Yule is just one of the many pagan festivals celebrated near the Winter Solstice throughout history. The Winter Solstice may be the darkest point of the year, but Yule is a celebration of light! From the greenery to the gold to the glimmering flames of candles, these are signs of life in the dead of winter. Today, we hang string lights instead of candles, but the symbolism still stands. This is the longest night of the year before we tilt and reverse in the other direction. Every day from this point forward gradually gets longer. That’s something to celebrate!
At Samhain, the last sabbat we observed on the wheel of the year, we celebrated the death part of the life cycle. Now at Yule, we celebrate the rebirth. The stretch between Samhain and Yule is frozen in time, it is the liminal space before reincarnation, like a seed before it sprouts underground. At this time, everything is harvested and nothing new is growing. Yule is the true pause in the wheel of the year, a time to slow down.
The Yule Sabbat
In the northern hemisphere, Yule falls on the day the earth’s north pole tilts the furthest from the sun, making it the shortest day of the year, normally falling between the 20th-23rd of December. Nearly every culture has some version of a celebration around this time, so broom closeted witches around the world can celebrate this sabbat without drawing unwanted attention.
Hope is the theme of the Winter Solstice, knowing that life will return once again to nature. In our own lives, a new seed is sprouting even in the darkest of times. This is a celebration of the birth of the sun as it slowly grows in brightness and overtakes the darkness each day. At this time, we are also renewed and reborn with a hope to persist. This part of the wheel of the year is comparable to the new moon, the beginning of a new cycle. Though Samhain is considered the Witch’s New Year, Yule is the best time to decide what you want to manifest in the coming year. It is also a great time to do shadow work and remove any blockages keeping you from actualizing your dreams.
What can you do to celebrate Yule? I have compiled seven ideas to help you welcome the Winter Solstice.
Decorate a Yule Tree
Did you know the tradition of the Christmas tree has pagan roots? Originally, fruits and seeds would decorate an evergreen tree outdoors to feed the birds and nature spirits during the winter. The evergreen tree reminded the ancient people that, in the dead and dark of winter, the other trees would soon also return to their green state of life again. Decorating a live tree outside instead of cutting it to bring inside would be an eco-friendly option to try.
The tradition of bringing a tree into the home didn’t start until 16th-century Germany when Christians began decorating them with candles (which is a fire hazard and I don’t recommend trying it these days!). This led to our tradition of stringing lights on the tree. When the Christmas tree tradition was first brought to America by German settlers, it was rejected by Puritans as a symbol of paganism. In the early days, you could get severely punished by displaying one.
Today, it is perfectly acceptable and even expected to display a tree. You can recreate a Yule tree by adorning an evergreen tree — indoors or outdoors — with natural decorations such as making an orange slice and cinnamon garland or a popcorn and cranberry garland. A gold star was often added to the very top. Gold to symbolize solar energy and celebrate the returning light and the star to symbolize the five elements of the pentagram. Instead of bringing a tree inside, another option is to collect fallen evergreen branches and decorate your home with them, which was an ancient tradition even before the tree.
Drinking wassail for the holidays is a tradition that still stands, but the practice of wassailing is one that has been lost. The word for wassail derives from an old English word meaning “good health.” After making the wassail, it was customary to sing to the trees and offer them a bit of the beverage to ensure a good harvest in the year to come. Wassailers would often go to their neighbor’s orchards as well and sing, shout, and bang on pots and pans, in a practice of what we witches now would call raising the energy.
This may very well be where our tradition of caroling comes from. Even if you don’t rely on trees to feed you in the coming year, you can still give offerings and sing to them to encourage them to grow again once spring arrives or just to thank them for filtering the air we breathe. I have included a simple wassail recipe in case you are unfamiliar with this traditional Yule beverage!
Easy Wassail Recipe
- 4 cups of apple cider or juice
- 2 cups of cranberry juice
- 2 cups of orange juice
- *optional 2 cups dark ale, brandy, or sherry (or a combination)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries
- ½ cup of sugar
Combine ingredients in a large saucepan or slow cooker and let simmer on low for an hour to allow the flavors to infuse into the liquid. Strain the contents before serving and enjoy!
