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Dec 21

The Season of Yule

Yuletide
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The Yule Log
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"See the blazing Yule before us.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!"

~ Deck the Halls, Traditional

The traditions of the ancient season of Yule, a period of feasting, drinking, and sacrifice, with its traditions of the Yule log, Yule goat, and Yule boar are still reflected in the modern version of the Christmas fireside, the Christmas ham, carol singing, and other traditions. During the Reformation, many Yuletide traditions in Scotland were discouraged. And by 1583, even bakers who dared to made Yule Breads were fined (although their punishment could be lessened if they gave the names of their customers)! Eventually restored, Scottish Yuletide traditions and folklore include: the serving of Black Bun on Twelfth Night; the belief that bees leave hives on Christmas morn, swarm, and then return; the reading of the cold ashes the morning after the Christmas fire; the Lighting of Candles (Oidche Choinnle) on Christmas Eve; and First-footing and handseling on New Year's Eve.

Yule or Yuletide is a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later undergoing 

Christianised reformulation resulting in the now better-known Christmastide.

This tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, expresses the deep rich colours of the yuletide season.

In pagan times, the Yule-tide period lasted somewhere around two months in length, falling along the end of the modern calendar year between what is now mid-November and early January, believed to have been centered on Midwinter at the winter solstice.

Scholars have connected the Yule time period to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky led by the Scandinavian god Odin) and increased supernatural activity, the period in which undead beings walk the earth.  

Yule was a period of feasting, drinking, and sacrifice.  The traditions of the Yule logYule goat, and Yule boar are still reflected in the Christmas hamcarol singing, and other traditions originating from ancient Yule customs.

Christmas & New Year were welcomed equally by Scots before the Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries from which period traditional customs of both festivals stem.

However, during the Reformation, many former Yuletide traditions in Scotland were discouraged. And by 1583, even bakers who dared to made Yule Breads were fined (although their punishment could be lessened if they gave the names of their customers)!

In 1638 the General Assembly in Edinburgh tried to abolish Yuletide altogether.

However, with the Restoration of the Monarchy came the restoration of Christmas. In Scotland, the rigid laws of the new Kirk still frowned upon Christmas celebration, so it stayed underground. The High church and the Catholics kept the old traditions going.

Some Yuletide Scottish traditions and folklore with ancient origins are:

  • The serving of Black Bun, the Twelfth Night Cake

  • The belief that bees leave hives on Christmas morn, swarm, and then return

  • The checking of the cold ashes the morning after the Christmas fire -  A foot shape facing the door was said to foretell a death in the family, while a foot facing into the room meant a new arrival.

  • Lighting of Candles (Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles) - Candles are traditionally placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and for First Footers on New Years Eve.  Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a “Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you.”

  • First-footing and handseling (gift giving) on the New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

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Today, the day of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, enjoy the Yuletide season and click the vintage postcard  for a recipe for Caraway and Honey Midwinter Bread from the The Cailleach's Herbarium.