Who wants to go wassailing? Wassailing is a tradition where people go door to door singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl. The primary purpose was to bring cheer and wish good health to the neighbors. In pre-Christian times wassailing was a fertility rite. People would go to the orchards to sing and drink to drive away evil spirits that might inhibit crops growth and celebrate the Sun God’s rebirth. Today, wassailing has been replaced by caroling, and mead has been replaced with cider and hot chocolate.
There are many traditions today that actually have pre-Christian roots. Gift-giving can be traced back to a kindly Italian witch, La Befana, who liked to give gifts to adults and children during the winter solstice. The fruit cake results from the Egyptians making this delicacy to be placed with the dead. People do get hungry, even in death.
We can thank the Norse for a couple of things, if not many more; first, the Yule log. The yule log was used to keep people warm during the long cold winters and celebrate the rebirth of the Sun God. Secondly is mistletoe, a fertility ritual where fighting stopped, and arms were laid down for a night. People would kiss under the mistletoe under the watchful eye of Frigga, the Goddess of love.
The hanging of ornaments began during the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a celebration for the god Saturn. From December 17 through the 24th, all activities stopped, greenery was hung, and ornaments were placed on the vegetation in honor of Saturn. The foliage hanging was also popular with the Celts and Norse communities.
Finally, what is known as Christmas Holly is associated with the God of Winter. The Holly King battled the Oak King for supremacy of winter, and Holly was used to ward off evil spirits.
These are just a few examples of some pre-Christian traditions which are still used today in some form or another. I’ve been asked whether I celebrate the Winter Solstice, Yule, or Christmas, and the answer is…Yes.