Prepare a Yule Log
Before electricity, warmth and light were necessities during the dark, cold winters. One related tradition is the Yule Log. A log would be cut and dried (it was considered bad luck to buy it) and anointed with alcohol. You could use a bit of the wassail recipe above for this. It was then decorated with things like holly and berries, mistletoe, juniper berries, cinnamon sticks, and pinecones. To make it more meaningful and personal, you can have family members write wishes on pieces of paper and attach them to the log before putting it in the fire.
The Yule Log was then burned in the fireplace to keep the home warm. If you don’t have a fireplace you could burn it in a bonfire, which is a way to celebrate every sabbat, or drill three holes for green, red, and gold candles. After the log burns, you can spread the ashes across your garden as the ancient people spread them on fields for their magickal fertilizing properties, encouraging the crops to grow in the coming year. A small piece of the log was saved to start the fire for the next Yule Log the following year.
Decorate Your Altar
If you chose to make the Yule Log with the three colored candles, this would naturally be great to display on your altar. The colors associated with Yule, like the candles, are green and red for the holly, and gold for the returning light. Because Christmas is a big holiday for non-pagans, it can be easy to find things to decorate with, such as Yule themed altar cloths, pinecones, holly berries, poinsettias, and greenery.
Yule is all about the returning light, so decorate with plenty of candles! The crystals associated with Yule include ruby, bloodstone, garnet, snowflake obsidian, and emerald. Scents associated with Yule are pine, cedar, myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, and clove.
Since oranges are an accessible fruit this time of year, you can make a pomander with an orange by piercing it with whole cloves. These were traditionally used for protection against illness and they make beautiful altar decorations that smell great!
Bring Traditional Yule Foods to Dinner
If you are unable to make a Yule Log, try making the cake version! Like many sweet confections, the French brought us the yule log cake. This is usually cream filling rolled into a chocolate dough and frosted to look like a log. Kitchen witches can have fun decorating the log with fondant in the shape of holly, pinecones from marzipan, meringue mushrooms, or other things you might find around a log in nature. This equally beautiful and delicious dessert is sure to be a hit at holiday parties!
If wassail isn’t your thing, you might like to make traditional eggnog instead. Known today as a rich holiday drink, wassail began in Europe as a milky warm ale punch with eggs and figs. Milk and eggs were considered to be foods of the wealthy and later, sherry was used in eggnog as a toast to health and prosperity. If you’re gathering with adult friends, bring this beverage to bless them with good health and wealth!
Not into baking? A simple traditional side dish to bring is fruits, nuts, and berries. These are abundant this time of year in many places and can be arranged to make a beautiful platter. Main courses traditional for the winter solstice are dishes with pork, turkey, and roasted root vegetables.
Craft Your Own Wreath
The wreath has a long pagan history with so much symbolism! Even the round shape is like that of the wheel of the year, representing cycles and seasons. Circles also symbolized protection to some ancient cultures, and the greenery used with it can also serve this purpose. A rosemary wreath is very easy to make and is associated with protection. You could even make a pentagram in the middle of the circle, tying in our modern witchcraft protection symbol. When you make your own wreath, there is no end to the creativity. You can add colored ribbons associated with your intention or simply the colors of Yule.
Traditionally, wreaths are made with pine or fir, but you could also make them from juniper or rosemary, or add them all together to make one wreath. Holly and mistletoe, associated with protection and good luck, are common additions to a wreath. You can also add pinecones and dried fruit, or anything else you can imagine!
Make Witch’s Balls
This is a fun craft to do for Yule and can be used to decorate your tree if you choose to have one indoors or you can hang it in a window to catch the light. Witch’s Balls are meant to ward evil and they look beautiful and festive since we already associate bulb ornaments with the holiday season. For this craft, you will need clear ornamental bulbs, preferably glass because we love our Mother Earth! But if you’re doing this with kids who might drop them, you may want to opt for plastic.
You can make one or several, but first set your intention because each bulb will be like a spell. Some themes of this sabbat to do spell work around are love, peace, joy, hope, and renewal. In your bulb, add any ingredients that correlate with your spell. If you want to make it more personal, you can write your intention on a paper and roll it up inside the ball. After closing it, you might choose to add a charm to the outside that matches your intention. You can use it for years to come or make it new each year!
These are just some of the many ways you can honor Yule!
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