Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Is the Yule Tree an Ancient Pagan Custom?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Short answer: No.

In his magisterial Stations of the Sun, Ron Hutton explains that in many places the ancestors were wont to deck their holidays with whatever greenery and flowers were then in season (34): at Midsummer, with broadleafs, at Midwinter, with evergreens.

But there's no evidence at all in antiquity for decorated trees per se at Midwinter. The modern Yule tree, rather, has its roots in Renaissance Germany: ironically, the period of the Great Persecution.

So it's really a Christian custom.

The operative question here is: does it matter?

Every pagan understands the Tree of Life, the Tree that stands at the Center of the Worlds. (How do we know that it's the World Tree? Obviously: because it's got the North Star on top.)

There's no point pretending that the Great Interruption never happened. That fact has shaped all modern paganism; there's no avoiding it. Nor is it anything to be ashamed of. It only means that as pagans we're Children of History, just like everyone else.

And, like pagans of all times, modern pagans know a good idea when we see one.

Whatever its historical origins, the Yule Tree reads pagan, it feels pagan, and it means pagan.

As novelist Richard Grant puts it, Yule trees are seedlings of Yggdrasil.

And that's good enough for me.




Last modified on
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 10 December 2016

    I've come across two stories about the origin of the Christmas tree. The 1st one is that the ancient Germans had a sacred Oak tree, when it was cut down a little fir tree was found growing at the base. This story is meaningful to me because there was a little pine tree growing at the base of the Pin Oak in the front yard of my old home.
    The second story I heard in church. Martin Luther was having a religious crises and went out for a walk in the woods at night, he looked up and saw the stars shining against the branches of a tree and had one of those Zen moments. Going home to his family he was unable to express what he and experienced in words so he cut down a fir tree, brought it home, and decorated it with little candles as a visual metaphor for what he had experienced.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information