Celtic Yule 2020 – by apprentice Will

Crannog Apprentice Will talks about his role as Lead Guide at our winter event!


Our task was to create a full new tour to be used for this event. Some apprentices made music, others made candles or cake. I was given the role of researcher and main tour writer. This was not an easy task as the ancient Britons were not well known for writing much (or anything for that matter) about themselves or their traditions. This as you can imagine posed a rather large problem. Under the advice of my colleagues, I decided to take a slightly different route. Instead of writing purely about the traditions of the Britons at this time of year, I choose to create a summary of what yule meant, and how we are still following some aspects of this ancient celebration today.

But first, before getting to all this new exciting and often frightening side of the season, I had to explain what the lives of those Crannog dwellers would have been like. I learnt about how the solar calendar affected their lives. Looking into the equinoxes and solstices, talking about planting and harvest, repairs and winter life. Once this was all done, I began the yule side of the talk.

There were many traditions to take into consideration when drawing in from sources from all across western Europe. Because of this, I had to try and focus on those that crossed many borders and which were known to many cultures. The best example of this would be the yule tree. This was a piece of greenery brought in to represent the fact that green times would return. No matter how cold and dark the winter, spring would bring light and life to the world once more. This was one of the predecessors of the Christmas tree. People even decorated these trees, but not in a way that is quite so familiar to us today. They would hang the kills of the hunt as sacrifices to Woden (Odin). I believe the reason they did this was that Odin hung himself from the branches of the world tree Yggdrasil as an offering to himself. I have not been able to confirm this, but I see it as a possibility. Next came the wild hunt and then sun imagery. This came in a variety of methods such as sun cakes and decorations, but the principle always stayed the same. It was meant as a sort of sympathetic magic to try to bring the sun back after the longest night.

Next, things took a darker turn as I learnt about Krampus. Krampus was once the yule goat who delivered presents to the good children. Once Christianity came along, they saw he was a goat and associated him with the devil, creating the demon of Christmas. Instead of giving gifts to the good, he would steal and eat naughty children. I found many such tales meant to try and get children to behave, but this seemed to be the most widely spread. The only other such creature I mentioned was the yule cat. A being, who in some tales, would eat the unwashed, and in others, those children who hadn’t been given new clothes. It was fascinating diving into the past to try and discover why these cautionary tales came to be.

Moving swiftly onto something a bit brighter, there is a tradition where a gift that is given must be handmade. This is still widely practised and is a rather pleasant addition. Lastly, there was the swearing of oaths. This would be done on the boar and they were said to be unbreakable, the origins of our new year’s resolutions. This, it was decided, would be the first thing the visitors would do as part of their tour upon leaving the Crannog.

(Funding for the apprenticeship programme kindly supported by the Gannochy Trust, Museums Galleries Scotland, Perth & Kinross Council and SSE Renewables)