Sowans Nicht and Yule - as celebrated in Scotland

From Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore (Pendraig Publishing) – get books signed by the author + a personal note!

Sowans Nicht – Christmas Eve – December 24

Named for “sowans” a dish made from oat husks and fine meal that have been steeped in water for about a week. After straining, the solid matter at the bottom is the sowans which is eaten like porridge. The poured off liquid is called “swats” which may be made into a fermented drink.

Branches of Rowan are burned on Christmas Eve to purge any bad feelings between friends or relatives at Yule.

Yule (Christmas) – December 25

            This festival was originally celebrated at the Winter Solstice when the Norse God Odin was the gift-bringer who traveled the sky, in a chariot drawn by horses or goats. Yule is the time of the “Wild Hunt”, a phantom horse race that occurs during stormy weather in winter and especially during the twelve days of Yule. When the Wild Hunt passes overhead celestial riders can be seen, accompanied by black hounds, riding black steeds and black he-goats, and blowing their horns.

            The Yule Log burns in the hearth, keeping the Fires of Life alive during the magical twelve day interval of the darkest time of year. Before lighting the log prayers, wishes and petitions for luck can be tied onto it using natural twine. As the string burns the prayers and hopes are sent to the Gods via the smoke.

There is kissing under the mistletoe in honor of Balder, the Norse God of innocence, beauty, joy, purity, and peace who is Odins second son.

            The home is decorated with Holly, Pine, and other evergreens as a reminder that life is eternal despite the cold, and to provide a safe haven for any Nature Spirits seeking shelter at this dangerous time. Solar wreaths of evergreen are hung on the door and trees are illuminated with candles and lights, to honor the strengthening sun.

            The Yule festival actually lasts for about a month starting on December 12. From that day on neither carding nor spinning should be undertaken in a home with sheep. Knitters, shoemakers and dress makers may work until Yule Eve but should not work again after that until the feast is over, either the twelfth day after Yule or the twenty fourth day after Yule.

            On Yule Eve, the kitchen is cleared of furniture, husks are strewn on the floor, and a fiddler is brought in for the celebration. Costumed revelers dance all night as potent spirits are shared by all.

            In some areas straw images that represent the Grain Goddess; the bitch, the wolf, the goat, or the horse, are brought out and paraded through the village, bringing the fertility and luck of the last year’s solar cycle to all. These images embody the female Spirit that inhabits the grain and nurtures the people. This Spirit stays with the last sheaf which must be ritually cut and preserved.