Twas the Night Before Yule
Twas the night before Yuletide and all through the glen
Not a creature was stirring, not a fox, not a hen.
A mantle of snow shone brightly that night
As it lay on the ground, reflecting moonlight.
The faeries were nestled all snug in their trees,
Unmindful of flurries and a chilly north breeze.
The elves and the gnomes were down in their burrows,
Sleeping like babes in their soft earthen furrows.
When low! the earth moved with a thunderous quake,
Causing chairs to fall over and dishes to break.
The Little Folk scrambled to get on their feet
Then raced to the river where they usually meet.
“What happened?” they wondered, they questioned, they probed,
As they shivered in night clothes, some bare-armed, some robed.
“What caused the earth’s shudder? What caused her to shiver?”
They all spoke at once as they stood by the river.
Then what to their wondering eyes should appear
But a shining gold light in the shape of a sphere.
It blinked and it twinkled, it winked like an eye,
Then it flew straight up and was lost in the sky.
Before they could murmur, before they could bustle,
There emerged from the crowd, with a swish and a rustle,
A stately old crone with her hand on a cane,
Resplendent in green with a flowing white mane.
As she passed by them the old crone’s perfume,
Smelling of meadows and flowers abloom,
Made each of the fey folk think of the spring
When the earth wakes from slumber and the birds start to sing.
“My name is Gaia,” the old crone proclaimed
in a voice that at once was both wild and tamed,
“I’ve come to remind you, for you seem to forget,
that Yule is the time of re-birth, and yet…”
“I see no hearth fires, hear no music, no bells,
The air isn’t filled with fragrant smells
Of baking and roasting, and simmering stews,
Of cider that’s mulled or other hot brews.”
“There aren’t any children at play in the snow,
Or houses lit up by candles’ glow.
Have you forgotten, my children, the fun
Of celebrating the rebirth of the sun?”
She looked at the fey folk, her eyes going round,
As they shuffled their feet and stared at the ground.
Then she smiled the smile that brings light to the day,
“Come, my children,” she said, “Let’s play.”
They gathered the mistletoe, gathered the holly,
Threw off the drab and drew on the jolly.
They lit a big bonfire, and they danced and they sang.
They brought out the bells and clapped when they rang.
They strung lights on the trees, and bows, oh so merry,
In colors of cranberry, bayberry, cherry.
They built giant snowmen and adorned them with hats,
Then surrounded them with snow birds, and snow cats and bats.
Then just before dawn, at the end of their fest,
Before they went homeward to seek out their rest,
The fey folk they gathered ‘round their favorite oak tree
And welcomed the sun ‘neath the tree’s finery.
They were just reaching home when suddenly it came,
The gold light returned like an arrow-shot flame.
It lit on the tree top where they could see from afar
The golden-like sphere turned into a star.
The old crone just smiled at the beautiful sight,
“Happy Yuletide, my children,” she whispered. “Good night.”
The First Song: A tale of how Yule got its name, by Andras Corban Arthen
This is the story of the very first song; it is a true story, as all stories are, if you believe in them. This story begins a long, long time ago, when the Earth and Sun gave birth to the first beings-the very first plants, and animals, and people. It was springtime, and the Sun shone warm and bright from his high perch above, and Earth, proud mother that she was, held and fed her newborns and relished them with tenderness and love. It was a time of joy, it was a time of great delight.
The Moon waxed and waned time and again in the night sky, and the children of the Earth grew well and strong through summertime. They played and danced, and Earth and Sun watched over them.
Then autumn came, and the Earth began to sleep much longer every day. She grew tired and pale, she could no longer feed her children, and had no strength to grow new life. High above, the Sun grew distant, and took longer to return each morn. The nights grew longer, and cold winds blew where none had blown before.
And then, one day, Earth went to sleep and never did wake up. She wrapped herself in a blanket of snow, and rested her tired head on pillows of dried leaves, and she did not wake up, Her children could do nothing to rouse her from her slumber. They prodded her, they called to her, but she would not awaken. In the sky, the Sun was nowhere to be seen, and the children of the Earth felt fear, and also felt despair. This was the longest night that they had ever known.
