View Full Version : Yuletide: The Germanic Origins of Christmas

Thursday, April 21st, 2005, 12:03 PM
Everyone knows Father Christmas, but has anyone paused to ponder where this tradition came from? I was struck by the inconsistency of the various names in England and Germany.
The Germans still have both Nikolaus & Weihnachtsman as distinct personalities. The one a Christian saint, the other, the bearer of gifts:

Father Christmas = Weihnachtsman
Santa = Nikolaus

It was clear to me that our tradition has, over time, muddled up two distinct entities. A little research came up with the following: Nicholas of Myra was the Christian saint who was brought in to slowly 'bury' the heathen winter solstice celebrations, but he did not totally succeed.

The ancient Germanic tribes called this sacred time Yuletide. It was an important time, reserved for the most important deity. None other than Wotan / Odin, who came down to Middle-earth:

The Saxons welcomed King Frost, or Father Time, or King Winter.
Odin... had twelve characters. The character for December was sometimes known as Yalka or Jul and his month was known as Jultid. From this, we get Yuletide. During December the Vikings believed that Odin would come to earth on his eight legged horse, Sleipnir. He was disguised in a long blue hooded cloak, and he carried a satchel of bread and a staff.
He would occasionally leave a gift of bread at a poor homestead.

The next time Yuletide season is upon you, ponder this: How much more of our tradition lies just below the thin veneer we call civilisation, waiting to be unlocked and understood? When you feel the frost on your face and snow beneath your boots, know that these are the elements that have helped shape our race.

Sometimes it pays to follow a gut-feeling and I was not surprised that Odin had a hand in it, although it shows him in a somewhat different light to that presented by early Christians.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005, 07:11 PM
The whole concept of the "Christmas Tree" is very heathen! Straight out tree-worship!(which is right & proper) IIRC, our ancestors took small trees inside to decorate because they had to follow the old customs in secret or risk persecution by demented savages (read "Christians") I've been conditioning my immediate family for a few years now, they know not to call it Christmas around me now, or they get an earbashing :) It is too hot in Australia in December to burn a log, so I settle for lighting a candle instead. And remember to put a spearhead on top of the Yule tree!

If I might add a little....
(from that most awesome of websites http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/)

First Day of Yule (Winter Solstice)

This is a very sacred time of celebration in the Anglo-Saxon Heathen calendar. This starts on the Winter Solstice, which signals the start of the twelve days of Yule. On this first day the home should be decorated with finery such as mistletoe, ivy and other such foliage, and also with the erecting of a Yule tree, all of which should remain for the whole twelve days of Yule. Also on this first day the Yule log should be lit. Traditionally the Yule log should be lit with a remnant of the previous years log, which has been kept in the home throughout the year. The Yule log is the winter counterpart of the bonfires lit during Litha at the Summer Solstice. The Yule log ideally should be made out of oak, a wood that is sacred to the thunder god Thunor. So when the Yule log is lit, appropriate blessings can be said in his name and honour. Alternatively a candle known as a Yule candle can be used if no log is available.

Heathen New Year (Night of the 24th Dec)

In ancient days this was the start of the New Year for the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. And today this can be respected with appropriate ceremonies such as a New Year feast with friends and family. Also the practice of gift giving should be observed, the giving of gifts is a well and trusted tradition amongst the Germanic peoples, and gifts should be given to strengthen bonds of love and friendship amongst friends and family.

Mother's Night (Night of the 25th Dec)

This is a time of celebration that Bede said was celebrated throughout the night with certain ceremonies that he failed to describe. But as the name is Mother's Night, we can use this time to honour all the goddesses of the pantheon, as in ancient Germania, worship of goddesses took place in honour of goddesses known as Matrons.

