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  Yule - The Midwinter Festival

Yule Eve preparations - a festival of light

Candlelight: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieThe night before Yule, just like our modern Christmas celebrations, was a time of great preparation.

After the bread for for the Yule feasts had been baked, a round oatcake was prepared for each of the children in the family.

Yule cakes

These cakes, decorated around the outside with pinchmarks, and with a hole cut into the centre, were known specifically as "Yule Cakes". These sun-shaped cakes undoubtedly symbolised the sun and celebrated its rebirth.

Cakes such as these were common throughout Northern Europe, where variants were also prepared at midsummer. The solar connection is obvious and the shape and decor of the cakes may also have something in common with the protective dian-stanes used by early ploughmen.

Welcoming the spirits

It was vitally important that Yule was greeted with the household clean and tidy. This urge for tidiness may have been connected to the fact that the trows were rife at Yule.

These creatures despised untidiness in a house - undoubtedly harking back to their original role as spirits of the dead. Just as the house had to be prepared for the arrival of mortal visitors, everything had to be in its place to satisfy, and tempt back, the spirits of the family's ancestors.

Yule Eve's connection with the trows is further evident when we read that each member of the household was required to wash themselves thoroughly on Yule Eve.

When their hands and feet were initially placed into the cleansing water;

"three living coals were dropped into the water, less the trows take the power o' the feet or hands".

Once each member of the household had washed, a clean, or if possible new, garment was laid out to be put on.

After the house-cleaning had been completed and all the dirty water safely thrown away, the locks were opened and an iron blade placed beside the door. Four more obvious preparations to appease, and protect against, any visiting spirit.

Then, before retiring for the night, the family would light a lamp or candle which was then left burning in the window throughout the long winter night.

Yule Day

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See Also

The obsession with tidiness at Yule is a remnant of the earliest Yule traditions in which the walking spirits were not warded off but instead welcomed in the house as guests.

Was the candle at the window a beacon to guide the spirits home?

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