Tis the season for caroling, hot chocolate, and yuletide cheer

Posted Nov 30, 2020 by Karen Graham
Christmas is more than just a holiday celebrating the birth of a savior. Christmas is a wonderful blend of Christian traditions and ancient customs practiced by 4th Century Germanic people and others. Together, these customs give us the Yule season.
So many Christmas traditiuons  including the decorated tree  presents and much more come from ancien...
So many Christmas traditiuons, including the decorated tree, presents and much more come from ancient pagan celebrations associated with the winter solstice.
Noah Wulf (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Yule is the traditional pagan celebration of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. We celebrate because after Yule the nights will officially grow shorter and the daylight hours longer, a signal of the coming rebirth of nature.
Christmas remains to this day a pagan celebration. Similarities can be found in the Roman festival of Saturnalia as a precursor to it. The festival was originally held on December 17, in the Julian calendar, and later expanded with festivities through to December 23.
After a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn and a public banquet at the forum, the festivities continued with private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere, that the poet Catullus called "the best of days"
Another precursor to Christmas as we know it today comes to us from the Germanic peoples' celebration of a mid-winter festival, based on 4th-century Gothic language writings. Their yule period usually lasted from about mid-November into early January. Yule is also connected to the mythical Wild Hunt, the Norse god Odin, and the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht, according to ZME Science.
Ruins of the Temple of Saturn (eight columns on right) in Rome  traditionally said to have been cons...
Ruins of the Temple of Saturn (eight columns on right) in Rome, traditionally said to have been constructed in 497 BC.
Carla Tavares (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Similarly, old Norse writings also contain numerous references to an event by the Old Norse form of the name, jól. In chapter 55 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, different names for the gods are given; one is "Yule-beings." A work by the skald, Eyvindr skáldaspillir that uses the term is then quoted: "again we have produced Yule-being's feast [mead of poetry], our rulers' eulogy, like a bridge of masonry."
As Christianity took hold and began to spread, converts were needed for the new religion. The Saga of Haakon the Good credits King Haakon I of Norway who ruled from 934 to 961, with bringing Christianity to Norway and he did it in a unique way. Seeing as Norway was completely emersed in paganism, Haakon hid his Christianity.
In time, Haakon had a law passed establishing that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as the Christians celebrated Christmas, "and at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted."
Two groups of rival worshippers gathered just 100 metres apart in the former royal capital Cetinje f...
Two groups of rival worshippers gathered just 100 metres apart in the former royal capital Cetinje for the ritual lighting of a yule log
Yuletide celebrations are seen in some forms of neopaganism today, and Yule is celebrated in many German-speaking and other Northern European areas of the world, including Jul in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, jól in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, joulu in Finland, Joelfest in Friesland, Joelfeest in the Netherlands and jõulud in Estonia.
Ancient traditions we use today
You could say that Christmas is the most successful holiday in the world, celebrated by both Christians and non-Christians. The holiday has taken the best traditions from many ancient beliefs and created a celebration for all of us.
One example is the Yule log, In ancient times, a tree trunk was burned - sometimes for days on end. Some historians say it was an emblem of the Sun, or alternatively, helped lend strength to the Sun so that it may re-emerge after the short and cold winter days. In more recent times, the Yule log was burned to keep evil at bay and ensure a prosperous year for the household.
Chabad at Texas A&M University Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony on Campus in 2018.
Chabad at Texas A&M University Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony on Campus in 2018.
AriH972 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The size of today's modern fireplaces limits the size of modern Yule logs, and quite often, candles may be burned on them instead of setting them on fire. The tradition of the Yule log has even been enhanced by modern technology. Millions of people all over the world enjoy the peaceful calm imparted by the cracking Yule log via their television screens.
Then there are the traditional lore and legends associated with the time of year. For Christians, there is the story of Santa or St. Nicholas, while Jewish families teach their children about the oil that lasted for eight days on Hanukah. Pagan families tell the story of the Oak King and the Holly King who battle over the right to rule the land.