Last Day of Yule (1st/2nd January)

This is the celebration of the final day of the twelve days of Yule. As there is a tradition of festivities taking place on Twelfth Night, then is would be appropriate that this time is celebrated on the night of the last day of the twelve days of Yule. Before night fall all Yule trimmings and decoration that were put up on the first day of Yule can be taken down and put into storage for next years Yule. The Twelfth Night celebrations should include the gathering of friends and family for the eating of
Twelfth Cake. The most popular tradition on this night is the custom of
wassailing, which is a word that comes from the Old English was hael, meaning to your health. All those attending the Twelfth Night celebration should drink from a large bowl know as a wassail bowl, and after each person drinks they should honour all those present with a wassail to their health. The wassail bowl itself can be decorated; one custom is to decorate it with greenery. Another tradition is the lighting of fires on this occasion, so ideally the drinking from the wassail bowl should be performed with all those attending circling the fire drinking to each other's health and fortune.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005, 08:05 PM
The significance of the Yuletide Festival within the Religion of Asatru/Odinism
Godi Edred Wodanson (E. Max Hyatt)

Why do we celebrate a seemingly Christian holiday, "Christmas" or "Yule", in Asatru and Odinism?

Let us begin with clarifying something... Except for the Nativity Scene and Christmas Mass, everything celebrated, practised and observed by Christians at the "Yule" season, or so called "Christmas", was appropriated from Heathen/Pagan sources, ie, the ancient Northern European, pre-Christian religion, in its various forms. This is a fact that any historian, of even mediocre expertise, can discover by a brief study of the past. This knowledge, although quite common amongst scholars, is generally concealed from the Christian populace.

Yule or the Winter Solstice, is possibly the most important celebration of the year for those who follow the Ancestral religions of Asatru/Odinism. It begins on the Mother Night (Dec. 20th) and ends on the 12th Night (Dec. 31st). During the twelve sacred days, Asatruar around Vinland, Europe, or wherever they find themselves, celebrate this special time of the year. Feasting, giving of gifts, tree decorating, visiting with relatives and close friends, religious observances and more - are all part of this magical twelve day period, and have been observed by millions of our ancestors for tens of thousands of years - long before the appearance of the Judaic-based religion of Christianity.

Why is Yule so important?

It is an end... and a beginning. Like life itself. The old year ends... the new year begins, and it is the official beginning of Winter. A time to take stock of the past, and plan for the future. Some feel that the 12 days of Yule can be viewed as microcosms of the previous 12 months, giving the practitioner a chance to review and meditate upon the current year that's about to end. In this way, the Tru man or woman can also use this time to lay plans for the coming year. Hence, the first day of th 12 days of Yule, gives us a chance to review January or "Snowmoon", of the current year, and also lay plans for the upcoming month. This proceeds through the 12 days of Yule and through the 12 months as well, in miniature, until the last of the 12 days of Yule, which is also the last day of the month of Yule and the last day of the year in question. A magical time to end the old things and begin anew!

This is the time of the Winter Solstice... An astronomical event that has been preceded by a period of lengthening nights and short, dark days. A time of deep darkness and cold. In fact, on the actual day of the Winter Solstice, there are few minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year. A very dark time for our ancestors, before electricity, TV, central heating, etc. A time of extreme cold and dim light - exactly the opposite of the Mid Summer Festival. However, on the day after the 21st (Winter Solstice), the daylight begins to lengthen, only by seconds at first, but now the Sun, the giver of life, is returning and it is a time for celebration! It is a testimony to our ancestors intelligence and awareness that they were able to pinpoint this particular occurrence, and realise the significance of this time of the year. You can’t grow crops in the dark, shortened days of winter… you can’t plant seeds in the frozen ground. All of this was cause for tremendous celebration when Winter’s back was finally broken, and the warm, green days of Spring lay just ahead.

It was also a time for contact with those who had gone before. With the dead ancestors of the celebrant. Maybe its extreme length of darkness each night, maybe it’s the cold, death-like grip of Winter. Maybe it’s the fact that “death” reins supreme at this time of year, as all the plant of summer have either died or become dormant. Whatever the reason, those who follow the old religion know, from personal experience, that it is a time of magic, and contact with the spirits of our ancestors and even the gods and goddesses themselves. It is a good time to cast the runes for the coming year. It is an end, like the end of life. And it is at this same time a beginning, like birth. A magical time!

