Winter Solstice: The Yule Log

In Scandinavian countries each year during the Winter Solstice it was tradition to heave a huge log into a large hearth to commemorate the sun’s return.

Picture of Yule log courtesy of Rocksweeper.

The Yule log was usually an Oak log however, Ash was also used in order to grant wisdom and good fortune.

The women would gather to bless and cleanse the home from negative spirits. The oldest male and family members would seek out the ideal large Yule log for the hearth. They would have to anchor large ropes around it and drag it back to their home. It was considered a bad omen to cut the log from a living tree.

The Yule log was rubbed with ale, mead or whiskey and dressed with greenery.

Ornamental shapes were carved into the log, often in the image of Holda or Cailleach for the Celts, her image represented the cold, darkness and death, once tossed upon the hearth winter was exchanged for heat, light and life.

The Yule log was kept lit throughout the Winter Solstice to prevent evil spirits from entering the home and represent welcoming the Solar year.

Many ghost tales were told in front of the warm fire as well as toasts and wishes made. Over the years folks often tie their prayers and petitions to the Yule log before it is tossed into the fire. Sometimes part of the Yule log is saved for the next winter.

Source & Reference:

*Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) (1882). Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol. I. London: George Bell and Sons.

*Picture of Yule log cutting in Public Domain.

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Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads, Grýla The Mountain Troll and The Yule Cat

Yuletide folklore would not be the same without Iceland’s 13 Yule lads & Grýla the Mountain Troll & the Yule Cat.

 

Yule Lads or (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar) the countdown begins!

Hold the Ho ho ho! Santa Claus move over the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads are here to help bring joy and mischief to the children of Iceland 13 days before Christmas. The Icelandic Christmas period is an exciting mix of traditional folklore and religion.
The Yule lads visit children 13 nights leading up to Christmas instead of One large elf (Santa Claus) that visits on Christmas eve. The 13 Yule lads visit each night before Christmas.

In Iceland each child during those nights, place one of their shoes on the windowsill. The well behaved boys and girls, will leave candy from the Yule lads. The naughty children shoes that were placed out for the Yule Lads will be full of rotten potatoes. Yikes!

The Yule lads each have a different personality.

13 Yule Lads names:

1. Sheep-Cote Clod (AKA Stiffy Legs) – Dec. 12: This peg-legged lad sneaks into sheep pens and sucks the milk out of a family’s ewes.

2. Gully Gawk – Dec. 13: Gully Gawk loves milk too, but he steals the foam off of buckets of fresh milk.

3. Stubby – Dec. 14: The shortest Yule Lad, Stubby breaks into a family’s kitchen to lick the burned bits of food off of their pots and pans.

4. Spoon Licker – Dec. 15: As his name implies, this scrawny lad sneaks into kitchen after dinner is over and licks all of the family’s spoons.

5. Pot Licker – Dec. 16: Pot Licker is more aggressive than his spoon-loving brother. He knocks at the front door, then takes advantage of the household distraction to sneak in and help himself to the pots in the kitchen.

6. Bowl Licker – Dec. 17: This lad’s greatest desire is to steal your bowl of food.

7. Door Slammer – Dec. 18: He waits until the town is asleep, then runs around slamming doors for fun.

8. Skyr Gobbler – Dec. 19: Iceland has its own form of yogurt, which they call skyr. Skyr Gobbler is quite partial to it and enjoys stealing it from others

9. Sausage Swiper – Dec. 20: Also a food-stealing lad, this one will take all your sausage.

10. Window Peeper – Dec. 21: He sneaks around at night looking for open windows to gaze into.

11. Door Sniffer – Dec. 22: Always in search of bread, Door Sniffer uses his large nose to find it inside homes.

12. Meat Hook – Dec. 23: In his search for meat, this lad sends his long hook down chimneys to steal what he wants.

13. Candle Beggar – Dec. 24: December is quite dark in Iceland, and this lad makes it worse by stealing precious candles.

The Yule lads are the sons of the mountain trolls Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði. Grýla is a huge, horrifying troll. She has three hundred heads with six eyes on each one. She has two white blue eyes behind her necks. Her teeth looks like burnt lava. Her sacks are so large she can carry away with her 15 tails, 20 naughty childen per sack! Grýla was first mentioned in the 13th century Sturlunga Saga, also mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in the Háttatal section of the Snorra Edda by the 16th century became a type of bogeyman.

By the 20th century, Grýla’s characteristics had merged with Santa Claus. Her sacks are now filled with gifts for children, she hands out on Christmas day. Grýla and her sons the Yule lads accompany her with the Yule Cat.

The Yule Cat, a big feline according to Icelandic folklore, eats children who do not receive new clothes for Christmas.

Sources & References:

*“Jólakötturinn, Grýla og Leppalúði”. jolamjolk.is (in Icelandic). Iceland: Mjólkursamsalan (MS). Archived from the original.

*Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic by Claude Lecouteux.

*Illustrations and photo in Public domain.

Hulda, Northern European Goddess

Hulda has several names such as Holda or Frau Holle, Mother Holle is a Northern European goddess. She rides beside Odin as his co-leader of the Wild Hunt riding through the Milky Way.

She is a winter goddess or Snow queen. Hulda, leads dead souls, all flying on brooms alongside her trusty hounds during the Wild hunt. She is served by the Hulden German hill faeries that may accompany her in the Wild Hunt of Yule. Hulda’s feast day is held during the Winter Solstice, she reveres her totems rabbits and wolves. She is a natural environmentalist that protects the forests and creatures where she dwells.

 

626px-Das_festliche_Jahr_img021_Frau_Holle_(Perchta)The German term “Hulda-riding,” means witches’ flight or night train. Hulda is loved by her followers these witches and the dead souls fly at night during the twelve nights of Christmas.

Folklore dictates, this wintry, goddess totes prosperity and good luck to compassionate folks and bestows calamity upon cruel, mean spirited people.
This Snow Queen is a busy nature goddess, she controls fog and snow. When Hulda shakes out her feather mattress, snow falls out over the earth.

 

Hulda may transform from a lovely blonde maiden to a extremely old crone and vice versa depending on her situation.

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An illustration below of Hulda Norse goddess of winter, wild hunt and weather by Nifty Buckles.

 

 

 

 

 

Source & Reference:

  • Claude Lecouteux, Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic.  Published by Inner Traditions International ©2016  ISBN 978620554807
  • Featured image: Frau Holle, illustration by Hermann Vogel in Public domain
  • Frau Holle with the Wild Hunt in Wikimedia commons Public Domain
  • see wikimedia