Yule Eve preparations - a festival of light
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.
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.
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
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.