A Yule Story by Candice Rogerson
EXCERPT FROM EMBRACING HEATHENRY AVAILABLE FROM THE THREE LITTLE SISTERS
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived a beautiful mother who had 10 children. The children were all good. They minded their mother all the time, they never fought with each other, and they did their chores without complaint or reminders every day of the year. As the season of Yule approached the beautiful mother worried about how she would be able to give a Yule gift to each of her children because there were so many of them and they were so poor. She longed to reward them with a special present for being so kind and good but she didn’t have a single thing for any of them. As she cleaned her home from top to bottom to prepare for Mothers Night she wept because there would be no Yule gifts this year.
She swept the hearth when she heard a knock on the door. She wiped the tears from her eyes and went to answer it. A woman, all bundled up against the cold, stood on the door step. This stranger seemed familiar to the mother of 10 but she couldn’t think why or where she may have met her before. She bade the stranger to come in and she gave her a hot drink while she warmed herself by the fire. After a period of silence, the visitor said, “I am the Goddess Frigga and I know why you have been crying. Do not worry mother.
The Gods know you and your children and they know you are faithful to them. You prepare your home for the Yuletide although you have no gifts to share with your deserving children. If you do as I say no member of your family will be disappointed.” Frigga told the mother how to gather walnuts from under the deep snow. She said to place them in the window so the first light of the New Year would touch them.
“Gather 12, one for each member of your family; and one for each night of Yule. Be sure to place them so that if I pass by in the night I will see them. Open one nut each day for the next 12 days,” she said. Then she left. The mother shook her head. She could hardly believe what had happened. Was she dreaming? But, she went out into the cold and the snow and gathered the nuts as directed by Frigga. How could she doubt the Goddess?
After their meagre feast, some stories, and talk about the past year, the children went to bed leaving the mother alone with her husband.
“Woman, why have you wasted time hanging those wet mouldy old walnuts in the window,” the husband demanded.
“Wait and see,” the mother answered, “Those are Yule gifts. You will not be disappointed.”
“Ha”, the husband roared with laughter, “Walnuts for gifts? That makes me laugh! There will be no Yule gifts at all this year. We are too poor.”
The mother only smiled. Frigga did pass by, in the night, to look in on the family. She was glad to see the walnuts in the window. And when the morning finally came after the longest night the mother gave her husband the first nut hanging in the light of the New Year. The doubtful husband crushed the shell expecting nothing more than a mouthful to eat. But, instead, inside there was a shiny gold coin!
“A gift from Frigga,” exclaimed the mother after she explained about the visitor.
One by one, day after day each child took a turn opening a nut. They were all delighted to find some trinket, a treat, or a tiny gift placed inside just for them. On the last day of Yule the mother opened the final walnut. Inside she found a brightly burning candle. The mother took the light and placed it on the table. As she stared at this final gift of light, she gathered her children into her arms and held them tightly.
“Thank You, Frigga” she said, “Your kindness shall not be forgotten”.
From that day on, she and her children burned a candle every night of winter, to remind them of the light and love bestowed to them by the Gods.
How to Make the Walnut Yule Advent Gift
- You will need lots of walnuts. If you want to make one set of 12, you need at least 24 nuts because they are really hard to crack evenly down the seam.
- You will also need tiny gifts that will fit inside an empty walnut shell; white glue; colourful string (embroidery thread in many colours works perfect); a stick from a tree about one foot long; ribbon; glitter; pine cones; and other little seasonal decorations if you want to decorate the stick.
- Carefully, crack the shell evenly down the seam using your hands. Nut crackers do not work very well. I find that gently tapping the seam with a hammer in a few places then pulling them apart with your fingers gives you more control, so they don’t crack and split all over. Sometimes I use a butter knife to help pry it apart.
- Then pull out the nut meat and eat it, or save it for baking.
- Clean out the shell as best as you can to make as much room as possible for the gift inside. You can use a butter knife to help you out.
- Continue cracking walnuts open until you have 12 walnut shells that can be put back together perfectly.
- Keep each half-shell with its partner so they’ll seam back together evenly.
- I put elastic around each one as I finish them.
- Cut 12 lengths of embroidery thread in various lengths (about 8 to 12” long).
- You’ll suspend the gifted nuts from these threads. It doesn’t really matter what colour the strings are.
- They can all be the same or you can do a rainbow effect and have 12 different colours.
- Take one shell and place half of it on the table. Carefully place one of the tiny gifts inside the half shell. It’s not as easy as it sounds, so take your time. Then, grab one of the embroidery thread strings and place one end of it lengthwise across the shell over the “gift” so that the end just passes the bottom of the shell. If done correctly you should have just a tiny bit of thread hanging out the bottom.
- Put a line of White glue around the edges of the other half of the walnut. Carefully lower that half onto the shell sitting on the table. Press and hold the shells together until it looks like a whole nut again. You should end up with a complete nut that has a string passing through the middle of the shell. Take the rubber band and put it back around the nut to hold it tightly shut for about 24 hours until the glue is completely dry. Repeat the same assembly process with the 11 other walnut shells. Once the glue has had time to dry, tie the long ends to the stick at even intervals. You can also tie cord, or braid some string, to each end of the stick so it can hang evenly in a window.
- Open one walnut shell each day for the 12 Yule days starting on Mothers Night, which occurs on or about December 21 to receive your gifts.
Number each nut in pencil and record what is inside each one so that you can put them in an order that makes sense. You can also decorate, or paint, the hanging stick. If you do this do it before you tie the walnut shells to it. When I give one of these to a child, each walnut contains some something written on construction paper. I cut the construction paper into strips. Then I write the meaning, instructions, or inspiration on the strip, fold it up and seal it with a seasonal sticker. I also number each card 1 to 12 so they match up with the gift. This way the child and parent know what to do with the item! For example, I often put bird seed in one nut and tell them on the card to go outside as a family to feed the hungry birds before you sit down for your Yule feast.
You don’t even have to put “things” inside. You could write lines of poetry, a memory of the past year (one from each month), snippets of “what I like about you”, what ifs, pictures, etc. Anything that will roll up and fit inside the shell is fair game. I have used stickers, glitter, marbles, hair elastics, rings, beads, bird seed, rubbery animals that squish up well, magic grow capsules that become sponges when put in water, wax votive candles carved to fit inside half a shell, tiny dinosaurs, tiny plastic soldiers, incense cones, ear rings, chain necklaces, smooth stones from the beach, bath beads, photographs, tiny silver and gold LEGO pieces (at the Lego store where you can by single pieces), a marble that looks like a globe, handmade friendship bracelets, tiny cars, jingle bells, and glitter craft snow flake shapes.
I have great luck at the dollar store, and at expensive toys stores that have bins of little things at the front and the checkout stands. Making one of these walnut advent calendars is a time consuming craft. It also requires you to plan ahead. The first time you make one of these you’ll spend a lot of time fiddling around. But its fun to watch a child open one each day! They love the simple mini-gifts inside and I love coming up with new meanings for each one I make. This has become one of my favourite and most worthwhile traditions. My daughter still has some of the little things from years ago on her dresser, and I know she’ll treasure these special nick-knacks for the rest of her life.