Are you one of those who feels Christmas comes too early these days? That it is just not traditional to see Christmas tinsel in the shops as soon as the Halloween pumpkin lanterns are down?
I must admit I used to feel that way myself - but after reading a new book called The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the YearI realise I was wrong. The pagan Norse, it seems, began their winter celebrations in October with the Alfablot, or feast of the elves. Wild riders could be seen from November until the end of the 12 nights of Christmas. Advent candles can be lit on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in some parts of the world the decorations don't need to be removed until Candlemas, or Imbolc.
Yet the Yuletides of old were not the bright and shiny festivals of consumerism they are today. They were the seasons of long dark nights, when even darker things prowled beyond the threshold and would venture inside if the correct wardings were not in place. This book is as much about what to fear over Christmas, as what to celebrate.
Publisher Llewellyn says on its website: "’Tis the Season for Witches, Elves, and a Legion of Ghosts... Not so very long ago, Yuletide was as much a chilling season of ghosts and witches as it was a festival of goodwill. In The Old Magic of Christmas, you’ll rub elbows with veiled spirits, learn the true perils of elves, and discover a bestiary of enchanted creatures. Rife with the more frightful characters from folklore and the season’s most petulant ghosts, this book takes you on a spooky sleigh ride from the silvered firs of a winter forest to the mirrored halls of the Snow Queen. Along the way, you’ll discover how to bring the festivities into your home with cookie recipes and craft instructions, as well as tips for delving more deeply into your relationship with the unseen."
Many of the legends covered in The Old Magic of Christmas come from Northern Europe, particularly from Germany, which is famous for its celebrations of midwinter and is the origin of the Yule tree we have loved inside our English homes since Victorian times. The book also includes lots of things you can make - many again harking from Germany - from window decorations to festive lanterns to edible fairy-tale houses made of spiced bread.
Like many people this year, or so it seems, I decided to put up my Yule tree on December 1. Then I settled down with a cup of mulled wine under its twinkling lights to read my copy of Old Magic of Christmas.Perfect.
Links and previous related posts
Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year