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Quarter Days: Yuletide

December 28, 2018 by in category Quarter Days by Alina K. Field tagged as , , ,

Winter Solstice

An Arch Druid

’Tis the Fourth day in the Twelve Days of the great feast of Christmas and I’m back to talk about celebrating the winter holidays in the British Isles where the stories I’ve been writing are set.

A week of binge-watching the series Shetland gave me a good appreciation of the closeness of Scotland to Scandinavia. Given the Celtic and later Viking influence, It’s no wonder that many of this season’s customs date back to pagan festivities marking the winter solstice. The word Yule (as in Yuletide and Yule Log) comes from the Norse word “jul” or “houl” meaning wheel.


Ancient Rome also celebrated the winter solstice in the Saturnalia festivities of ancient Rome. I mentioned in my December post last year that the early Christian church built a religious holiday, Christmas, around this natural time of ancient celebration. Many of the Christmas traditions—Yule logs, mistletoe, feasting–date back long before the designation of December 25th as the birthday of Jesus.


Though we’re a week out from the shortest day of the year, nights are still long, so why not keep partying? The seventh day of Christmas, December 31st brings us to the celebration of the new year. In Scotland, reaching back to their Norse roots, the locals celebrate Hogmanay with torchlight parades, bonfires, and lots of good whisky.

My favorite Scottish New Year’s tradition is the First Foot.

Needed: a tall, dark, and handsome man

Tradition says that if the first person to cross the threshold in the new year is a tall, dark, handsome man, the home and all who dwell therein will have good luck in the coming year. (No red-headed men, please—they’re considered unlucky!) I saw this set up in a blurb for a Christmas romance this year, and then promptly lost the link. If you recognize that story, please mention it in the comments below.

Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, I hope you’re surrounded by family and friends. I wish you many blessings in the New Year. Have a Happy Hogmanay!

The Misteltoe Bough, by Francis Wheatley
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