Why do we feast so much at this time of the year?

The idea of the Yule Feast to celebrate the return of light and warmth is obvious… but there is more. Before canned or frozen food… before the Super Market… before 5,000 acre farms… long before all of this modern technology, our ancestors had to be very careful, or they just might succumb to the cold and dark of Winter. Food had to be harvested, in one way or another. Then it had to be stored. The Folk had to plan carefully for the whole of the winter. Sure, they might get a deer or elk, during a Winter hunt, but they needed other provisions as food. Winter was a difficult time for our ancestors, and often they did not survive the dark and cold. So why the feast? Simple… if they had survived to the Winter Solstice, then they would likely make it till spring… it was the halfway point of the cold and dark, and the major milestone of the year! Now the remaining provisions were easier to ration out for the rest of winter. Whereas they might have been holding back on the consumption of their precious food stores before the Yuletide, now it was a time to celebrate with a Feast!

Why do most Asatruar eat pork or ham at the Yule Feast

Originally this was a time to sacrifice to the god Frey for a bountiful Spring and eventual harvest. Our ancient ancestors did this by ritually killing a wild boar. This was one of the main aspects of the Mid-Winter Festival in Northern Europe. Its cooked flesh was then eaten at a great Feast. This activity was often combined with the burning of a giant Sunwheel, which was then rolled down a hill, to entice Sunna to return. This pagan practice continued, in Europe, well into the 12th century CE. When the wild boar begins to vanish, they we replaced with domestic pigs, of which there was an ample supply. Eventually this was replaced by a token offering of a Boar’s Head, an apple or orange in its mouth. TO this day, this ancient Pagan tradition is still observed by many Christians at “Christmas”. Many colleges in Europe present the “boar’s head” at the Yule Feast, as a long standing tradition. Today most Asatuar will simply have a slice of ham at the Yule Feast, but in so doing they are keeping alive a tradition that goes back for many thousands of years… when to chew on a juicy piece of pork, was to ensure that Nature would become bountiful once again.

Why do we give gifts at this time of the year?

Besides the obvious feelings of joy and jubilation at the impending return of light and warmth… a great gift granted by Sunna herself, the Giver of Life to us all… it was a time to give to any Kin who might be short on provisions. Who might not have enough to survive the rest of winter. Many were not always successful at the hunt or the harvest, while others did well. It was common to share your provisions with your blood relatives and “tried friends”, at this time of the year… especially if they come up short on supplies. It was a matter of survival. Obviously, you would not give gifts to an enemy or to outright strangers. That kind of action might endanger the future of your tribe. It was a time to share, and thereby ensure the future of your clan. This was often the food given and used at the Feast. Another reason to Feast! Over time, the items given as gifts, increased and began to included things other than food. In ancient, Pagan Rome, gift giving became extremely elaborate and superstitious at the Winter Solstice. So much so, that failure to give certain gifts of quality and substance, could mean bad luck in the coming year! After the arrival of the “Christ”, the early Christians tried desperately to suppress the giving of gifts at the Yuletide, because of its clearly Pagan origins. However its appeal was too great, and they failed repeatedly to stamp out this Heathen tradition. Finally, as they always do, they gave up and absorbed it into their religion… made it their own. Twisted it around until it no longer appeared to be Pagan. So next time you see all those people, lined up at the check-out counter of the local department store,… their arms filled with gifts, chocolates, wrapping paper and more… a week before Yule… remember… they are participating in an ancient Pagan ritual!

