This is a pagan custom from the Yule festival of the Teutonic and Celtic tribes, which Yule festival was in honor of the god, Thor. The Saxons and Goths burned the Yule log at their festival of the winter solstice. Each year a brand was saved to rekindle the new fire. The remnants were believed to have magic powers, and the log symbolized protection against evil spirits.
Fortunes were told by the Yule log, and it slight was considered sacred. To the ancestors of the Catholic faith Christmas was called the Feast of Lights. The lights and fires, incorporated into the Nativity celebration, were made to symbolize the fact that the darkness of the world was past and true light now shone. This background explains the lights on the Christmas tree. Everything about the Christmas fire and lights was considered very sacred. The blaze of the fire was made to symbolize Christ as the Light of the World.
The Yule candle was burned as a companion to the Yule log. The modern candles set in windows have their origin in the Yule candle.
The tradition was brought to this country by the Irish. In Ireland, during the years of religious suppression, candles were put in the windows to attract fugitive priests who would know it was safe to enter the houses and to say mass.
Modern candles used for decoration, though electric and not waxen, incorporate the same principle the catholic church set forth as Christ the Light of the World.
You have already read how houses and public places were decorated with evergreens during the Saturnalia and Kalends of January. They were never sought merely for their decorative capabilities. The evergreens were used as defense against demons and witches they thought were especially prevalent during this time of year. They thought the winter demons were afraid of the greens because they stayed green all year. Green belongs in the realm of summer and life; winter kills most of summer's vegetation, but the evergreens remain steadfast. They were symbols of everlasting life to the heathen.
At first the Church frowned upon this intrusion of paganism into the sacred season on account of the superstitious sentiments which were bound up with them. But it was too deeply rooted for prohibitions to have permanent effect, and in due course they were annulled or forgotten. Instead of banning them she more often permitted their continuance, directing her efforts toward investing them with a new "sanctity" and meaning. While they were often made to represent higher and "holier" things, the older notions were not always discarded; hence, the mixture of ideas, pagan and "christian" which became entwisted with the greenery of the season. The plants, which more than any others, entwined themselves about the festival are holly, ivy, mistletoe, and rosemary.
Holly was admired by the heathen Druids, who believed that its evergreen leaves attested to the fact that the sun never deserted it, and since the sun was held in worship, holly was sacred.
Holly was supposed to be hateful to witches, and was therefore placed on doors and windows to keep out evil spirits.
Under the influence of "christian' thought and sentiment holly became very sacred. But ivy remained for a longer time on the pagan level. The red berries on the holly once had a pagan meaning, being the blood drops of the beautiful Balder, the ill-fated darling of Valhalla. Given its new "christian" meaning, the berries now speak of the blood drops which the cruel crown of thorns drew from the Savior's brow.
Mistletoe ...... Gift of the Gods.... kissing under the mistletoe .... a Scandinavian myth involving Frigga the counterpart for Venus and Balder the counterpart for Apollo .... Rosemary ... the catholic legend to wean people from their old beliefs .... Laurel ... .. the Christmas Tree.......
-to be continued-
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