Yule, or the Winter Solstice, occurring on or around the 21st December (this year, the 22nd), is a festival of the marks the returning of the Sun. From this day on, the days begin to grow longer again, although, hardly visible at first. It is the beginning of the cycle of more light upon the Earth. Yule, is an Anglo Saxon word, meaning Wheel, hence Wheel of the Year. Since this is a solar festival, it is celebrated with Fire.
Yuletide (commonly known as Christmas, after the date was “taken over” by the Christians), is a magickal time of the year. The long cold winter months are upon us. We wrap up warm and stay by the fire in our homes. Traditionally, this is a time of reflection. Introspection. Taking time to look back at the year that has passed and looking forward to the coming of spring. As this was also a time of little or no physical growth, food was scarce. Yuletide is then celebrated with feasts, welcoming the fact that we are moving towards the light again. Gifts are also given – much as they are at Christmas – although Pagan gifts tend to be home made or significant to the recipient.
Evergreens were brought into the home, to represent the returning of the foliage. A tree, (evergreen) was often brought into the home, possibly to represent the return of the green in the springtime, but probably, because the smell of pine would mask the staleness of the air. The trees were first decorated with fruits and nuts and artificial flowers to bring about the return of spring and fertility, warmth and light, and to restore and maintain the balance between darkness and light, coldness and warmth, and death and rebirth. Did you know that silver baubles actually represent Witch balls (spheres or crystal balls)?
Mistletoe, also brought into the home at this time, has long been held as sacred by the ancients as well as the Druids. In fact, it should be treated as gold as it is now under threat of extinction. Pagans generally hang it in a significant spot in the home, in order to kiss under it at Yuletide. It represents rebirth and of course fertility. Mistletoe is also used to protect the home from spirits, so hang a sprig from the ceiling or rafters to protect the home.
Holly and Ivy are two other evergreens that were brought into the home as they are hardy plants that carry their green hues through the dark winter months. Holly is representative of the Holly King. And at Yule, the Holly King vanquishes the Oak King. He will rule until Midsummer, when the Oak King again takes over. Holly can be kept near the door or in a wreath as it invites good fortune into the home. Holly is also said to protect the home from any unwanted activity (such as thieves!). Ivy is a symbol of resurrection and as this is the time for resurrecting the Holly King and welcoming back the Sun it has strong meaning. Ivy thrives where other plants do not and perhaps the Pagans of old brought this into their homes to simulate that steadfastness.
Other names for Yule are:
Yuletide (Teutonic), Feill Fionnain (Pecti-Wita), AlbN Arthan (Caledonii).
The Yule Log was the highlight of the festival. It was placed in the fireplace and decorated with seasonal greenery, before being set alight with a piece of last year’s log. The log would burn throughout the night and smoulder for a further 12 days (hence the 12 days of Christmas). This blaze was lit to give power to the Sun again, to welcome warmth into the home. The log is traditionally lit on the evening before Yule (so this year, December the 21st). Sit at the hearth of the fire (whether outside or inside – if you don’t have a fireplace, a red candle will suffice) and watch the fire – perhaps scrying into the flames. Some traditions may wish to stay up all night, paying vigil to the longest night of the year. If you do use a candle, you may wish to carve a sun onto the side of it and remember to place it into a heat proof container if you decide to leave it to burn all evening!
According to Scott Cunningham (in his book, the Magickal Household), there are a few rules about domestic behaviour at this time of the year. Don’t do any excessive work on this day! If you do handicrafts, refrain from spinning yarns on this day as tradition states that no-one should sit before the wheel or rake up the spindle on Yule (I also take this to mean readings too as to me, this is the spinning of the thread of life). Eating an apple on Yule night ensures good health for the coming year, while taking a magickal bath washes away worries and troubles of the past six months (from Midsummer until now).
Yule – Winter Solstice – The returning of the light, renewal and rebirth during Winter
Practices Fires are lit in the hearth or Cauldron. Candles are carried around in circles. Trees or evergreens are honoured. The Yule Log is lit.
Colours Green, red, silver, gold, white and yellow.
Fruits of the Harvest – Herbs etc Holly, Mistletoe, Rosemary, Oak, Pine Cones, Ivy, Bayberry, any Evergreen, Frankincense, Laurel and Sage.
Incense Bayberry, Pine, Cedar, Rosemary, Juniper and Cinnamon.
Decorations Yule Log (traditionally Oak or Pine), Mistletoe, wreaths of holly, strings of dried flowers and cinnamon sticks, apples, oranges and of course, the Yule Tree.
Foods Apples, oranges, caraway rolls,mulled wine, roast turkey, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, eggnog, ginger tea and spiced cider.
Altar Items Yule Log or three candles representing the tripple aspect of the year (past, present and future), holly, gold or silver pillar candles, poinsettias, christmas cactus, red candles and any of the items previously mentined.
Other Items or Practices Making wreaths of holly, baking fancy cookies or breads (think mince pies here ), the wheel symbol, carolling, wassailing the trees, exchanging of presents or gifts, kissing under the mistletoe and quartz crystals.
Symbolism The rebirth of the Sun, the longest night of the year and of course, the shortest day. Introspection and planning for the year ahead.
Stone or Crystals Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds and clear quartz.
Deities Newborn Sun Gods, Lugh, Cernnunos, Dagda, Apollo, Ra and Odin / Mother Goddess’, Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Diana and Freya.