Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yultide Greetings

To Madeleine in Australia, Fateme and Amir in Iran, Michael and Penny in Bangladesh, Tom in Denmark, Mary in Paris, Peter in Abaco, Karen in Galway, Brian in Cork, Maureen in Tipperary, to all readers everywhere of the blog, I want to thank you for your interest and your comments over the year and would like to wish you and your families peace and, in this season of re-birth, every best wish for 2010.

I am not a religious person. Faith-neutral is probably the best description, with neither an avowal nor denial of any particular belief or non-belief agenda. That said the Christmas periods of my childhood were happy ones and although suffused with the religious environment that prevailed in Ireland in the late 50’s and early 60’s, for some reason the time of year, then and now, had and has a cadence rooted in a seasonal rebirth and nature.

It has always been cause for celebration, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The Grianstad an Gheimhridh or midwinter solstice of our Proto-Celtic ancestors, the Shab-e Yalda of Mithraic Persia, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, of the Romans – all originally dated for December 25 in the old Julian calendar (Julius Caesar circa 42 BCE, but shifted backwards to December 21 by four days with the newer and more astronomically accurate Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE) – the Christmas Day of early Christianity in the Western Rite (9 months from the more agreed upon conception day, and a date rather than a day maintained by the Gregorian adjustment), and for me the fascination of the Teutonic Jul or Yuletide.

My childhood nightmares and dreams fuelled by Viking sagas, the Brothers Grimm, of deep forests and elves, and giants and dwarfs … and my mother’s Yultide log (Christbrand, Tréfoir).

Every year about this time three small logs of Yew (the bark thick and tactile) would be delivered to the house, would then be wrapped in ivy, layered on top with a snow of icing sugar (or Plaster of Paris), and studded with berried Holly. Into the centre of the log would be placed a candle and the logs positioned carefully in the centre of the two fire mantelpieces in the house (one was always given away as a traditional present). It would be lit on Christmas Eve.

Yew, Ivy and Holly the very evergreen, very pre-Christian plants.

When Iseult (Esyllt) the Irish princess won the right to be with Tristan, her Cornish lover, she sang:

Three trees are good in nature:

the holly, the ivy, and the yew, 

which keep their leaves throughout their lives:

I am Trystan's as long as he lives!

May all that is good in nature watch over all of you and your families in the days ahead and the coming year.

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