longest night of the year. This occurs annually sometime between DEC-20 to 23. They noticed that the days were gradually getting shorter; many feared that the sun would eventually disappear forever, and everyone would freeze. But, even though deciduous trees, bushes, and crops died or hibernated for the winter, the evergreen trees remained green. They seemed to have magical powers that enabled them to withstand the rigors of winter.* Not having evergreen trees, the ancient Egyptians considered the palm tree to symbolize resurrection. They decorated their homes with its branches during the winter solstice. 3
"The first decorating of an evergreen tree began with the heathen Greeks and their worship of their god Adonia, who allegedly was brought back to life by the serpent Aessulapius after having been slain." 5
The ancient Pagan Romans decorated their "trees with bits of metal and replicas of their god, Bacchus [a fertility god]. They also placed 12 candles on the tree in honor of their sun god" 2 Their mid-winter festival of Saturnalia started on DEC-17 and often lasted until a few days after the Solstice.
In Northern Europe, the ancient Druids tied fruit and attached candles to evergreen tree branches, in honor of their god Woden. Trees were viewed as symbolizing eternal life. This is the deity after which Wednesday was named. The trees joined holly, mistletoe, the wassail bowl and the Yule log as symbols of the season. All predated Christianity.*[/b]
Many customs have survived from Pre-Christian times that lend themselves quite nicely to our rituals today. Among them is the ever-popular Yule Log. Traditionally, the Yule Log has been of oak, ash or beech, ritually cut (often at Dawn) and ceremonially carried into the house. It was lit by the head of the family with much ado. Toasts were often drunk with wine, cider or brandy, in those early morning hours, giving the participants a good head-start on the festivities. A lesser known tradition is that of the Yule Clog. The Clog was a knobby block of wood, burnt in the kitchen hearth. Household servants were entitled to ale with their meals for as long as the Clog was kept burning. In many parts of Scandinavia, the object burnt was a fat wax candle, instead of a log. The candle was lit at Dawn and must burn until Midnight, or be considered an ill omen
The Yule Log was said to have many magickal properties Remnants of it, or its ashes, were kept in the house throughout the year for many purposes. Among these were protection from thunderstorms or lightning, protection from hail, preserving humans from chilblains and animals from various diseases. Mixed with fodder, the ashes would make the cows calve and brands were thrown into the soil to keep corn healthy. Women often kept fragments until Twelfth Night to ensure a thriving poultry flock in the coming year. It was customary to pour libations of wine or brandy upon the Log and to make offerings by scattering corn or bread crumbs over it. Even money was placed on the Log. Those charred "lucky coins" were then given to children or servants as gifts.
Wassailing is another happy survival of an old tradition. "Wassail" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "Waes Hael", which has been translated to "Be Well," "Be Whole" or "Be Healthy." The proper response to this toast is "Drink Hael", making it a shared blessing, a mutual well-wishing. Traditionally, carolers went from door to door, singing and bearing their "Wassail Cups", to be rewarded with the drink and fruited breads or other sweets.
Even with the Yule Log and the Wassail Bowl, no Yule celebration would be complete without a decorated tree. This custom is thought to originate in the Roman custom of decorating homes with laurel and evergreen trees at the Kalends of January (the Roman Winter Solstice celebration). It is interesting to note that, as with many other traditions adopted by the Church, the decorated evergreen (now called a "Christmas Tree") was originally condemned by Rome. An early Christian writer, Tertullian, spoke of the practice as follows:
"Let them" (the Pagans) "kindle lamps, they who have no light; let them fix upon their doorposts laurels which shall afterward be burnt, they for whom fire is so close at hand; meet for them are testimonies of darkness and auguries of punishment. But, thou" (the Christians) "art a light of the world and a tree that is ever green. If thou hast renounced temples, make not a temple of thine own house."
Even as late as the sixth century, Bishop Martin of Braga forbade the "adorning of houses with green trees." So obviously, the Christian adoption of the evergreen tree as a holiday symbol was another case of "If you can't beat'em, join'em!" In Winter, when all is brown and dead, the evergreens symbolize immortality. They are reminders of the survival of life in the plant world, a means of contact with the Spirit of Growth and Fertility, which has been threatened by the absence of Light. Especially good for this purpose are plants like Holly and Mistletoe, which actually bear fruit in Winter. (Mistletoe, the Golden Bough, the All-Healer, is traditional both at Winter and Summer Solstice.)
Music is a very important part of this joyous festival. Many of the "Christmas" carols are just as suited to Yule, with virtually no change. (It's a good guess that some of them were ours to start with!) "Joy to the World" and "Deck the Halls" are quite appropriate as is and you can have a lot of fun creating your own words for some of the others. In some cases, existing old lyrics prove that we are simply "reborrowing" what was "borrowed" from us, such as:
THE YULE DAYS
(to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas")
The King sent his Lady on the first Yule day
A papingo-aye. (i.e., parrot or pea######)
Who learns my carol and carries it away.
The King sent his lady on the second Yule day
Two partridges and a papingo-aye
etc. -------- circa 1870
Third day - Three plovers
Fourth day - A goose that was grey
Fifth day - Three starlings
Sixth day - Three gold spinks
Seventh day - A bull that was brown
Eighth day - Three ducks a-merry laying
Ninth day - Three swans a-merry swimming
Tenth day - an Arabian baboon
Eleventh day - Three hinds a-merry dancing
Twelfth day - Two maids a-merry dancing
and Thirteenth day - Three stalks of corn
Each followed by "Who learns my carol, etc."
Note the thirteen rather than twelve days and the variation of numbers in the verses. This was probably an instructional song , a riddle. We have discovered other references to thirteen days of Yule, as opposed to twelve days of Christmas. It was customary to burn the Yule Log for thirteen nights to promote Fertility. (There is, by the way, a version of "Twelve Days" with the standard lyrics, except that it begins "On the last day of Yule, my beloved sent to me", and ends with "Thirteen Queens a-courting"!
It was thus that our Ancestors greeted the Yule festival. Although Spring would not truly arrive for many weeks, they were assured of its arrival. They celebrated, daring to feast upon some of the remaining stored provisions, being certain that soon the Earth would begin to turn green and bear fruit. The traditional feast also contains carryovers from our Pagan ancestors. For example, the roasted pig with an apple in it’s mouth began with the Teutonic custom of sacrificing a pig to Frey at the Winter Solstice, to ensure fertility in the coming year.
So it is that the Log, the Tree, the Carol and the Feast are all parts of the Yule celebration with roots in The Old Ways! Waes Hael![/b]
The evergreens for Yuletide decorations were holly, ivy, mistletoe, bay, rosemary, and the green branches of the box tree. By Candlemas, all these had to be gathered up and burnt, or hobgoblins would haunt the house. In other words, by the time a new tide of life had started to flow, people had to get rid of the past and look to the future. Spring-cleaning was originally a nature ritual.[/b]