WINTER SOLSTICE – In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice, sometimes known as Yule, occurs on or very close to this date. In the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the first official day of Winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs around this time.
YULE is a winter festival celebrated in Northern Europe since ancient times. In pre-Christian times, Germanic pagans celebrated Yule from late December to early January on a date determined by a lunar calendar. During the process of Christianization and the adoption of the Julian calendar, Yule was placed on December 25, in order to correspond with the Christian celebrations later known in English as Christmas. Thus, the terms “Yule” and “Christmas” are often used interchangeably, especially in Christmas carols.
In Denmark, Norway and Sweden the term jul is the common way to refer to the celebration, including among Christians. In these countries the highlight of the yule celebrations is the Yule Eve or Christmas Eve on December 24, which is when children get their Yule or Christmas presents by a character resembling Father Christmas called julemanden (Denmark), julenissen (Norway), or jultomten (Sweden).
In Finland, it is called joulu, in Estonia jõulud, and in Iceland and the Faroe Islands jól.
Yule is an important festival for Germanic neopagans, Wiccans and various secular groups who observe the holiday at the winter solstice (December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere).
As with other holidays at this time of the year, it is about the shortness of the day and the long dark night, and it is celebrated, traditionally, with the burning of a log all night to keep the light or carry the light over the divide of the old year to the new.
The burning of the Yule log, the decorating of Christmas trees, particularly with lights, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe, etc. are all historically practices associated with Yule. When the Christianization of the Germanic peoples began, missionaries found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation of popular pagan holidays such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them. The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham) is probably salient evidence of this.
The tradition is thought to be derived from the sacrifice of boars to the god Freyr at the Yule celebrations. Halloween and aspects of Easter celebrations are likewise assimilated from northern European pagan festivals.