An Ancient Holiday
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world.
Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest
days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter
was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice,
through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons
would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire.
The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days.
The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or
calf that would be born during the coming year.
The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe.
At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed
during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply
of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally
fermented and ready for drinking.
In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday.
Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through
the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish.
Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
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