“What shall become of us?”, they pondered. “Earth Mother sleeps, and Father Sun is oh so far away that we can barely see him in the sky. He is much too far to hear our call. What shall we do?”
So they brought their questions and their fears to the Moon, the sister of the Sun, for they knew not where else to turn. She closed her eyes, and took a slow, deep breath, and looked within herself, and awoke thoughts that had never been awakened until then.
She opened her soft eyes, then said, “When hope is lost, the best way to get it back is with a song. Climb you the tallest trees, the biggest hills, the highest mountains, and yule a song to reach the Sun”. (Now, yule is a word from one of the most ancient tongues. It is related to words like yell or yodel, and it means to call out in a song).
But the first beings had never heard a song, so once again they sought the Moon’s advice. “How shall we yule?”, they asked. “How shall we sing a song?”
“Take the best of what you have”, she said, “the best of what you are. Take what you love, take what you cherish most. Take your joys, your dreams, your fondest hopes, and weave them all together in a sound.”
And so they did. The climbed atop the tallest trees, the mountains and the hills. They stood on all the places that would bring them closest to the Sun. They shut their eyes, and thought and felt the best of thoughts and feelings, and dreamt the finest dreams. And, as they did, their voices rang and made a bridge of song across the sky, to reach the distant Sun.
He heard, and turned, and smiled, and wrapped himself in all his light and warmth, and sped to where the yuling voices called. As he drew near, the sleeping Earth did stir, and dreamed a dream of spring. The wheel of life made its first round, and hope and joy prevailed. And ever since, that time of year has been called Yule, in honor of the song.
But the first song did not end. It had such power, such eldritch allure, that the first beings kept singing it throughout. And then the second beings bom of the Earth took up the song, as did the third. And so it ever since has gone, through seasons and through years, until this very day.
At times the song is very soft, and scarcely can be heard above the din and clatter of our lives. But when Yule comes, it rises and it swells in memory of that night when the Sun heard, and light and life were spared.
And so do we, upon this longest night, gather with those we love and who love us, and stand upon the body of slumbering Earth, and light the log with last year’s coal, and lift our voices soaring to the Sun, and join the song that first was sung so very long ago.
We sing our thanks to those who went before, and sing our fondest wish to those who come behind. We bask in the returning light of reawakened hope, and welcome Yule.
© 1994, The EarthSpirit Community (from This Winters Night by MotherTongue)
The Yule Faeries – A Winter Solstice Story, author unknown*
A group of little Faeries huddled in their home deep under the roots of a giant oak tree. They were safe and snug in their tiny underground cave lined with dandelion fluff, bird feathers, and dried moss.
Outside, the wind blew cold and the snow fell softly down to cover the ground. “I saw the Sun King today,” the faerie named Rose said as she pulled her mossy cloak tighter about her. “He looked so old and tired as he walked off through the forest. What is wrong with him?
“The great oak said he’s dying” answered Daffodil.
“Dying? Oh, what will we do now?”, Little Meadow Grass started to cry, “If the Sun King dies, our little plant friends will not grow. The Birds will not come and sing again. Everything will be winter for ever!” Lilac, Dandelion and Elder Blossom tried to comfort their friend, but they were all very sad. As they huddled together, there was a knock on the tiny door.
“Open up, Faeries,” called out a loud voice. “Why are you hiding instead of joining us in our Solstice celebration?” Rose opened the door and the little gnome Brown Knobby pushed inside, shaking the glistening snowflakes off his brown coat and hat.
“We are too sad to celebrate,” Daffodil said wiping her eyes, “The Sun King is dying, haven’t you heard?”
“He is dead you silly Faeries.” Brown Knobby’s round dark eyes sparkled with laughter. “Now hurry, or we’ll be late for the celebration!”
“How can you be happy and laughing?!” Elder Blossom stamped her little foot and frowned at the gnome. “If the Sun King IS dead, it will be winter always. We will never see the Sun again!”
“Silly little child-Faeries.” Brown Knobby grabbed Dandelion by the hand and pulled her to her feet. “There is a secret to the Winter Solstice. Don’t you want to know what it is?”
