The first weeks of December are a dark time, and not just because of final exams.
For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the days grow shorter and the nights longer after September’s annual equinox. Earth’s seasonal tilt away from the sun bottoms out on the shortest day of the year, the solstice, with just nine-and-a-half hours of daylight. Winter solstice falls on Dec. 21 in 2016 and officially sets off the greatest festival of the year.
Yuletide, the 12-day, Old World celebration of winter solstice has been a tradition in Northern European countries since time immemorial, long before the Dec. 25 holiday dubbed Christmas. Many modern holiday traditions—Santa Claus, decorated evergreens, kissing under the mistletoe—were acculturated from the older revelry founded on our planet’s annual arc toward the sun.
Yule reveres surviving the season of burgeoning darkness and celebrates the rebirth of the sun. Although December officially marks just the beginning of the winter months, the Earth will soon hit its elliptical apex and the amount of daylight will begin to grow. Outliving the gloom is indeed reason to make merry, and Yule is just one marathon feast.
How does one celebrate Yule? It’s the excess of everything all the time for 12 days straight. Crave another slice of pie? Go for it! Another glass of wine? Bottoms up! Wake and bake? Thankyouverymuch. Sing at the top of your lungs with your band of companions as you travel the sidewalks; decorate your home with garlands of fresh pine and holly.
Yule is a time to wassail, a chance to reflect on the year behind and look forward to the one ahead. It’s a time out of time, in which the rules and responsibilities we adhere to all work-year long are suspended for two weeks straight.
As for borrowed traditions:
The story of Santa and his eight flying reindeer spins from Odin, the Norse god of poetry and knowledge. Odin flew through the night sky on his eight-legged horse carrying a spear that couldn’t miss and harvesting restless souls for their final descent to the netherworld. All little children wanted to be good for goodness’ sake on the eve of the Wild Hunt. This Santa was not one whose lap you wanted to sit on, but if you weren’t scooped up in Odin’s ride, you probably woke the next morning to a nice gift on your mantle.
Evergreens, wreaths and mistletoe maintain their green fertility throughout winter, as opposed to those wimpy deciduous trees that lose their dying leaves. Enjoy your own resilience of fertility in winter by making love with your sweetheart all the Yule long. Celebrate life, make babies galore and poke your thumb in the eye of Old Man Winter.
The Yule log was historically the largest stump a family could drag home from the forest and light on fire. The goal was to keep the Yule log burning the entire 12-day observance, and each spark popping off the fire represented a vision of the year to come. But you live in an apartment and have no fireplace. No worries! Just light a candle and keep one burning the entire festival. Still Yule.
And so, dear reader, a holiday wish for you: Eat too much, drink too much, sleep late, and indulge in every pleasure the temporal world has to offer. Yuletide is extended celebration, revelry in overcoming the harsh elements of the dark days. Party hard, get it all out of your system, and get back to work in the new year. The sun will return and spring with it. Happy holidays.