[1-Danish Yule Tree Candle]
Yule was a midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples, which was progressively absorbed into the Christian observations surrounding Christmas. It was described as celebrated "for a fertile and peaceful season" and had a fertility sacrifice for the god Odin. Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two.
The Wild Hunt was a folk myth prevalent in former times across Northern, Western and Central Europe. The fundamental premise in all instances is the same: a phantasmal group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting, horses, hounds, etc., in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it.
[2-Wild Hunt, 1872]
The hunters may be the dead, or the fairies (often in folklore connected with the dead). The hunter may be an unidentified lost soul, a deity or spirit of either gender, or may be a historical or legendary figure like Dietrich of Berne, the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag, Woden (or other reflexes of the same god, such as Alemannic Wuodan in Wuotis Heer of Central Switzerland, Swabia etc.), or Arawn.
The Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages." The traditions of the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule customs, and these customs "indicate the significance of the feast in pre-Christian times."
[3-Father Christmas on Yule Goat]
In Finland, on the eve of Joulu, children are visited by Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus. The word Joulupukki means "Yule Goat" and probably derives from an old Finnish tradition where people called nuuttipukkis dressed in goat hides circulated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto, rather than sneaking in through the chimney at night. When he comes in, his first words are usually "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?", "Are there (any) good (well-behaved) children here?" Presents are given and opened immediately. He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick. His workshop is in Korvatunturi, Lapland, Finland, rather than at the North Pole like Santa Claus, or in Greenland. He is married to Joulumuori (tr. Mother Yule). Typical Finnish yule dishes include ham, various root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad, gingerbread and star-shaped plum-filled pastries. Other traditions with a non-Christian yule background include joulukuusi ("Yule spruce") and joulusauna ("yule sauna").
Photo Credits: wikipedia.