A Folkloric Primer for Netflix’s ‘Sabrina’ Holiday Episode ‘A Midwinter’s Tale’

Waylon JordanNetflix1 Comment

Seances, ghosts, and a demon or two…sounds about right for a scary story on the longest night of the year, and Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gathered them all together to spin their first ever holiday episode, A Midwinter’s Tale which debuted on the streaming service today.

**Author’s Note: This article contains a few small, necessary spoilers in discussing the folklore behind the holiday episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.**

As the episode opens, we find Sabrina and the rest of the Spellman clan preparing to celebrate the Winter Solstice, but they’re also still dealing with all those loose and fraying ends from the first season finale.

Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka)is trying to find common ground with the friends who now know she’s a witch, and Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) are caring for baby Lettitia, whom Zelda abducted to protect her from Father Blackwood. All the while, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) is testing the limits of his freedom and exploring his growing relationship with the oh-so-delectable Luke (Darren Mann).

Of course, the holidays add a layer of tension to everything, and in the Spellman house, that generally means spells to cast and demons to vanquish.

While the episode is a little uneven in its opening letting us know that things are still awkward on almost every front, it finds its feet by the 20 minute mark and it does so by digging deep into the lore of Yule, the Solstice, and folkloric traditions from around the world.

It all begins with lighting the Yule Log. A long-standing tradition with roots in Germanic pagan practices, the Yule Log was burned through the long solstice night as a reminder that the darkest night of the year and the winter months themselves eventually give way to the light of the coming Spring as the wheel of the year turned. Its bright light was a balance to dispel the darkness, but also a promise of luck and prosperity.

The tradition continues in many pagan groups to this day, when the great Yule Log is burned save for a small piece that will be used to light the Yule Log the following year.

And you thought it was just a hokey background for schmaltzy Christmas music!

Of course, letting the fire go out before the dawn could bring dire consequences, and of course, that’s just what happens in the Spellman home!

Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) is ready for anything when things get weird in A Midwinter’s Tale on Netflix (Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix)

The fire goes out when Sabrina and the Weird Sisters are performing a seance to contact the spirit of her mother which opens the house to an infestation by a group of pesky Icelandic spirits called the Yule Lads.

In the traditional lore, the Yule Lads are a bit like the Seven Dwarfs with mischievous attitudes and a tendency, in some instances, to dabble in cannibalism. In more modern tellings, they run amok in the days leading up to Christmas leaving gifts or the occasional rotting potato on children’s windowsills depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year.

There’s really only one person who could ever control the Yule Lads, and that was their mother, the ogress Gryla, who as it happens, also plays a major role in the episode. Gryla also has a history of eating disobedient children, but the writers on Sabrina softened her story, portraying her as a powerful witch mother who protects wayward, orphaned children.

This latter part of her rebranded mythology comes in handy when one of Sabrina’s friends finds themselves at the mercy of Mr. Bartel, an evil demon who has apparently watched House of Wax one too many times!

Bartel, as some of you may know, is the South Austrian name associated with none other than Krampus, the Christmas Devil, himself.

If it seems like that’s a lot to pack into one episode, you’re right, but somehow it all seems to fit into the magical world of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina quite nicely.

The real Winter Solstice will begin at 5:23 pm EST on Friday, December 21, 2018, and A Midwinter’s Tale might be just the entertainment you’re looking for to kick off the longest night of the year. Of course, you don’t have to wait, the episode is available today on Netflix!

Waylon Jordan is a lifelong fan of genre fiction and film especially those with a supernatural element. He firmly believes that horror reflects collective fears of society and can be used as a tool for social change.