- Search for the roots of today's
Christmas traditions and you will find your way back to the ancient
Celtic festival of Alban Arthuan, held during the Winter Solstice on
- One of the principle reasons for
the rapid propagation of Christianity throughout Europe during
the first millennium was the willingness of Christian leaders to
incorporate the rituals, beliefs and customs of other religions.
Few of the ancient displaced religions were more assimilated
than the Druids, Wiccans and Pagans.
- Alban Arthuan is one of the
ancient Druidic fire festivals. Taking place on December 21st
through 22nd, Alban Arthuan coincides with the Winter Solstice.
Translated, it means "The Light of Arthur," in
reference to the Arthurian legend that states King Arthur was
born on the Winter Solstice.
- Alban Arthuan is also known as
Yule, derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Yula," or
"Wheel of the Year" and marked the celebration of both
the shortest day of the year and the re-birth of the sun. Alban
Arthuan was also believed to be a time of increased fertility.
Early Celtic calendars measured the months according to the
moon's revolution of the earth.
- The custom of burning the Yule Log, the Yule-associated
tradition that is most familiar to people today, was performed
to honour the Great Mother Goddess. The log would be lit on
the eve of the solstice, using the remains of the log from the
previous year, and would be burned for twelve hours for good
- Decorating the Yule tree was also originally a Pagan custom;
brightly colored decorations would be hung on the tree,
usually a pine, to symbolize the various stellar objects which
were of significance to the Pagans - the sun, moon, and stars
- and also to represent the souls of those who had died in the
previous year. The modern practice of gift giving evolved from
the Pagan tradition of hanging gifts on the Yule tree as
offerings to the various Pagan Gods and Goddesses.
- Some of the current traditions surrounding "Father
Christmas" or Santa Claus can also be traced back to
Celtic roots. His "elves" are the modernization of
the "Nature folk" of the Pagan religions, and his
reindeer are associated with the "Horned God" (one
of the Pagan deities).
- Although Christmas is a major holiday in Ireland, it is not
widely celebrated in Scotland. Some historians have suggested
that the reason Christmas is downplayed in Scotland is because
of the influence of the Presbyterian Church or Kirk, which
viewed Christmas as a "Papist", or Catholic event.
As a result, Christmas in Scotland tends to be a somber event,
in direct contrast to the next Celtic festival, Hogmany, held
on January 1. Hogmany is generally considered to be the much
more significant celebration and it is a tradition that is
beginning to spread outside of Scotland's borders.
- To the Druids, it was holly's evergreen nature that
made it special. They believed that it remained green to help keep
the earth beautiful when the deciduous trees (such as the oak, which
they also held sacred) shed their leaves. It was also their custom
to wear it in their hair when they ventured into the forests to
watch the priests collecting mistletoe. The holly berries were
thought to represent the sacred menstrual blood of their Goddess.
- In addition to these uses, some ancient religions
used holly for protection. They would decorate doors and windows
with it in the hopes that it would capture any evil spirits before
they could enter the house. In effect, it was used as flypaper for
- So as you're hanging that holly wreath on
your door, or placing it around the house this Christmas, think a
little about the roots of this tradition. In addition to honoring
your Celtic heritage and making your home look nice, you may also be
performing the invaluable service of providing shelter to tree
fairies and protecting your home from malevolent spirits.
- In the Celtic language, Mistletoe
means "All Heal". The ancient Celts believed Mistletoe
possessed miraculous healing powers and held the soul of the host
tree. According to Francis X. Weiser, in his Handbook
of Christian Feasts and Customs:
The Mistletoe was a sacred plant in the pagan religion of the
Druids in Britain. It was believed to have all sorts of miraculous
qualities: the power of healing diseases, making poisons harmless,
giving fertility to humans and animals, protecting from witchcraft,
banning evil spirits, bringing good luck and great blessings. In
fact, it was considered so sacred that even enemies who happened to
meet beneath a Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms,
exchange a friendly greeting, and keep a truce until the following
day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending Mistletoe
over a doorway or in a room as a token of good will and peace to all
comers. [p. 104]
In ancient times, the Druids held a special ceremony five days
after the new moon following the Winter Solstice, in which they cut
the boughs of the Mistletoe from the sacred Oak tree with a golden
sickle. It was important that branches did not touch the ground and
become contaminated. Then the priests divided up the boughs into
sprigs and distributed them among the people who believed the
Mistletoe protected them from storms and evil spirits.
Toss in large bowl and let sit for 1-3 hours:
3/4 cup each cognac and finecut citron, 1/2 cup each candied lemon peel
and orange peel, 1 cup raisins, and 2 cups currents. In another
large bowl mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, 2 teaspoons
cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon mace, 1/2 teaspoon each
nutmeg and salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Add to flour
mixture, blending with fingers, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 2 cups(1/2
lb) finely-diced suet (no meat). Then add marinated fruit.
In a medium bowl combine 3 beaten eggs, 1 cup dark
corn syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon vanila extract. Add 4 dices slices of
soft bread and stir into batter. Spoon batter into greased pudding
mold with lid. Place on rack in pressure cooker with 3-4 cups water,
cover cooker with safety valve open, steam 15 minutes, close valve, and
cook 1 hour at 15 pounds pressure. RElease steam all at once,
cool, and unmold onto place.
Irish Roast Pork with Potato
2 pounds pork tenderloin, or 6 to 8 boneless lean pork
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons hard cider (apple wine) or water
stuffing (see below)
salt and pepper
Make stuffing. Rub meat with salt, pepper and butter.
or water into 3 -quart casserole dish. Place meat along edges of
dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees
Makes 6 servings.
4 1/2 cups potatoes, coarsely mashed
1/4 cup butter
2 large cooking apples, chopped
1 handful chopped fresh sage and thyme
Salt and pepper
To potatoes, add butter, onion, apples, herbs, salt