Friday, December 24, 2010

The Magic of the Season

Was watching the Polar Express the other night, and the last lines of the film especially hit me...when the narrator was saying how all of his friends lost the ability to hear the bell as they grew older.  In other words, they have lost the magic of the season.  It struck how said that is...that we adults cannot seem to find the magic.  It wasn't always that way. 

Yule and New Year are both seasons of divination.  Indeed, this is truly a time of magic, that magic moment when portent and signs of the future were read...this the season turning of the Solstice.  Pre-Christian cultures celebrated the birth of the Sun King who brought light into the world during the darkest time of the  year.  Putting up the evergreen symbolizes the the triumph of life over death for these plants remain green even in the cold, dark months of winter.      

Divinations and omens were drawn from cakes and loaves.  The Yule Bread, at Christmas, was chiefly remarkable for the care with which it was baked. It was generally done during the night, and a supply sufficient to last throughout the festival must be ready before daybreak. The cakes of bread must not be counted. A bannock was named for each of the family, and if it broke in the baking the one who owned it would die before next Christmas.

The Germanic and Scandinavian custom of the decorated Christmas tree may have originated to hold sacrificed gifts to the gods or local spirits.
In Russia, as in many other parts of Europe around Christmas, the time was particularly suitable for magic and divination.  There is one  Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen

In England, unwed girls made dumb cakes on Yule Eve as a divinity tool to discover their future mate.  The cakes had to be baked after the rest of the family had retired for the evening as it was necessary for the girls to be alone and silent.  Just before midnight the cake was placed in the oven, and at midnight, her future mate was supposed to come and turn the cake or carve his initials on the top for her to see.

The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.  On Yule mornings, offerings of oatmeal and other grains were made to Mother Hulda to induce her to send abundant crops, and he people feasted together. 

In Denmark and Sweden  they bake loaves of bread in the shape of a boar.  This Yule Boar was usually made from the corn of the last sheaf; this loaf stood on the table throughout the festivities and was kept until it was time to till the fields...when it was given to the plowman and his horses.  Part of the bread was mixed with the seed corn, while another part was mixed with the straw and used for various purposes.  It was said to bring fertility to the land if strewn across the fields.  At Christmas, the peasant folk divined by throwing cornstalks up to the ceiling.  The number of stalks that became entwined in the rafters was believed to foretell how many sheaves they thrash.  

In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-together. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along, as well.

In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.

In Wales, a sprig of mistletoe placed under the pillow at Christmastime, encouraged young women to have dreams of their future husbands.  In Ireland, ten berries were picked on Christmas Eve; nine were kept and the tenth was thrown away.  The nine were put to steep in a liquid composed of equal portions of wine, beer, vinegar, and honey.  (Yukky)  Then, the berries had to be swallowed like pills upon going to bed.  This was said to induce dreams about the future.  

And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So be sure to keep those candles burning!


  1. lovely wisdom Mary. I love Polar Express!! may the magic of Christmas be alive in your heart & life, always [I have many candles burning :) ]

  2. Wow.....and all I did today was make a batch of cookies!! (O:(O:(O:

    Happy holidays sweet lady,