Today is Yule, also known as the winter solstice, the original winter celebration that early Christians tried to stamp out by introducing a Christian celebration during the 4th century instead. You know the one I mean, it’s called Christmas.
A lot of people still mark Yule though, in one way or another, because tonight will be the longest night of year meaning that the days are gradually going to start getting lighter as we once again head towards spring. If that’s not something to celebrate in the midst of a grey and dismal winter - and that’s what we usually get here in the UK, after all - then I really don’t know what is.
I don’t make a big fuss about Yule because our family celebrate Christmas too, although not from a religious point of view. We celebrate it as the turning of the year, the mid point in winter from where things can only get better. Basically, a delayed Yule celebration but I do mark the actual day in my own quiet little way by lighting lots of candles and making a meal that I particularly enjoy. The lighting of candles was originally to persuade the sun, through the Sun God, Mithras, who was born on the shortest day of the year, to reappear as quickly as possible, grow strong and drive away the darkness. As for the food, I don’t have a tradition, I just go with what I fancy. This year it’ll be marinated pork loin with cherry sauce, potatoes and fresh vegetables. The cherry sauce has been frozen for a couple of months but that’s ok, it’ll thaw out and warm up nicely and will be a reminder of the glorious fruit that will once again adorn the tree in the garden following the setting of the blossom, a true mark of spring. As for the pork, I just love pork loin, especially if it’s been marinated properly, and a few winter veg never go amiss.
In Scandinavia they still use the name Jul (pronounced Yule) to describe Christmas, rather than anything religious. Try as they might, those early Christians just never managed to ‘persuade’ them to entirely drop their Pagan traditions. They still have ‘nisser’ - naughty elf like creatures who you have to be kind to during the celebrations otherwise they’ll bugger up your crops next year - and they still use apples, oranges with cloves in, straw goats and other typically Pagan festival decorations.
Mind you, having said that, a lot of what we have originates from the Yule celebrations, it‘s just that most people aren‘t aware of them. Holly, Ivy, Yule Logs, Mistletoe, and even some ‘Christmas’ cards have a Yuletide greeting on them, being sent by people who have no idea that Yule is not the same as Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas also originates from the burning of the Yule log for twelve days.
As somebody who feels the cold something dreadful, I’m sooooooo looking forward to the sun gathering strength and warming us up again, so for me the winter solstice is definitely something to celebrate.