The Faeries looked at him in surprise. “Secret?” they all said. “What secret? We are only new little Faeries, you silly gnome. We’ve never been to a Solstice celebration before.”
“Come and see. Come and see. Get your capes and come with me.” Brown Knobby danced and jigged around the room. “Hurry, Hurry, don’t be slow! To the Sacred Oak Grove through the snow!” He danced out of the door and disappeared.
“What did that gnome mean?” Rose asked as she gathered up her cloak of dried rose petals held together with cobwebs and lined with goose down.
“I don’t know, but the Lady lives in the Sacred Grove.” Meadow Grass pulled on her hat.
“Perhaps if we go to see the Goddess, She can explain what Brown Knobby was talking about”.
The Faeries left their snug little home and trudged off through the snow toward the sacred oak grove. The forest was dark with only the light of the Moon shining down through the thick fir branches and bare limbs of maple and hawthorn. It was very difficult for them to get through the snow because they were very, very small. As they waded through the wet snow and shivered in the cold wind, they met a fox.
“Where are you going, Faeries?” the fox asked.
“To the sacred grove,” they answered, they were cold and shivering.
“Climb on my back and I will take you there swiftly.”
The fox knelt down so the Faeries could climb up. Then he raced off through the dark.
“Listen!” Lilac said as they neared the Grove of Sacred trees. “Someone is singing happy songs. A LOT of someones.”
The beautiful music carried over the cold, still, moonlit air. It was the most beautiful music the Faeries had ever heard. The fox carried the Faeries right to the edge of the stone altar in the center of the grove, then knelt down.
“Look!” said Elder Blossom as they slid to the snow covered ground. “There is the Maiden and the Mother and the OLD Wise Crone, and many other Little People.”
“They are all smiling and happy,” said Lilac as she looked around at all the creatures.
“All the animals are here too,” whispered Dandelion. “Why are they all looking at the Mother?”
The Faeries moved closer to the three Ladies seated on the altar stone. The Mother held a bundle close in Her arms, smiling down at it. The Maiden reached down and took the Faeries gently in her Hands. She held them close to the Mother so they could see what She held.
“A Baby!” the Faeries cried. ” A new little Baby! Look how he glows!”
“He is the newborn Sun King,” said the Maiden smiling.
“But Brown Knobby and the old oak tree said the Sun King was dead,” the Faeries answered her. “How can this little baby be the Sun King?”
“That is the great secret of the Winter Solstice.” The Old Wise One touched the baby’s cheek with her wrinkled hand. “Every year the Sun King must come to the sacred grove during the darkest days of winter where he dies. I take his spirit to the Mother who gives him new life again. This is the way for all creatures, not just the Sun King.”
” You mean everything lives and dies and lives again? the Faeries looked down in wonder at the baby Sun King, nestled in the arms of the Mother.
” Yes, Little Ones,” answered the Old Wise Crone. “There is never an end to life. This is the great mystical secret of the Winter Solstice.”
The Faeries laughed because they were so happy.
“I think the little Sun King should have gifts,” said Rose. “I will show him where the wild roses bloom in the early summer.”
“And, I will teach him to call the birds and listen to the songs of the wind,” exclaimed Dandelion.
“When he is older and stronger, ” said the Mother, “then the flowers will bloom at his touch, the birds will return to sing their songs, and the air will be warm from his breath, and winter will be gone for a time. Then the Sun King will run and play with you in the forest.”
The little Faeries sang to the Baby Sun King, songs of the coming spring, the sweet smelling flowers, the bumbling bees, and all the secrets of the forest. And all the creatures within the sacred grove sang with them. Then the fox took them back to their snug home under the roots of the giant oak tree where they dreamed wonderful dreams, waiting for the warmth of spring and the fun they would have with the little Sun King.
*This is Chickadee’s favorite Yule story after having heard it last year at our UUF’s Yule service during the kid’s service–she’s a big fan of the Baby Sun King, and we abstractly discuss the idea of the Wheel of the year in terms of Baby Sun King>Grandfather Sun.