`

Northumberland’s festive traditions have varied history

Kevin Robson and Joseph Jackson, of Wild Dog Outdoors, explaining Celt and Roman cultures along Hadrian's Wall.
Kevin Robson and Joseph Jackson, of Wild Dog Outdoors, explaining Celt and Roman cultures along Hadrian's Wall.
  • County-based tour operator tells us what our ancestors did

A Northumberland tour operator is accompanying its launch of gift vouchers with gifts of knowledge relating to the festive traditions of our ancestors.

Haydon Bridge-based Wild Dog Outdoors , which recently scooped a North East Tourism award, offers immersive experiences, which connect its clients to the landscape, using interpretative mechanisms such as costume, shields, weapons and Roman helmets.

Its tour of Cumbria’s stone circles offers highly relevant and topical knowledge at this time of year, with the circles having been used as sites at which the winter solstice was celebrated, marking the point at which the sun was furthest away from the Northern hemisphere, on December 21 – the shortest day.

The Yule festival was a pre-Christian Celtic fire festival that celebrated the ending of the darkest days in the calendar. While we associate Christmas with Christianity, its roots are to be found in this pre-Christian celebration of the winter solstice.

It was only in 325 AD, at the Council of Nicea, when the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed that Christianity would be the official religion of the Empire to try to deter the cult of sun worship, that the pre-Christian Yule festival and the Roman celebration of Saturnalia came together to create a more diverse celebration.

Wild Dog Outdoors’ Joe Jackson said: “The winter solstice is something that was celebrated in almost every culture. Ancient people believed that the sun was dying as it sank lower into the sky in winter and were relieved when the sun began to rise again.”

The Christmas Eve tradition of leaving out sherry and mince pies for Father Christmas actually stems from the gifts of milk and honey biscuits that Celtic families would put out on Samhain (Hallowe’en) and the night of the winter solstice. These were the nights on which the spirits of their dead ancestors were allowed to visit them.

Additionally, decorating the home at these times was a way to ward off evil spirits and the plants deemed to have this power were mistletoe, holly, ivy and yew.

Vouchers and more information are available at www.wilddogoutdoors.co.uk