The timing of the Winter Warm-Up Blog Hop couldn't be more perfect -- the WINTER SOLSTICE falls on Sunday, December 21 this year.

Hosted by Hops with Heart
The Solstice, known for centuries as Yule, marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It also marks the point at which the days begin to lengthen and light will increase. Our ancestors rejoiced in the return of the sun, seeing it as a rebirth of life as well as light. We get pretty excited about it too! 

The word Yule is likely from an old Nordic word for wheel. With the coming of Yule, the “wheel of the year” has rolled around to its beginning once more.  

We still refer to the Christmas season as Yuletide, and many of the old traditions associated with the solstice have lived on. There are too many to list, but I've touched on a few favorites. See if you recognize them!

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The Yule Log

Decorative yule logs gradually replaced the fireplace logs.
Medieval tradition tells of an enormous log – commonly ash or oak – placed in the fireplace on the solstice. It was decorated with evergreens and kindled with the carefully saved remains of last year’s Yule log. The wood would burn all night, then be allowed to smolder for the following 12 days. Pouring ale or wine on the log was customary. So was sprinkling flour or breadcrumbs on it, or even placing coins on the log. All were said to bring good fortune, and the blackened coins were later given as gifts.

A Yule Cake

Later, as large fireplaces fell out of fashion, small logs were decorated in a similar way and holes were bored into the wood to hold candles, which would be burned for 12 nights. The French were the first to create an edible Yule log, and Victorian confectioners made these Yule cakes famous. You can still find them in bakery departments today.

The Yule Tree

Celtic customs are said to have called for the decorating of sacred oak trees. The Celts and many other peoples also held evergreens to be symbolic of immortality, of continuing life in the midst of death. In the coldest, darkest and dreariest of winters, evergreens held forth hope of returning spring. Throughout many cultures and over countless centuries, homes have been decorated with evergreen boughs and other winter greenery.

The practice of decorating trees dates back to before Roman times. The trees were not cut down and brought into the house, however, but left alive and decorated wherever they grew with trinkets, trophies, sacred plants such as holly and mistletoes, bits of metal and sometimes replicas of gods and goddesses.

The Yuletide Wreath

Wreaths have symbolized the wheel of the year since ancient times, and the word wreath comes from the Old English writhen, meaning "to twist".  In many European countries, evergreen wreaths were lit with candles during the darkest winter days, symbolizing hope that light would return. Holly wreaths were said to ward off the evil spirits that abounded during the darkness of midwinter, and holly might be kept near the door all year long to invite good fortune.

Yule Goat made of straw
The Yule Goat

The what?  Honest, I'll bet you've seen one and not known what it was. The Yule Goat or Julbock was central to solstice traditions in Scandinavia and northern Europe. I could write an entire blog post about the fascinating Yule goat, but I'll keep it short this time....

Goats were originally slaughtered as offerings during Yule, but later, goats made of straw were created annually and either burned or used as decorations. Straw goats are now keepsakes in families, as well as popular tourist souvenirs!

Other Winter Solstice traditions

Many people celebrate by staying awake throughout the night of the solstice so they can watch the sunrise the following day. Others wake early to observe the daybreak and dawn of a new cycle. Bonfires are usually lit to simulate the ascent of the sun and sometimes herbs such as sage are thrown into the blaze. Candles are allowed to burn throughout the day. Gifts are often exchanged as part of the midwinter celebrations, and stories told of ghosts and fairies. (I like that one!)
Songs are sung, especially carols such as Deck the Halls which mention Yule specifically. Toasts are made and, in some places, groups dress up in costumes and go “wassailing”, which is very much like caroling. “Wassail” comes from an Anglo-Saxon toast for “Be Well” or “Be Healthy”. In modern times, the revelers go door to door, carrying “Wassail cups” that will hopefully be filled at each house. The traditional wassail drink is usually hot spiced cider, with or without alcohol.

LOVE and the Solstice

Winter Solstice is a time for renewal, and this includes relationships. The longest night of the year has great potential for couples. An extra-long evening of making love is a great way to reaffirm your bond! (Hey, I'm a romance author, I can say things like that, LOL)

It's also a time of new beginnings for those seeking love. Some traditions suggest going outside to meet the solstice at the right time (that's 6:03 PM Eastern Time in the USA). No special words are required, just a heartfelt wish. 

One old tradition calls for two mirrors to be placed on a table facing each other, with a lit candle set between them. The mirrors will reflect each other and reflect the candle multiple times. Look in one of the mirrors and count until you find the seventh reflection of the candle on the glass. It's said that you will see your true love in that spot.

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