Yule - Winter Solstice - Dec. 20th – 22nd (in the Northern Hemisphere) or June 20th – 22nd (in the Southern Hemisphere) : Yule is the longest night of the year. In the Teutonic Tradition, it is called Yuletide and is held from Dec. 20th till the 31st beginning on "Mother's Night" and ends 12 days later on "Yule Night", this is where the Christians get the "Twelve Days of Christmas" from. For the Wiccans and some Pagans, it is the time when the Holly King (Death Aspect) is overcome by the Oak King (The Rebirth of the God or Divine Child) also known as the Sun King or Giver of Life. Yule is a time of renewal and rebirth during winter. As a Solar sabbat, it is also considered a Fire Festival. Time when the waxing Sun overcomes the waning Sun. It is also the time of the Goddess of the Cold Darkness and the birth of the Divine Child (The reborn Sun God). A time of rebirth and the turning of the Earth Force Tides. From this day forward the days will become longer until the Summer Solstice when the days will begin to shorten again.
Yule is the first of the eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. As such this is the season of the new year for many cultures. It is also a restful time and quiet time of the year. It is a time of year for solitary contemplation and restful sleep. For our ancestors, it was a time to engage in personal crafting of many things as there was less time spent outdoors and running about doing things away from home. The items that was crafted this time of year were usually gathered and sold when the spring markets opened when the weather improved. So, think of this time as a time to be creative. Remember busy hands are happy hands. This was also the time of year when stories were told around the hearth.
The Yule season is the time when in many cultures a Holy Infant is born, sometimes from a virgin birth. Goddesses are greatly revered this time of year as from women the spark of life is born. Thus, from Them the promise of new life comes. In the Norwegian tradition, Frigg or Frigga is considered the goddess of winter. On Winter Solstice, also known as "Mother's Night", Frigg gives birth to the Sun. From the Germanic tradition, we have Holda or Hulda who at midwinter turns into a doe and goes into a sacred cave and also gives birth to the Sun.
Goddesses are also the bringer of death in some cultures. In the Celtic tradition, Caileach, the divine hag-crone who rules from Samhain till Beltane, brings the icy cold death and darkness of winter. Skadi, or Skathi or Skadl, is the Scandinavian goddess of winter and is able to control the winter weather. She is said to live high in the snowy mountains and loves to ski, scattering winter storms behind her.
Where the goddesses of the winter months tend to be the bringers of birth and death, the gods were usually considered the heroes who did battle against adversity to assure life continues as it should. The traditions of the Sun's rebirth go back to ancient times. Thus, the winter gods were often depicted as Sun Gods. They were also seen as being the ideals of generative male fertility, and the return of light and the vigor to the world.
The early Etruscans and Romans saw the Sun as a God and celebrated the "Birth of the Unconquered Sun" at midwinter. In 10 BCE, the Roman emperor Augustus declared Apollo as the Solar God and celebrations including feasting was held in His honor. Eventually Mithras, the Persian deity superseded Apollo. His followers were all males and his temples were always underground. Otherwise we have very little information about Him.
Another Roman celebration at this time is Saturnalia, held in honor of the god Saturn, and was celebrated between December 17th and 23rd. It was celebrated with feasting and merriment as it was the end of the harvest and wine-making seasons. Presents were exchanged and sacrifices offered, and masters turned tables and served their slaves, all in Saturn's name. Many modern Pagans keeps this celebration alive in their homes, halls and fields. Near the end of the 4th century, Saturnalia was moved to New Year and merged with Kalends of January, a Roman Midwinter celebration.
As for traditional ways of celebrating the Yule season, we have many traditions from several cultures. From the Norse tradition, we get the Yule Log, decorating the tree and wassailing. From the Celtic and British Isles, we get the mistletoe. From the Danish, we get the tradition of leaving out a glass of milk for Santa Claus as well as for the elves that live in the home.
Saturnalia, a Roman celebration held at about the time of the Winter Solstice and lasting for about a week, has given rise to many of the Yule time traditions. It was a time of merry-making and debauchery, but it was also about honoring the god Saturn. Sacrifices were made at this time as well as gift-giving and much feasting. They would decorate their homes with greenery and hung tin ornaments on trees and bushes. It was also not uncommon for some to take to the streets naked singing and such. This seems to be the naughty source of the tradition of caroling that we see at this time of year.
