It may not feel like it during this dark time of year, but very soon, it will be time for the sun to return once again. Toward the end of December, as we get ready to welcome the winter solstice, we will also find ourselves approaching the ancient festival known as Yule. Yule is one of the oldest winter celebrations on the planet and brings with it some notable traditions that are thought to have influenced many of our modern-day holiday rituals. Yule is a positive, hopeful and magical celebration, and I don’t know about you, but after the roller coaster ride we’ve been on over the last two years, I think we could all use an extra dose of that good, good magic right about now.
This year, winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), falls on Tuesday, December 21. After the 21st, the days will become increasingly longer. It always seems to feel like a slow progression, but make no mistake, the days will lengthen after that Tuesday and our eyes will continue to greet those sun rays for longer stretches of time. While this is cause enough to celebrate for us modern folk, let’s take a quick look at some of the additional ways this time of year was celebrated by those who walked the earth many, many moons before us. After all, connecting with the origins of our customs is arguably a great way for us to bridge gaps between generations (so very many generations!), better helping us understand ourselves, and why we do the things we do in life.
The festival known as Yule can be dated back to pre-Christian Scandinavia. There, it was observed for twelve days, and began on the winter solstice (this seems somewhat similar to the “twelve days of Christmas” tradition we have today). Yule was a time to celebrate the return of the sun and with it, fertile land. This was particularly important to the ancient people who lived there as in many cases, famine was not unusual over the cold winter months when food could be scarce. Those who hunted or kept animals consequently slaughtered them during this time of year as they often could not be fed. This was an easy way to make meat readily available to fill hungry bellies.
While many did unfortunately experience famine during the harsh winter season, those who had shelter and food to eat often gathered with friends and family to revel in all the magic that Yule had to offer. Hearty feasting, drinking, dancing and caroling (are you beginning to see the connection to our modern-day holiday traditions?) were a way to rejoice in the return of the light, particularly as those wicked and cold winds blew outside. People also burned special Yule logs during this period as a way to summon the sun back to shine over frozen lands (and yes, this is likely why we enjoy those chocolatey log-shaped cakes over the holidays!). Ashes from the logs would further be used to fertilize the ground where plants and crops would surely grow once more. It’s plain to see that despite the harsh conditions of the season, these ancient people stood firm in their belief that brighter days would return again.
It’s unclear where the custom of gift giving over the holiday season originated. However, one could connect this tradition to the offerings made by the people of pre-Christian Scandinavia to the gods in hopes that a good harvest would follow the return of the sun. In any case, it’s a custom that has been in practice for some time, and is certainly enjoyed by many. As we go about selecting gifts to give during this season, it always seems to feel extra meaningful when we really customize what we choose for those we care so much about. Even so, it may feel a little daunting to start the process of shopping for gifts, even when we feel we know our loved ones so well. Thankfully, we can draw inspiration from the ancient Scandinavians, who did this sort of thing long before we ever did. Let’s start there!
The ancient people of Scandinavia presumably lived life in relatively similar cycles to us - particularly those of us here at home in the Great White North. Much like they might have, we Canadians also spend more time outdoors “foraging” during the warmer months (but for real - anyone else miss strawberry picking?) and tend to nest, or, “hibernate” over those long, cold months of frost and snow. Despite these commonalities, mind you, those we hold dear may be more naturally prone to foraging or hibernating - all year round.
For the “foragers” (those who are often on the go and spend a lot of time outdoors) might we suggest some warm items that are as one-of-a-kind as they are. One of our hand knit, 100% merino wool hats by Form & Found, a pair of locally made, beautiful hand sewn mittens (created using recycled 100% wool sweaters!) and a bottle of Aromasynergy Gold Moon dry skin serum with luscious essential oils to soothe winter skin would make perfect presents. You might also like to place an eye-catching blue turquoise beaded bracelet into their stocking. This crystal holds just the right kind of energy to help support their adventurous spirit!
For those who prefer curling up with a good book and a hot cup of tea over running around town (the “hibernators”), some items to warm up their home might be favourable. Our new Flower Army candles in rose, honeysuckle, hyacinth, jasmine, or magnolia scents will bring nature indoors on cold days and nights. These candles are 100% hand-poured, soy wax and are each topped with dried flowers corresponding with their scents. Our hibernators would surely also appreciate a Magic Linen bamboo robe to lounge in, perhaps while they sip on any one of our Fleurs teas. A great book to accompany this kind of activity is Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews. It’s a wonderful way to help build a spiritual connection with our friends in the animal world! And for the hibernator’s stocking? A bottle of the calming Aromasynergy Dream On sleep spray, of course! This is a natural choice (literally!) and will come in handy if a calming spritz is needed at bedtime.
There is one more interesting thing about the ancient people who celebrated Yule that I’d like to mention. They believed the sun, much like a wheel, would roll its way back toward Earth after the winter solstice. In this way, a wreath hand crafted using materials like evergreen vine, pine cones and dried slices of citrus fruits is not only a beautiful nod to this, but would also make a great gift for anyone, including ourselves! We still have several of these special wreaths from Hana Earth Gardens in store to help add the healing beauty of nature to anyone’s indoor or outdoor environments. This would be especially helpful as we navigate the last of these dark days and nights before the sun’s welcome return.
Whatever one’s personality, after the last two years of pandemic living, one thing is for certain: we could all use a little extra self-care and natural beauty around us, particularly during this magical, yet busy, Yuletide season. When we take the time to take care of ourselves and each other - and thoughtful gift giving is a wonderful way to do that - the gift giving inevitably ends up going both ways. We take joy in lifting others up while, at the same time, we remind ourselves that we can always count on the simple pleasure of this kind of joy to guide us home from the chaos and noise of the outside world.
Happy Holidays from Blossom & Tempest!
Written by Karina Doob, word conjurer exrtraordinaire.