Winter festivals

Many of the evergreen plants in the park have traditionally been used in the celebration of winter festivals. As the days grew ever shorter and colder, winter must have been a frightening and dangerous time for the early human cultures of northern Europe.

Mid-winter, the point at which the dark begins to retreat and the year turns towards spring, has always been marked with celebration and festivals. Evergreen trees and shrubs, the holly and and the ivy, the plants that didn’t succumb to the winter, have always been a central element to these festivals.

” O the holly and the ivy. . .”

Evergreen plants and trees acquired great spiritual significance in the ancient celebrations of mid-winter and 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 in the old lore you are protecting your house from the evil spirits that inhabit the dark places.

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 by Prince Albert. Christmas trees, though, are direct descendants of Yule trees, a central part of an old pagan midwinter ritual built around sacrifice and misrule.

Christmas trees are descendants of Yule trees. . . .

We should be more aware of the pre-Christian history of our Christmas festivities. It’s a story of the essential and fragile relationships between human societies, the environment that supports them and the rituals they used to help the gods maintain the circle.

We have lost that link to our environment and the gods are making us pay.

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