Yule: Fertility and Ghosts
At the winter solstice, Scandinavians worshipped Frey, god of fertility; further south, the Angli celebrated
December 24 as New Year’s Eve, called Modranecht (mother night), a vigil also connected with fertility rites.
In general, the traditional Yule (from the Norse Iul, meaning wheel) was a feast devoted to fertility and the
ancestors, which passed on to Christmas fecund and ghostly traditions. The Christmas roast pig is kissing cousin
to julgalti, the pig offered to Frey for fertility in the coming year, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. Hence the apple
in its mouth. Similarly, Yule was a time to charm grain and fruit to grow thick. Traditional Scots kept the
Corn Maiden from harvest till Yule and then distributed her to the cattle, according to the Farrars. The Germans
scattered the ashes of the Yule log on the fields for fertility, or kept its last charred pieces to bind in the last
sheaf of the coming harvest. The French retained apiece of Yule log through the year to protect the house
against fire and lightning, to ensure bountiful crops and the easy birth of calves. The solstice was also a weather
predictor, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. In more recent tradition, a white Christmas is said to mean a prosperous
New Year, while a green, cloudy or hot Christmas fills the churchyard.
Yule is a time for spirits. European tradition, transferred to the Christian holiday, held that each house should
be clean and prepared for Christmas before the household went to church, so the spirits could inspect it.
Spirits likewise stayed for Christmas dinner. In Sweden, householders set a special table for them. European
folk beliefs say that someone who sits under a pine tree on Christmas Eve can hear the sound of angels —
but death will soon follow. Death also awaits one who hears farm animals converse in the barn that night.
A person born on Christmas can see spirits. Dreams on the Northern Modranecht were believed to foretell
the coming year, according to Nigel Pennick in The Pagan Book of Days.
Excerpted From Reclaiming the Winter Solstice by Melanie Fire Salamander