At this time of year, it’s our first instinct to put the fire on, decorate our homes with all the festive treats that are on offer and hibernate with friends and family.
If you wrap up warm and brave the wintery weather, many of the traditions of Christmas, regarding yuletide folklore, can be found outside in the natural world.
Trees have a well- known association with Christmas. Now they are often real or plastic, it was the Royal family in the 1800’s that made popular the tradition of bringing a tree inside and decorating it. Having the tree inside was a reminder of the coming spring and the lights, the summer night sky. One of the most ancient traditions is a whole tree, dragged into the house and burnt slowly in the hearth over the 12 days of Christmas- a Germanic and Nordic Pagan winter solstice custom. By doing this, it was thought that the house was protected from evil spirits for the year to come but we know this now as the Yule log, a delicious chocolate dessert.
Animals like the Polar bear and Penguin feature on many Christmas cards as they live in wintery conditions but there are a couple of species a little closer to home that feature in this season. The lovely Robin, with its song and colourful chest, is a bold image of Christmas and can be seen in many of our gardens at this time of year. One of our favourite animals though is the Reindeer, this was once a mythical creature of ancient Norse legend, as Thor (the God of Thunder) used magical goats to pull his flying chariot. An ancient tale that could be the reason that Western cultures have Reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh.
Unfortunately, not all of us are guaranteed a white Christmas. This longing for snow at Christmas started in the Victorian era when the UK was in the grip of a mini ice age. This was the period when fairs were held on the frozen river Thames and so began our obsession with snow. These days it’s usually a surprise when it comes - but what better time for it to appear than Christmas.
So when you’ve had your Christmas lunch and need some exercise, don your winter woollies and put on those boots, go outside and appreciate all the festive traditions that have their beginnings in the natural world.
Written by Angela and Chris