A crackling open fire, the gentle scent of mulled wine and a delicious roast dinner are usually something you would experience in the winter months in northern European countries. For over 30 years, Wentworth Falls and the Blue Mountains has been a tourist destination for people who wish to escape the frantic crowds of the city and savour the warm atmosphere created by cosy fires, succulent food and amazing surroundings.
Every year, all throughout the months of June, July and August, the Blue Mountains celebrate the ‘Yulefest’ commonly referred to as Christmas in July. On the Saturday closest to the Winter Solstice, the Winter Magic Festival takes over the streets of Katoomba with a celebration that includes a street parade, music, market stalls and cultural events.
The winter months in the Blue Mountains are splendid, as the crisp, dry weather truly lends itself to a relaxing game of golf at the Wentworth Falls Country Club with friends followed by a mouth watering roast lunch or dinner.
But where did all this originate and what does Yulefest really mean?
What does Yule mean?
Yule is a Pagan festival also called the Winter Solstice celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, the Sun God and honouring the Horned God. On Yule we experience the longest night of the year. Although much of the winter’s harshest weather is still ahead of us, we celebrate the coming light, and thank the Gods for seeing us through the longest night. It is a time to look on the past year’s achievements and to celebrate with family and friends. From this day until Midsummer, the days grow longer, everyday banishing the darkness a little more in a glow of the warm sunlight that brings the world to life again. This day is the official first day of winter. The specific day varies from year to year depending on when the Sun reaches the southern most point in its yearly trek.
This type of festivity has been celebrated around the world for millennia under different names and with different traditions.
Four thousand years ago, the Ancient Egyptians took the time to celebrate the daily rebirth of Horus – the god of the Sun. As their culture flourished and spread throughout Mesopotamia, other civilizations decided to get in on the sun-welcoming action. They found that things went really well… until the weather got cooler, and crops began to die. Each year, this cycle of birth, death and rebirth took place, and they began to realize that every year after a period of cold and darkness, the Sun did indeed return.
Winter festivals were common in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, as well as in the British Isles. Few cultures knew how to party like the Romans. Saturnalia was a festival of general merrymaking and debauchery held around the time of the winter solstice. This week-long party was held in honour of the god Saturn, and involved sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves, and a lot of feasting. Although this holiday was partly about giving presents, more importantly, it was to honour an agricultural god.
When a new religion called Christianity popped up, the new hierarchy had trouble converting the Pagans, and as such, folks didn’t want to give up their old holidays. Christian churches were built on old Pagan worship sites, and Pagan symbols were incorporated into the symbolism of Christianity. Within a few centuries, the Christians had everyone worshipping a new holiday celebrated on December 25.
The Celts of the British Isles celebrated midwinter as well. Although little is known about the specifics of what they did, many traditions persist. According to the writings of Pliny the Elder, this is the time of year in which Druid priests sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe in celebration.
The Norse peoples viewed it as a time for much feasting, merrymaking, and, if the Icelandic sagas are to be believed, a time of sacrifice as well. Traditional customs such as the Yule log, the decorated tree, and wassailing can all be traced back to Norse origins.
Origins of the Blue Mountains Yulefest
The story behind the origins of the celebration of Christmas in July or Yulefest, is quite interesting as the concept and adoption of the idea by local operators came about by accident.
In 1980 a group of Irish tourists were visiting the Blue Mountains in an attempt to find the clear crisp winter climate they were used to back in Ireland. While relaxing in the Mountain Heritage in front of a roaring fire they noticed snowflakes falling from the sky and the wind blowing the flakes around. They immediately thought of Christmas in the northern hemisphere. “Celebrating Christmas in Australia during the heat of summer just doesn’t feel quite the same”, one of the group explained to Garry Crockett, their host and the owner of Mountain Heritage. Garry, being of Irish descent himself, recalled the stories his father Bill would recount depicting frosted windows, Christmas feasts of turkey, hams, mince pies and steaming plum puddings, and choiristers joining together singing the joys of the festive season.
Garry, in order to please his Irish guests, decided to provide them with what they had requested. Hence the preparations got under way with the hanging of decorations throughout the hotel, even a Christmas tree found and trimmed. Over the weeks of planning, many curious guests enquired as to all the activity… they thought it was some kind of Irish joke – you just don’t have Christmas in the middle of the year!
Garry explained the significance of the occasion that a traditional Christmas feast with all the trimmings, was soon to happen for a group of homesick Irish people. Word began to spread far and wide of this most unusual “out-of-season” festive event at Mountain Heritage and enquiries from other interested parties, who also wanted to enjoy such a wonderful original occasion, began flowing in.
This idea was so popular that other operators in the Blue Mountains followed suit and started offering ‘Christmas in July’ products and services. Within a few years, the celebration of Yulefest had well and truly been embraced and adopted.
Come celebrate Christmas in July in the Blue Mountains!
Now that you know what Yulefest means and how it originated in the Blue Mountains you have no excuse not to come to Wentworth Falls and enjoy all that this gorgeous part of the world has to offer.
Round up your friends and family, pack your golf clubs and join in the Yulefest celebrations!
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