Welcome to the longest night of the year! Yule is the original Christmas and many of your favorite traditions are probably derived from this Pagan holiday. Today we will discuss the history of the sabbat, how its celebrated today and how you can join in!
HISTORY AND LORE
Yule is the winter solstice. It is also the rebirth of the Sun, an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It will be the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer Solstice, when darkness becomes ascendant once more.
It is at this time the oak and holly kings battle once again. The holly king will yield to the oak king as light rules this half of the year. Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. It makes sense that on the longest night of the winter, we celebrate with fire.
Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter’s Solstice can be found throughout history long before modern Christianity and Christmas were born.
The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended.
The Persian Mithraists believed their Sun God is reborn on the 25th of December. On Yule itself ancient scandinavians lit bonfires to honor Odin and Thor. This festival always having been closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods, it should come as no surprise that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of Christ.
YULE AND ITS SYMBOLS
What do you think of when you picture a yule log? Probably something like the classic european pastry, right? Real Yule logs are so much more and quite a fun tradition to participate in! These logs hold quite a bit of weight in the Pagan celebrations of the winter solstice and later even Christmas.
Traditionally, an oak log was ceremoniously brought into the home and kindled as the sun sets on the longest night. As part of this tradition the log, once lit, should burn until it was deliberately extinguished by the homeowner, allowing the log to burn out on its own was a sign of bad luck. The length of time you would allow it to burn varies from region to region, some believed 12 hours and other up to several days. It was never allowed to burn away completely, as some would be needed for the following year to kindle the new yule log.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant spread by the wind that grows on various trees in northern regions, particularly the apple tree. It can be a serious issue for gardeners but Pagans hold it in great veneration when found Oak trees.
The winter solstice according to Bardic Tradition is when the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak and this is what we mimic. In Scandinavian mythology, Balder the Beautiful was killed from an arrow made of mistletoe and wielded by the blind god Hoder. It is interesting to note that mistletoe is very often excluded from church decorations, probably due to its connection with the Pagans.
RITUAL AND OBSERVANCE
Yule is another fire festival however unlike the more public outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private and domestic celebration. Like its midsummer counterpart however, Yule is strongly associated with rebirth and new life.
Here the Goddess is in her dark aspect, as ‘She Who Cuts The Thread’ or ‘Our Lady in Darkness’, calling back the Sun God. Yet, at the same time, she is in the process of giving birth to the Sun God who will re-fertilise her and the earth, bringing back light and warmth to the world. Here just a few of the different ways you can celebrate this sabbat:
- Decorate your home with sacred plants connected with Winter Solstice: evergreen wreaths & boughs, mistletoe, holly, and ivy.
- Harvest a Yule tree from a tree farm, or intuitively select a tree, cut or symbolic, from a shop in your area. Set up the Yule tree in your home and decorate it with lights, sun symbols, and other images.
- Kindle lights and decorate your home with lights to represent the Sun. Use electric lights or candles.
- During the solstice after the sun has fallen, turn off all lights, experience the longest night of the year and reflect. Later turn the lights back on to symbolize the birth of the New Solar Year.
- Learn about Yule’s holidays foods, symbols, customs, and lore – incorporate what you learned into your celebration.
- Seek out a log to be your Yule Log. Set it aflame in your fireplace, a hearth, in a bonfire, or by burning candles on, in, or near it. If you use candles in lue of burning the log – decorate it with symbols and colors of the season.
- Meditate on the setting of the Sun and the rise of the moon.
- Join with others in celebrating Pagan Yuletide. This is a communal holiday. Attend a ritual, host a party, listen to holiday music and go see Christmas lights. Celebrate the return of the sun together!
- Contribute to a charity of your choice.
- Bake holiday treats to leave outdoors for offerings to the spirits and Gods. Eat those treats together with friends and family or donate them to holiday meals at homeless shelters.
SYMBOLS: Antlers, sleigh, pine tree, wreaths, bells
COLORS: Green, red, silver, gold
ANIMALS: Bears, deer, owls, reindeer, moose, geese COLORS: Green, red, silver, gold
ANIMALS: Bears, deer, owls, reindeer, moose, geese
GODDESSES:Aphrodite, Fortuna, Gaia, Hel, Holle, Ishtar, Isis
GODS:Apollo, Attis, Balder, Dionysus, the Green Man, Lugh, Odin, Ra
INCENSE:Cedar, Cinnamon, Clove, Frankincense, Juniper, Myrrh, Pine
CANDLES: Gold, silver, red, green, white
PLANTS: peppermint, spearmint, bay, evergreen, holly, oak, pine, sage, thyme
STONE: quartz, bloodstone, ruby, garnet, emerald, jet
ALTAR DECOR: Antlers, holy, mistletoe, pinecones, yule tree branches, yule log, dried fruits and herbs
FOODS: goose, turkey, dried and preserved fruits, cider, eggnog, gingerbread, wine
sources: rkdn.org, whitegoddess.co.uk, plentifulearth.com, scaredearthjourneys.ca, wikipedia