Yule - A Celebration of Light and Warmth by Dorothy Morrison
Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth is a fascinating and fun book showing that the spirit of the season is universal, no matter how you choose to celebrate or worship. Warmth and light are common to winter holidays like Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hannukah, and all of humanity can join together in the spirit of peace, love and harmony at this special time of year.

This book features holiday history and customs from around the world, traditions and symbolism, craft ideas and instructions, recipes, and much more. In the first chapter, the author discusses the history of Yule and other sun-welcoming traditions which then gave birth to many Christmas symbols and traditions. For example, in the attempt to convert Pagans, Christians soon realized that they had to incorporate Pagan symbols and rituals to draw them.

Since Pagans revered goddesses--particularly mother goddesses--the Christians put on their thinking cap and decided that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be the perfect Mother Goddess in the midst of their patriarchal world. The Christians called her "The Queen of Heaven" and invented her ascension; to the outside world, this linked Christianity to Isis, the Egyptian Queen of Heaven.

Because Pagans also worshipped the sun, Christians set Jesus' birthday on December 25th, which was a Pagan celebration--and called the festival "Birth of the Son". Since "son" was pronounced the same as "sun", the Christians figured that the Pagans would assume this was just an addition to their own festivals. Note: Historians and theologians place Jesus' actual birth sometime in the Spring. Because Bethlehem's winters are brutal, shepherds would only be tending flocks at night during warmer months.

Chapter 2 of Yule - A Celebration of Light and Warmth provides a fascinating glimpse into the origins of Christmas and Yuletide traditions and symbols, including elves, gifts exchanges, holly, mistletoe, reindeer, snowflakes, 12 days of Christmas, wassail, wreaths, and much more. For example, the candy cane was invented by an American confectioner who wanted to commerate Jesus. The white candy symbolized the virgin birth, the red stripe represented the blood shed on the cross, and the "j" shape was to represent Jesus.

Despite the inventors religious devotion and painstaking creativity, the candy cane somehow wound up as a common holiday symbol and treat--devoid of all Christian testimony and witness. Bells, another holiday symbol, is a throwback to Paganism where festival participants rang bells to drive away demons. However, since the Bible states "...make a joyful noise unto the Lord.", the tinkle of bells fit the bill and the tradition of bell-ringing during the holidays still remains intact today.

Chapter 3 explains festivals of light from around the world, including Kwanzaa and Yule, and chapter 4 provides an interesting look into holiday customs from around the world--including Argentina, Australia, China, Denmark, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Scotland, and other countries. In Ireland, for example, a candle is put in the window on Christmas Eve to light the way of Mary and Joseph and other travelers who may wander by. Most Irish celebrations are on December 26th, St. Stephen's Day.

Chapter 5 is about omens and superstitions associated with Christmas. For example, legend has it that animals can speak on Christmas Eve--but the same legend says it's unlucky to hear them! In Germany, it's customary to eat lots of greasy pancakes on Winter Solstice and leave a few on the table for the Winger Hag. In Poland, it's believed that umarried women can ensure a quick marriage if they grind poppy seed on Christmas Eve. And what happens if snow doesn't fall on Christmas? It means that the following Easter will be cold. Marriage omens and hearth and home supersitition, as well as those concerning animals, food, and weather are also explained.

Chapter 6 is about Yuletide trivia and fun facts. Did you know that the reindeer Donner is really Donder, and means thunder? He was paired with Blitzen whose names means lightning. And where did we get the modern image of Santa Claus? From none other than the Coca-Cola company!

Chapter 7 addresses making room for Yule, including cleaning rituals and success charms. Chapter 8 provides instructions for quick and easy Yule decorations, such as a Holiday Harmony Tree (made with small, thick magazines), Mistletoe Ball, placemats, and even Yuletide crafts for children. Easy-to-make suncatchers and a hand print wreath are but two of these easy and fun crafts for kids. Chapter 9 features other winter crafts such as creating a Winter Scene on a small table, and making bottled snowflakes.

Chapter 10 is all about the Yule tree, including choosing a tree, a tree blessing ritual, how to make a tree skirt, and nine ornament ideas--including Swirled Ornaments and Cinnamon-Apple Ornaments. Chapter 11 is about making your own holiday cards, while Chapter 12 gives great holiday gift ideas. A few include Pine Cone Fire Starters, Bath Salts, Flower Pot Candle, Scented Mug Coasters, Dog Biscuits, Kitty Treats, Peanut Butter Bird Feeder Cakes, and Herbal Energy Sachets. Chapter 13 gives fun wrapping and name tag ideas.

Chapter 14 is called Let's Party! and gives wonderful decorating ideas for the holiday table, while Chapter 15 provides party ideas and games. The author even includes a full-length holiday word search that can be photocopied for your guests or children!

And what holiday gathering would be complete without food and drink? Chapter 16 of Yule - A Celebration of Light and Warmth gives dozens of recipes from Plum Pudding to Pecan Pralines, Hot Buttered Rum to Crockpot Wassail, and Spanish Turkey Soup to Reindeer Sandwiches. In Chapter 17, the author shares some of her own personal traditions which I found particularly fascinating since she's a Pagan and her husband is a Christian.

Chapter 18 is a calendar for daily celebrations ideas for the holidays for the entire month of December. For example, the Japanese celebrate Hari No Kuyo (The Festival of Broken Needles) on this day to reclaim the feminine arts and enjoythem. The author gives ideas on how to celebrate, including working on small crafts or needlework projects. December 13th is the Feast of St. Lucia, which is the Christianized version of the Sun Goddess, Lucina (who is known in some areas as "the light of the world".)

December 21 is the Druidic celebration of Alban Arthuan in which gifts and charity are showered upon the poor. Also included in this chapter are formalized Yule rituals. It was a treat to read about the various traditions and holidays on each of the 30 days--and it provides a great way to imbue the holidays with traditions that may be unfamiliar but share the common thread of love, joy, peace, and charity.

Chapter 19 provides ideas on keeping the holidays happy, but the author is sensitive to the fact that sometimes depression creeps upon even the most positive of folks--and that it can be a very trying time for many. Chapter 20 gives practical after-holiday tips--including putting cranberry, sunflower, and acorn garland outside as a treat for the birds.

Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth also contains four appendices: Appendix I is a list of the goddesses associated with Yule, Appendix II is a list of the gods associated with Yule, Appendix III is a list of holiday greetings from around the world (for example in Wales it's Nadolig Llawen and in Germany, it's Froehliche Weihnachten), and Appendix IV is a list of 15 Yule and Christmas-related websites.

This is an information-packed book on Yule and other holiday celebrations of love, warmth, peace, and brotherhood that would be of great interest to history (and religious history) buffs, as well as those who love fresh craft and recipe ideas. The spells and enchantments may be off-putting to those who are traditional Christians, but there is much in this book aside from these references.

Those who are Pagans, as well as those who celebrate the universal feelings of wonder, joy, peace, and hope that transcend race, religion, or geographic area, will find many great ideas and insights in this delightful holiday book.

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