With Yule just days away now and me nearly done with preparations, I thought it would be a good time to sit for a moment and write about our traditions for this day.
To begin with, I would like to bring out one difference of how I perceive winter and how the majority sees the winter. For majority – winter is cold, dark, death of whatnot. I am growing really tired of it. To me, winter is a sleeping time. Like we need sleep, so does Mother Nature and this is the ultimate time for her to sleep. The snow is like blanket that protects plants from the harsh weather outside and ice covers the lakes so the temperature doesn’t fall too low. Yes, later in winter we need to let the air back under ice for fish if needed, but in general that’s what it is. Nothing is dead – just asleep! To see winter as death or even as a symbol of death is sad and narrow-minded. Lack of Sun and warmth? Well – that’s winter. It’s how it is set and must be so. I miss the Sun sometimes too, but it doesn’t wear me out or make me moan – it will come back and warm things up again. Instead enjoy the site of red sunsets and incredible sparkling days around you.
Keeping that in mind, I don’t really celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, but I do celebrate that nights get shorter. It is too soon to hope for some warmth, lowest colds are yet ahead of us.
When it comes to Winter Solstice, I am really into keeping traditional calendar as your guide. Thus my holiday preparations began already with the first Advent. It is Christian, yes, but this time plan has been used here long before and I must say it works. We might not have lent anymore, but everything else goes rather smoothly if you know when to do what and you can always be sure that you won’t be one of those, who hate holidays duo lack of time.
So. My simple day plan for holidays. I must say it is very food related at the beginning.
First week of Advent is served for any salads or ales or anything that needs at least 2 weeks to marinate somewhere. Though most of pickling was done months before in the summer, this is the last of time to do what you missed back then. Because we have sauerkraut on our holiday table, then one must check that it is in right consistency. Best time to buy anything in food sense that can sit on the shelf and wait its time – pickles, vegetables, compotes, brown syrups for gingerbreads, dry ingredients. Think of anything that you will need, but will be lost on the shops right before Christmas – this is the time to collect them and set them waiting. I quietly also check over if presents are there and cards that need to be sent. If we get time to smoke meat, this is the week for it.
Second week of Advent in our family is reserved in getting bills straight and dealing with holiday traveling plans and anything that needs to be considered during the holidays – who is working, who has promised to bring friends over, who is planning to leave for some days. There will be always surprises, but I’ve noticed that this is the time when most of them come to light. Mom and I like to prepare cards now and see that all of them get mailed out. We also quietly check over the decorations and decide if we need new ones. Quietly is the keyword here – men are not in the mood yet and nobody forces them. But we must be sure. This is always the time when I make all the pastries except the yeast pastry. There are certain cookies my family loves and consider a must have and I can make them nearly two weeks ahead. That includes making 3 kilos of gingerbread dough and 2 kilos of shortcrust. If I leave it to any time later I’ll go nuts. Time to salt in the pork fat. Choosing it and preparing it is like master class – if it works, people will love you. If you choose badly, you will hear of it the rest of the year.
Third week of Advent is meat food preparations. Preparing the entire feast on one day with our traditional food would be impossible and would drive anyone crazy. Last year I uploaded the recipe for sült, a meat jelly. Additionally we’ll be making liver pate and some candies. Any cold ham gets cooked this week. Nuts and fruit are checked and chosen.
Fourth week of Advent – anything goes! Actually, this is the absolute cleaning week as far as I’m concerned. If I can I will be making the small cake that will last throughout the year. Shaped as a pig. It’s sort of like Yule log in Celtic tradition. Traditionally, the 21st is called Toomapäev, which stands for day of winter cleaning. On this day the entire house will be cleaned and though it is indeed a solstice date for the rest of the world, I don’t think there is any better way to celebrate finishing the old year with proper cleanup and start the new year with clean rooms. One has to eat nuts and drink beer today. This is also the day when the holidays really kick in and begins the time of holidays that will last until 6th of January.
