The twelve days of Yule are the most dangerous and uncanny days of the year. They exist outside of normal time and do not belong to the year proper – time is in suspension. Finnish shamans call this period ‘the Dreaming’ or ‘God’s Trance Hour’.
Many of the ancient beliefs and customs surrounding the Twelve Days remain to this day. They are a time of danger, the eerie and the supernatural, haunted by spirits which might punish or reward. The Wild Hunt rides out to collect souls, and in Iceland the wild hunt is called the ‘Yule Host’. The strangeness of these days is reflected in many of their other names: the Balkan ‘unbaptised days’; the Slovenian ‘wolf nights’; the Germanic ‘raw nights’ and the Bulgarian ‘heathen days’ or ‘dirty days’ when demons attack the World Tree.
In Guernsey the powers of darkness are supposed to be more than usually active on the twelve days between St. Thomas’s Day (the solstice) and New Year’s Eve. In Greece the Kallikantzaroi appear to wreak havoc. In Sweden the trolls are abroad, and elsewhere werewolves roam.
The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Teutons (among others) all had a twelve-day festival around the winter solstice. The idea was adopted by Christianity in the fourth century, because, the Christian writers said, it took the Wise Men twelve days to find Jesus. The Twelve Days start on Boxing Day because ‘Christmas Day was a holy day’.
The sun reborn at the winter solstice is a weakling babe and for twelve days all is still uncertain. Only at their conclusion does the sun gain enough power to turn the tide and send the Winter Spirits back to the underworld. Epiphany, on January 6th, brings an end to the Christmas period. Epiphany means ‘revelation’ as in the manifestation of a god.
The Twelve Days represent the twelve signs of the zodiac the sun must past through during the twelve months of the coming year, and many omens were taken from them. In England it was said that the weather on the first day would reflect the weather in January, the weather on the second day the weather in February and so on. In Brittany it is supposed that the wind which prevails on the first twelve days of the year will blow during each of the twelve months, the first day corresponding to January, the second to February, and so on.
© Anna Franklin, Yule, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books, 2010
Illustration Anna Franklin
 Nigel Jackson, Compleat Vampire, Capall Bann, Chieveley