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Yes, friends, the darkness wins, but these
short days so celebrate light:
Today the lemon sunrise lasted a few
hours until sunset, all day the snow
glowed pink and purple in the trees.
This is not a time of black and white,
my friends, outside us. Among us, too,
let's sing what winter forces us to know:
Joy and color bloom despite the night.
We measure warmth by love, not by degrees.
- Patricia Monaghan
The History of Yule:
How it all Began
As human beings, we are a diverse group of people. We come in many sizes, colors, and shapes. We come from different cultures, speak different languages, and practice different religions. Even the food we like to eat varies. Yet, no matter who we are or where we live, one thing remains constant: We all look forward to the winter holidays. By some, they're called Christmas or Hanukkah. By others, Las Posadas or Ta Chiu. Still others call them Winter Solstice, Yule, and lots of other names most of us can't pronounce. Each celebration is a little different, but the main ideas are the same. These holidays provide us with a time for reflection, resolution, and renewal. A time for gift-giving, good will, and kindness. Most important, though, they provide us with rituals to celebrate the balance of light and dark-rituals for welcoming the healing powers of warmth back into our world-and that gives us a common ground that draws us together as a people.
So where did they come from, these holidays that we all celebrate? Contrary to popular belief, they didn't begin with Christmas. Rather, they started over four thousand years ago in ancient Egypt. The occasion? An extravagant party to celebrate the rebirth of Horus-the god who appeared in the sky as a fiery orb each day-the same orb we know today as the Sun. Because the Egyptians honored Horus with a twelve-month calendar, the festival lasted twelve days with each day symbolizing one month.
Buildings were decorated with greenery of all sorts to honor the Sun. The most valued decorations, however, were palm branches with twelve fronds. The reason for their value was simple: Because palm branches put out one shoot each month, a twelve-fronded branch formed a type of calendar. This made them a great representation of the entire birth, death, and rebirth cycle of the Sun; using them to honor the Sun was believed to speed His growth and strength, and encourage Him to stay in the sky longer.
The Egyptians flourished, and word of their Sun-welcoming ceremonies quickly swept through Mesopotamia. Believing that the rituals were at the heart of their neighbors' prosperity, the Babylonians took up the cause and got in on the act. However, they called it Zagmuk1 and incorporated their own Creator/Sun god, Marduk. The Babylonians believed that Marduk had created the world, and made it one of order, beauty, and peace. It hadn't been an easy task, however-first, he'd had to fight a grueling battle and defeat the monsters of chaos. Each year, everything went along splendidly until the cooler weather brought winter; then the monsters regained their strength and once again challenged Marduk's reign. The battle was on and lasted for twelve days, but Marduk could no longer defeat the monsters by Himself. He needed the help of the people. It was their job to cheer Him on and help Him win the war. Only then could order be restored, and beauty and peace on Earth be renewed.
The Zagmuk festival began five days before Winter Solstice and lasted six days after, with the peak of the festival falling on the Solstice itself. On the seventh day, the Sun stayed in the sky longer-a sure sign that Marduk was well on his way to victory. This resulted in parades on land and river, good tidings, and the occasional exchange of gifts. The world was renewed for another year, and all was right with the Babylonian people.
Not long after, the Persians caught on and began to help Marduk, too. Called Sacaea, their festival was a little different and involved a temporary state of chaos. Slaves and masters changed places with each other, a mock king was crowned, and law and order flew right out the window. Grudges and debts were forgotten-if only temporarily. A good time was had by all. And why not? It was the one time of the year that folks could do exactly as they pleased without worry of consequence or retribution. As the Sun's light grew stronger, so did the party. During the last few days, things gradually wound down. By the end of the festival, order was restored to the Greek world.
Eventually, word of these Sun-welcoming festivities spilled into the outside world, and other folks- exchanging Marduk and the monsters for their gods-took up the cause as well. In the Greek version of Sacaea, Zeus defeated Kronos and the Titans, but that wasn't the main reason for their festivities. Apparently, the Kallikantzaroi-mischievous imps similar to those defeated by Marduk-roamed the land wreaking havoc during the twelve days of Sacaea. They also had a reputation for stealing the spirits of unsuspecting children, especially those born during that period. Of course, the Greeks did their best to keep them at bay. New babies were wrapped with garlic bundles, and because the monsters supposedly couldn't tolerate fire and smoke, each family kept a large log burning for the duration of the festival. These were fueled with old clothes and shoes, spoiled food, and anything else that might prove offensive to the intruders.
Finally, the ancient Romans-a good many of them practitioners of a Sun-worshipping religion called Mithraism2-decided to participate, and that's when the winter festivities really started to take shape. They combined most of the traditions of their predecessors and added a few of their own. First on the agenda was the exchange of god figures-Jupiter for Zeus and Saturn for Kronos. This gave them the opportunity to honor Saturn-one of their most important gods-if only briefly.
Posted December 5, 2011
Posted November 28, 2000
Posted September 20, 2000
I was *lucky* ;-) enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Dorothy Morrison's 'Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth'...and it is a celebration, indeed! Dorothy writes with a warmth and ease that makes the reader feel as if she/he is sitting right there with her at her cozy kitchen table. She is virtually brimming with ideas and energy! We are blessed to have her among us *wink*! 'Yule' is a bright and lively collection of history, lore, traditions and craft ideas...even yummy seasonal recipes. Her creative projects for gift~giving ideas are inspiring, quick and easy. Her poetic blessings and holiday infused spells are simply lovely. Treat yourself to this sparkling collection of Yuletide goodies...and buy another to have on hand for the perfect Winter Solstice or Yuletide gift. 'Yule' truly is a 'Celebration of Light and Warmth'! *BB*!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2008
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