Gift giving was first started as a way of placating the gods and goddesses of winter. A way of asking Them for Their intercession to prevent famine, the freezing weather, etc. This approach was applied to the wee folk too. In Sweden, the Tomte, a kind of gnome, lived near and around the homes, barns and sheds, and as long as you gave them gifts spontaneously and during the winter months, they protected the home from disasters and accidents.
Gifts of charms, talismans and such were given to ward off danger and ensure safe travel. In Roman times, gifts of bay, palm branches, honeyed sweetmeat, figs and dates, as well as gilded fruits and coins stamped with the head of Janus, the god who could see into the past, present and future, and small bronze or terra cotta lamps were also given at this time.
The Yule Tree and exchanging of gifts, wreaths, and fancy cookies are Pagan. The honoring of Kris Kringle is also a Pagan tradition as He is the Germanic Pagan God of Yule. Appropriate Pagan decorations; strings of dried rosebuds and cinnamon sticks, or popcorn and cranberries for garlands; bags of fragrant spices; quartz crystals wrapped with wire and suspended as icicles; apples, oranges and lemons. Mistletoe is used as decoration also. The reindeer stags are a reminder of the Horned God and a good choice in holiday cards. Winter forest scenes are also a good choice for your holiday cards.
In our modern lives today, it is easy to forget the natural rhythms of the seasons. With a flip of a switch we have bright lights in the middle of the night. We can eat raspberries and fresh greens in the middle of winter. The modern Pagan has to work a bit harder to remember what this time of year really means as far as nature is concerned. Make an effort to get in touch with nature whenever you can. A walk in the quiet woods with all the leaves on the ground and maybe covered with snow. Try to remember that this is the time of the year when nature rests. Embrace this season and make an effort to learn that this is a part of the natural rhythm for the season. And remember that the Wheel turns and soon spring will be here and nature will wake up.
Tree and crop fields were "wassailed" with spiced cider and bonfires were lighted in the fields. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked oranges and apples which were laid in baskets of evergreens. The oranges and apples were symbolic of the Sun where the evergreens represented immortality because they didn't "die" during the winter months and thus were sacred to the Celts and represented the eternal aspect of the Divine. Holly and ivy were used as decorations on the outside as well as the inside as an invitation to the Nature Spirits to come visit the home. Holly was kept near the door as an invitation to good fortune for the home and those that lived there. Mistletoe was hung in the home as decoration to represent the Divine. The Druids would go into the sacred groves and harvest mistletoe as it was a sacred plant to them.
The lighting of the Yule Log was the height of the festivities. Traditionally the Log was either harvested from the homeowner’s land or presented as a gift, it was never to have been bought by the homeowner. It was brought into the home, placed in the fireplace and decorated with the seasonal decorations and then doused with cider or ale. A proper Log of oak or pine is carved or chalked with a figure of the Sun or the God (a Horned Circle or figure of a man) upon it, with the boline or carving tool, and then set alight in the fireplace at dusk on Yule. It was lighted using the bit of Yule Log left over from the year before. The Log was burned all night then let to smolder for twelve more nights then ceremonially extinguished. After the Yule Log has burned, a portion is saved not only to protect the home for the year, but to also light the next year’s Log. As the Log burns, visualize the Sun shining within it and think of the coming warm days. The Yule Log is a graphic representation of the rebirth of the God within the Sacred Fire of the Mother Goddess. Some people stay up all night to welcome the new Sun.
For modern practitioners, a smaller Log is used that would fit on their altar. Three shallow holes were placed into the small Log for candles. The candle colors could be red, green and white (for the season), green, gold and black (for the Sun God), or white, red and black (for the Great Goddess). The wood used could be oak, pine or birch and would be flattened on one side so that it will sit on its side on the altar. It could be decorated with greenery, red and gold ribbons as well as rosebuds and cloves or any other festive decorations you wish. Just remember fire safety rules.
Being a Solar Holiday it is celebrated with fire. Bayberry candles are burned to ensure good weather and happiness (burn them till they go out). The candles are lit at sunset. They are also lit at the beginning of the Yule ritual.