This was also a time to share something with the “land-spirits”. Beings who could often effect the success or failure of the tribe… especially where crops and domesticated animals were concerned. Unlike the gods and goddesses of Asgard, these “lesser” deities, or spirits, were strictly known on a “regional” or tribal basis. Each tribe or clan were aware of the land spirits of their particular area and knew of their abilities or attributes. The giving of gifts, in the form of food, to the land spirits, at this time of the year, was to assure a bountiful harvest next fall… to ensure the continued good luck of the civilisations, and still practiced today in many areas of the world. In modern-day Asatru it is common for Asatruar to offer cookies, mead and other treats to the spirits who occupy the land where they live. This is another example of gift giving at the Yuletide.

Why do we decorate a Yule Tree in our house?

The decorating of the Yule Tree, is also related to the land or “tree” spirits. The purpose was to assure that the spirits that attached themselves to the trees, would not leave because of the cold and dark of winter. The sacred Oak was probably the original tree for Yule decorating. But, with the appearance of Christianity, this activity was greatly discouraged by the so-called Christian monks. They soon realized that they would not be able to stem this ancient tradition, so they changed it, and convinced our ancestors to decorate an evergreen tree instead of the Oak. This tactic worked but its success was limited. As we known from the ancient Sagas and Eddas of our Folk, the evergreen tree is Sunna’s promise that she will return, that summer will come again. All the other trees have lost their leaves and appear to be dead… but not the evergreen! At this point in our history, many of our ancestors switched from the Oak to the evergreen, as the main tree of the Yule season. By decorating that “always green” tree, our ancestors assured that the spirits associated with it would not succumb to winter’s spell and abandon the trees, which could mean bad luck for the clan. By decorating the trees with bits of food, coloured cloth, carved runes, small statues of the gods, etc… our ancestors soothed the feelings of the tree spirits, made the trees more attractive, and assured the spirits continued presence. Thus, the Christian Monks’ attempt to remove a Pagan tradition, backfired, and it continues to this day.

With the dominance of Christianity in Northern Europe, our Pagan Ancestors were eventually forced “underground” or indoors… and they brought their tree with them. Of course, as we all know, this tradition was eventually adopted bt the Church, after they realised that they could not rid the population of this “disgusting Pagan habit”. Only then did they adopt it as their own, and thereby set the stage for duping our ancestors into becoming part of their salve-based religion.

What about Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Old Man Winter?

In ancient times our ancestors found it difficult to deal with the harsh Winter season... obviously with out the modern comforts we all enjoy. A mild Winter was always something they longed for, and often tried to appears the forces of Nature with various religious activities. The Pagan Vikings would dress someone up to represent Old Man Winter, and then make him as welcome as possible. The British eventually adopted this custom, and after the advent of Christianity, called him Old Father Christmas. He was welcomed into each household to enjoy all the Feasting and festivities. He was plied with Mead and food to try and keep him in a good mood. It was hoped that these activities would make for a mild Winter and a good Spring. Much later, this ancient Pagan figure, was confused with Santa Claus, and today most think of them as one in the same. Actually "Santa Claus", as he is most commonly known, started out as a Christian Monk who died in 345 CE. and who eventually gained sainthood. Needless to say, he eventually became more popular than "the Christ" and was burned in effigy by the French clergy, in the middle part of the 20th century! Finally, in 1969 CE, Pope Paul VI demoted him in non-saint status! Today, the fat, jolly, red suited Old Man is actually an invention of the Coca-Cola Company. Strange, but true! In 1931, Coca-Cola hired an artist to redesign Santa Claus for their Winter advertising campaign.. Red and white are the official colours of Coca-Cola, hence the Old Man's new outfit. Since that time, the look of Santa Claus has been carved in stone.
Years ago Father Christmas or Old Man Winter, would appear in green, purple, blue, blue-black or even brown, often trimmed with brown, black or white furs. Sometimes even covered head to toe in fur skins. But no more! True to Corporate America's goal's, now all see him as the fat jolly man in the red suit, with lots of goodies for everyone.

