Published on December 21st, 2016 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw
Winter Solstice Traditions
Today, is the shortest day of the year. We will see just 7 hours and 49 minutes of sunlight. Many traditions we enjoy today have their origins in Winter Solstice festivities.
A Celebration of Light
The Winter Solstice is seen as the “turning of the sun”, a celebration of light and new beginnings. After this day the days become longer and the nights shorter.
At Stonehenge, the Winter Solstice has been celebrated since Pagan times. Revellers gather, just as they do in June for the Summer Solstice, to watch the sunrise and sunset on this special day.
A Time for Feasting
Back in Pagan times, the Winter Solstice included the last feast before the harsh winter began. During this midwinter festival, cattle would be slaughtered, so they did not need to be fed during the cold winter months. Therefore, meat was plentiful before the “famine” months between January and April.
Wine and beer made earlier in the year was also ready to drink at this time, just like it is today!
Winter Solstice Traditions We Still Enjoy
The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival celebrated in Scandinavia. Fires would be lit to symbolise the heat, light and life giving properties of the sun. A Juul or Yule log would be brought into the house and burned on the hearth in honour of the god Thor.
In other European countries including Britain, the Yule log would be burned until just the ash remained. The ashes would be strewn on fields as fertiliser until Twelfth Night, or kept as medicine or a lucky charm.
The hearths where the Yule log was burned also had a second use. They were perfect for baking cakes. Back in the 1600s early Yule log cakes were made using marzipan and meringue as ingredients.
However, we have the talented bakers in Paris to thank for the delicious chocolate Yule logs we enjoy today. The Buche de Noel is a flourless chocolate cake rolled with whipped cream, sprinkled with icing sugar.
According to a Good Food Magazine survey a couple of years ago, in the UK we now prefer the chocolate yule log to Christmas Pudding!
Christmas Tree, Holly and Mistletoe
The Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts saw evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during their Winter Solstice rituals.
They did not cut down trees as they viewed this as destroying nature. Yet, when Saint Boniface discovered a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree in 8th Century Germany, he cut the tree down.
Whether he planted a fir tree in its place or a fir tree grew there by its own accord, is not clear. However, legend states that converted pagans returned to the tree the following year to decorate the fir tree.
Last Day for Next Day Delivery
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