How to Celebrate Yule

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"Yule," an Old English word referring to the Christmas season, is a holiday commemorating the winter solstice, the first day of winter; yule night is the longest night of the year. Many of the customs associated with Yule, such as the giving of gifts, the decoration of trees and drinking wassail, predate Christianity by many centuries. Today, people celebrate Yule by gathering with friends and family, making seasonal dishes, and welcoming the onset of winter.

Yule Logs and Yule Trees

  • Pre-medieval European families had a tradition of burning logs made from the trunks of beech, oak, or elm trees at the beginning of winter. As this custom developed, certain meticulously observed rituals attended it: The log must be found on your own property, because purchasing a log for the occasion was considered unlucky. The family had to keep it burning for 12 hours. You can make a Yule log by tying a ribbon and gluing sprigs of holly or ivy to a large oak log.

Yule Decorations

  • In addition to decorating their doors with door hangers made of pine cones, ribbons and cinnamon sticks, the Victorians began the custom of hanging up mistletoe and kissing underneath it. While mistletoe was an ancient symbol of fertility among the Celts, its associations with Christmas date to the 19th century. Make your own door hanger and use a ribbon tied into a knot to hang it. Ribbons can also be used to hang pine garlands above the mantels of fireplaces, as they were in ancient Rome. Create a mistletoe ball decorated with sprigs of mistletoe and holly and discreetly hang it in a strategic location.

Yule Crafts

  • The association of stars with the holiday season originates in the New Testament story of the birth of Jesus, when a group of astrologers was said to have discovered the Christ child by following a star. Using wax paper and cardboard, create stars that can double as ornaments or party favors. Use cookie-cutter stars to create a design template on the wax paper, and then trace over the designs on the paper with glue and generously cover the glue with glitter. The custom of decorating wreaths with sprigs of holly and ivy dates back to the Romans, who displayed wreaths as a symbol of victory, and the Celts, who thought holly and ivy was sacred. Create a Yule “wreath basket” by using fresh pine branches and coiling them together using floral wire. Then, fill the new basket with cinnamon, nutmeg, cones and holly leaves.

Drinks and Sweets

  • With the advent of modern stoves, the custom of burning a Yule log during winter gradually gave way to the practice of placing a decorative log atop the kitchen table, surrounded by sweets. This in turn led to the custom of eating buche de noel, a holiday cake made in the shape of a yule log. Although the cake itself is typically made of sponge cake, the inner filling may be chocolate or butter cream or gingerbread or some other sweet substance. “Mushrooms” and “holly leaves” made of meringue are spread over a cream cheese frosting. Serve hot buttered rum by mixing apple juice, butter and rum together and adding cinnamon sticks, or cook up a batch of wassail by letting apple and cranberry juice simmer in a slow cooker for up to an hour.

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