Before Clement Moore write his famous poem in 1822, Father Christmas travelled by foot or by giant White horse (Sleiper? - Odin's eight legged horse). But Moore, a very learned man and professor of Literature, changed all of that forever when he introduced the idea of reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh. This was not done on a casual whim, but came from an ancient Finnish legend about "Old Man Winter". The Ancient Finns belied that Old Man Winter drove the reindeer down the mountains, into the lowlands each year with the coming of the cold (food source?). Moore grafted part of this Finnish legend onto the existing Farther Christmas. Why eight reindeer? Some scholars have speculated that the professor was having some fun with the general populace by perking up his tale with a scholarly reference to Odin, who rides an eight legged horse. As well known author, Desmond Morris has stated:

"Odin's horse carried the god around when, clad in a large cloak and hat, he set out to meet his people, dispensing rewards and punishments as they were due. There are clearly elements there suggesting that Odin was a precursor of the Farther Christmas-Santa Claus figure, and it may have amused Moore to incorporate at least one Odin feature in his new creation". So again we find that much of what we consider to be strictly a Christian phenomenon... is again, based in Pagan reality.

Why do Christians celebrate the birth of Christ during the Yuletide?

In the fourth century CE, Pope Julius I officially set the date of Christ’s birthday to December 25th, after a brief investigation. The truth is, no one had the faintest idea as to the actual date of his birth… they weren’t even certain about the year! All of which led to endless arguments amongst the so-called faithful. Today scholars know one thing for certain – the so-called Christ was not born in the year 0, on December 25th! That they all agree on. Many have speculated as to the exact date of birth of this religious figure. Some say they have proof that he was born in May, others have suggested April. Still others have championed January... March… and September. In reality no one knows – and they never will! But certain historical evidence has shown that he definitely was not born during the Yule Festival.

So why December 25TH? Again… it was that old “if you can’t beat them, then convert them by deceiving them.” By placing the birth in the middle of the ancient Mid-Winter Pagan festival, the church hoped to convert, and thereby absorb the Pagans into their belief system. It was a limited success. For although the Yuletide became “Christmas”, all the Pagan traditions stayed on, and the Nativity ended up taking back seat to the rest. The ancient Pagan practices never died out, but lingered on right up to the present time – lucky for us! And the traditions of Feasting, drinking, dancing, gift-giving, the lighting of fires, the holding of parties and general merriment and revelry… stayed on in their mostly original Pagan forms, with very little change. Over the years the church tried to stamp out the celebrations of Christmas or Yule, and even made it illegal to observe it, at various times in history. It was official abolished in England on the 3rd of June, 1647 CE! The puritans couldn’t stand all the Pagan revelry, obviously having nothing to do with the birth of the so-called “Christ”, and so they tried to stamp it out! When that failed, they tried to make the whole Christmas idea non-appealing and eventually illegal! However, this attempt to remove the Mid-Winter Festival from the hearts of the people failed. And there were even riots against this law. It got absurd to the point where the mayors of the cities, we forced by law, to go out and burn all Yule decorations that they found! But the law could not remove it and it went underground, and was practiced behind closed doors. In 1660 the puritans were ousted and the Festival was returned to its former glory. The same thing happened in what would soon be the United States of America, and the observance of “Christmas” was banned, by law, between 1659 and 1681 CE. Again, this attempt to suppress the celebrations of the return of the light and warmth of the Sun
- failed!

The Christian attempt to change, by deception, the “rebirth of the Sun God” into the “birth of the Son of God”, was never complete. And it only goes to prove that something that is integrated so deeply in the hearts and spirits of the people, that is derived from their natural history, their Ancestral history (unlike Christianity), shall always prevail!

Today the Yule Festival is observed by Asatruar/Odinists with much Feasting and revelry. Blotar is traditionally performed to one of several gods. Some believe Thorr is the god of the Yuletide… some think Balder, and the god of light… Some feel that Odin is the original Old Man of Winter, and therefore the god of Yule. We know for certain that Frey was honoured at this time of the year by our Heathen/Pagan ancestors. But whoever you choose as the god of the Mid-Winter Festival – observances and more… fill the twelve days of Yule with as many special activities as you can. Rediscover the joy and anticipation of this wonderful time of the year. Watch the Christians around you, as they go about, unknowingly performing ancient Pagan rites… and celebrate! Realise that the excitement that everyone feels at this time of the year has nothing, whatsoever to do with the birth of the Son of God… but rather, has everything to do with the rebirth of the SUN GOD!