On Toomapäev, there is one tradition that persists the modern age – making a rag doll, setting all the ill-wishes and bad luck to it and taking it of the house to another house. Better yet if you can take it to forest and leave it there. If you found one in your house, you beat it and took it away somewhere else. One thing was sure – that doll should not be in your house when the day ends, because if it did you got all the bad luck and dirtiness of the other house in yours. That’s why this doll is often called Tahma-Toomas, Soot-Thomas. It is time to make the Christmas Crown to decorate the place.
From 24th to 26th, which is again, yes, set by Christian tradition, but goes together also with our local pagan community, is our Yule or Christmas or how every you like to call it. On 24th is the Eve and thus the day when the house gets finally decorated and we bring in our tree. In my family it nowadays tends to be fir branches, but those also get decorated well. We try to have at least a candle for each family member on the tree. So nine candles this year. Four for us, two for sis and niece, two for dogs and one for our friend, who is staying with us for the holidays. We stay up as long as we can manage and I will do some divinations related with who gets married and so on. In southern regions, there is one tradition to sit up until sun rises again. I am sorry, but most of us are dead tired before the sun decides to get up at 10, so no such tradition here. However we will keep food on table for entire night and try eat at least 7 times. That is mostly snacking, but that’s how it goes in order to keep the food on table for another 12 months. During this time we never take bread and salt off the table. For ancestors.
Odd is I have seen several shadows with no particular reason flashing over glass lately and felt cold coming from places where I felt warm just a minute ago. So there is something changing or coming. I don’t mean the end of the world here – I don’t care much of it. But something is different. I don’t usually see so many or so often. I must say I don’t like it.
Other spirits are around too. We always have pine cones and fir cones around – lots and lots of protection. It is the ultimate time when I avoid passing mirrors with living light. Brother will laught himself to pieces again. But it is not to my liking. Which reminds me I was suppose to buy red wool for various reasons. Some protection charms wait to be put up.
25th of December is family oriented day. We sleep in (except tending for dogs of course – their need for toilet is far bigger than our need for sleep) and don’t do much the entire day but feast, watch TV, play with dogs and, well, feast. On 26th we visit our grandparents if we can, which I will do later and go to graveyards. Compared with the rest of the year, our Yule is quiet and serene.
After that comes 28th, which is known as The Day of Innocent Children. Because it is in church calendar, nobody really celebrates it. It was better known for the day when you cleaned up the trash that had gathered.
On 31st it is, of course, the New Year Eve! Now things got really interesting! If you had sheep or cows you would take them bread. The same pig shaped thing. You will feed it to them and wish them happy New Year and good health for the coming year. It is the night that you try to stay up all night. The first three hours will go fast though thanks to all the divinations one can check on. One very simple one suggest you to note what you do or see during the first 12 days following New Year. This will show you the 12 months and how they will be. Oh, and to make sure your luck will stay with you – the first, who wishes you happy new year after the bells ring, should be male.
It will all come to an end on 6th of January. Most of us have already got back in their daily routine and Yule is the thing of the past. This is the day when Christmas are taken out – the trees will be gathered in villages and towns for bonfires and the rest will be burned or packed away. This was the day after which the well-wishing “Happy New Year!” changed into “Happy What-was-it!” Or something similar. The idea was that the year was here and you couldn’t wish it anymore, but if you met someone, who you hadn’t wished it yet, you still could. As long as you didn’t call it new.
To me, the entire winter holiday season ends actually on 14th of January, which is the day, when the winter is at its peak. “The top of the Winter” is the exact translation of it and that’s all it is. It is economical marker. On this day you start counting weeks to other holidays and you had to have at least half of your food left to get through the winter and live until next harvest. I like to do a checkup on preserves that day – I have counted exactly how many of them we use throughout the winter and this year I’m checking if my calculations are correct. So it will be especially interesting year. This also goes on firewood. We have many such non-holiday days. They don’t mean much in holiday sense, but they have a fixed and needed place in the calendar.
And this concludes the holiday that might peak in 3-day party somewhere in the middle, but in reality starts long time before and ends weeks later. But if you keep in the schedule worked out by gods know how many generations back, then it all works out just fine.
As this Yule will be also a full Moon blessing, then I will be doing plenty of spellcasting this year. I know at least two I want to do in this year’s number. If I can, I would like to do Full Moon ceremony for myself. Best moon month yet! 🙂