Winter festivals

Many of the evergreen plants in the park have traditionally been used in the celebration of winter festivals.

Winter, as the days grew ever shorter and colder, must have been a frightening and dangerous time for the early human cultures of northern Europe. Today we are astonished by the accuracy with which prehistoric peoples were able to predict the winter solstice, which passes almost unnoticed these days, but was critically important knowledge for ancient agrarian cultures.

” O the holly and the ivy. . .”

Mid-winter, the point at which the dark begins to retreat and the year turns towards spring, has always been marked with festivals and the festivals have always been decorated with evergreens.

Evergreen plants and trees acquired great spiritual significance in the ancient celebrations of mid-winter. We still follow the old ways today, without really understanding what they mean. We make wreaths from holly and ivy and hang them on the door; you may think you are welcoming visitors but the old lore is protecting your house from the evil spirits that lurk in the dark places.

Christmas trees are descendants of Yule trees. . . .

We bring green trees into our houses and decorate them with shiny baubles and sweet things to eat, believing it to be a pretty custom imported from 19th Century Germany. Christmas trees, though, are direct descendants of Yule trees, a central part of an old pagan midwinter ritual built around sacrifice.

Perhaps we should be more aware of the history of our Christmas festivities and re-establish the relationship with our environment that past winter festivals celebrated.

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