The tradition and story surrounding Santa Claus comes from several cultures. From the early Germanic tribes, we have Odin who was their god and ruler of Asgard. He was known to fly through the skies on his eight-legged horse. This later was symbolized as His eight reindeer. He was depicted as being an old man with a long white beard. From the early Christians, we have St Nicholas who was a 4th century bishop. He was known for giving gifts to the poor. He was also depicted as being bearded. From the Dutch, we actually get the name Santa Claus who was at first called Sinterklaas. They also were known to set out their wooden shoes to be filled with gifts. This developed into the tradition of hanging up of stockings.
Deities of Yule are : Goddesses - Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana and The Great Goddess. Also, Mother Goddesses and The Triple Goddess. Gods - Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man and The Divine Child as well as all newborn Gods and Sun Gods such as Mithras, the solar god of the Romans.
Here are a few suggestions for your Yule altar. Candles, of course, plays a large part in this sabbat so having several candles on your altar is appropriate. The colors you can use on your altar are : red, green, blue, white, silver and gold. These colors can be included in your candles and altar cloth and in many other things. Besides having a small Yule Log on your altar, you can also have other Winter Solstice symbols like a Sun symbol, this could be not only a golden disk but also a gold candle with the Sun carved on it. You can also have a Santa Clause or a small Yule tree on your altar. Remember that all types of evergreens are sacred to this time of year and are used for protection and prosperity. Holly is also appropriate for your altar and also to wear for luck and safety for not only you but your family as well. You can make holly water, no not holy water, by soaking a few holly leaves in spring water over night under the Full Moon. Since it isn’t safe to light a fire in your cauldron if your altar and ritual is held indoors, you can place a candle within your cauldron and light that. And of course, don’t forget mistletoe for your altar.
For rituals fires can be lit within cauldrons; candles may be carried around the circle; potted evergreens may be honored as symbols of the continuing fertility of the Earth. A Yule Log may be lit if the fire is physically within a circle or you can light the candles that are mounted in the Yule Log on the altar. This is a time of introspection and planning for the future year. For many traditions lights are a major part of the celebrations for this season.
For those who follow the Wiccan path, the re-enactment of the battle between the young Oak King overcoming the Holly King can be a part of the ritual. This battle is re-enacted again at Litha where the Holly King overcomes the Oak King. These battles are, in some traditions, enacted at the Equinoxes so that each King is at His strongest during the Solstice. In the Wiccan traditions, these Kings are an aspect of the Horned God. The Holly King is depicted as a woodsy Santa Claus, wearing red and being bearded and wearing a sprig of holly in His hair, driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is depicted as a fertility god and many times seen as the Green Man.
Spellworks that is appropriate at this time are for peace and harmony, love and increased happiness as well as protection, purification, renewals and new beginnings. When doing your spell work, work in the colors, red is for the root chakra and thus is a grounding force allowing us to connect with the Earth energies and it empowers our being. White is for purification and allows for our own spiritual development. Gold is the color for the Sun, use it on the altar to symbolize the return of the Sun's power. This is also a great time to do a Yule cleansing.
Here are a few suggestions for celebrating Yule with your children. You might share with your children what Yule means to you. Teaching your children about doing and giving to others is a very important lesson your children can learn. With your children, you can also create various crafts that can be not only decorations for Yule but also gifts for each other or those that they care about. You and your children can create a Yule Log for the family altar or just for decoration on your mantle or table. Of course, being environmentally conscience when not only decorating but wrapping your gifts is something that can be shared with the children. And don’t forget to include your children in your Yule ritual.
Food used and eaten are nuts, fruits, apples and pears; cakes or caraway soaked in cider; and pork. Wassail, lambswool, eggnog, spiced cider, hibiscus and ginger tea or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg and roasted apples) are fine drinks for the "Simple Feast" or Yule meal. The colors for this sabbat are blue, red, green, white, silver and gold. Herbs for this season are bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense, holly, bay laurel, mistletoe, pine, oak, sage and yellow cedar as well as cinnamon. Stones for this sabbat are bloodstone, ruby, emerald, diamond, garnet. Bells, Sun symbols, candy canes. snowflakes and evergreens are just a few of the symbols of this sabbat. Candles are an important part of rituals and magics at this time.
Incense for Yule :
2 parts Frankincense
2 parts Pine
1 part Cedar
1 part Juniper Berries
Used for Yule Rituals, during winter months to cleanse the home and to attune with the forces of nature amid the cold days and nights.