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  A Year of Orcadian Tradition

"I have hundreds of candles," says December.
"Was ever such intricate jewellery as the first snowflake?
There's an inn, a crib, an ox and an ass."



December is the month of the winter solstice, an event recognised by the ancient Orcadians and commemorated within the Neolithic chamber of Maeshowe.

There, the setting sun is aligned with the entrance of the tomb and, as it disappears beneath the horizon, the last dying rays strike the rear of the ancient chamber.

  December was also the month of the festival of Yule, a time at which the hordes of trows were at their most menacing.

Compared with Shetland, very few Orcadian Yule traditions are remembered, or were recorded, but it is generally agreed that the festival lasted most of December, possibly beginning on December 12. Like all the major seasonal festivals, Yule was at one time marked by the lighting of ceremonial bonfires.

A common Yule observance was that "A green Yule means a full kirkyard". Although this saying is now rarely heard, there is still a firm belief in the principle behind it. Spates of illness throughout the year are often blamed on the fact that there was no snow the previous winter.
  On Christmas morning, the men of Kirkwall participate in the Ba' - a mass football game between the two sides of the town - the "uppies", from the south end and the "doonies", from the north.
  Along the same lines as the Ba', in Stromness, Christmas Eve was marked by a symbolic tug-of-war style game in which a tree - a rarity in Orkney - was stolen from a garden and bound and chained in the middle of the town's long street.

The men from the north of the town then fought the south-enders for the tree, each side attempting to drag it to a goal well within their own territory.

This custom lasted until 1936.
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