“Christmas” traditions with Heathen/Pagan origins…

- Feasting
- Gift giving
- Singing
- Tree decorating
- Performing Religious Rites
- Visiting Relatives and Friends
- “Christmas” Parties
- Eating “Christmas” ham
- Eating “Christmas” Pudding
- Drinking “Christmas” Punch
- Father “Christmas”
- Reindeer
- Burning a Yule Log
- Hanging a “Christmas” Wreath
- Hanging Mistletoe
- Decorating with Holly
- Lighting of Candles
- The twelve days of “Christmas”
- The word “Yule” or “Yuletide”
- and more…

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Monday, December 10th, 2007, 06:49 PM
The Nordic Origins of the Christmas Tree


The Christmas tree comes right out of the Nordic tradition. It was borrowed from Nordic mythology as were other aspects of European culture. For example, the days of the week show both Roman and Nordic pagan roots.

The Christmas tree is a Nordic visual metaphor of their creation myth. It represents their cosmology. Many have assumed it to be of Western Germanic origin, the Rhineland (Hertha, 1944; Foley, 1960). Needless to say, the British have a different account of this. They argue that Saint Boniface, a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, England not only established the Christian churches in France and Germany, but in the 7th century came across a group of pagans who were about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and to save the child's life, he felled the tree with one might blow of his fist. In its place grew a tiny fir, a Tree of Life. This, according to medieval legend was the story of the first Christmas tree. The Germans admitted the feats of St. Boniface, but claimed that it was Martin Luther (1483-1546) who decorated the first Christmas tree. Followers of the Druids claim that they were the first to decorate the oak trees with golden apples for their winter solstice festivities. Regardless of which group claims credit for this visual metaphor, it appears that only the Vikings embedded themselves in a creation myth that closely resembles that of the Christmas tree. However, they called their tree, the Ash World Tree.

The star on the top of the Christmas tree represents the world of Asgardr where the gods and goddesses lived. It is at the top of the axis mundi of the world. When one is in the northern hemisphere and looks straight upward, one sees the North Pole star. The star that was there at the time of this creation myth was Polaris. Every 26,000 years a new Pole Star appears. Hence, Polaris is no longer the Pole Star. However, its symbol still lives as the Christmas star.

At the bottom of the Christmas three are the three roots that feed it with nourishment and water. These roots symbolically delve into the Well of the Wyrd, the Well of Mimir, and the Well of Helvelgamar. In modern times, the Christmas tree stand represents these roots.

On the Christmas tree one finds Christmas bulbs which represent the nine worlds of the World Ash Tree. These bulbs are placed vertically with the ones on top representing the Realm of the Gods and the one at the bottom symbolizing the Realm of Hell. In the center is the Midgard, Earth. It is surrounded by worlds in four directions, the Nordic Quaternity.

The ribbons that surround the Christmas tree symbolize the rainbow roads of fire and ice that connect these nine worlds. The icicles that are placed on a tree also symbolize the fact that earth is located between fire and ice, resulting in icicles.

These traditions of the World tree differed from the Tree of Life that one finds in Jewish and Hebraic traditions. They posit a different story, the involution and the evolution of the soul through the 33 levels of ascension and descension. They do not have the 9 levels of reincarnation associated with the World Tree. They do not have a balanced Midgard surrounded by a Quaternity. They do not have their roots delving into the earth in the metaphorical tradition of the Nordic cosmology. What they do have is the arrival of the soul, its passage through life, and its return to the spirit world. What they have is a different kind of visual metaphor, The Tree of Life.