As the leaves keep falling and Nature sleeps in the night of the year, we get ready for the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice!
Since ancient times, this event was celebrated with big feasts and parties that went on for several days. Yule can be a time to celebrate the return of the light by bringing harmony, peace, and joy to our community.
But it can also be an opportunity for introspection, planning, and solitary Magic. Keep reading to learn how to celebrate the Yule sabbat alone!
What is Yule?
Yule is an indigenous midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples. The events of Yule are generally held to have centered on Midwinter (although specific dating is a matter of debate), and feasting, drinking, and sacrifice (blót) were involved.
The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, from this day onwards, the sunlight hours increase as the days become longer. The winter solstice takes place between December 20 and 23 every year in the Northern hemisphere, and between June 20 and 23 in the Southern hemisphere.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (‘Sun’) and sístere (‘remain still’), and it is called that because after the solstice, it seems that the sun stands still for three days, before starting to move again in the sky.
What is the meaning of Yule?
The word Yule is the modern version of the Old English word ġéol, indicating the 12-day Germanic festival (later known as Christmastide), and the month of Yule or Yuletide was the time around this festival (December).
In most forms of Wicca, this holiday is celebrated at the winter solstice, symbolizing the rebirth of the Great Horned God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. From the womb of the Mother Goddess, the God emerges and grows stronger, later becoming the Consort of the Goddess in the spring, to begin a new cycle.
To celebrate Yule is to celebrate the Wheel of the Year: Honoring the perfect balance between light and darkness, understanding the cyclical nature of life, and that after every end there is a new beginning.
The symbolism of a ritual at this time is the spark of hope that emerges from the deepest darkness. This can be a time of renewal and rebirth, which involves introspection and gratitude before the light returns.
Ideas to Celebrate Yule
Celebrations for this sabbat vary by practitioner and tradition. Some have private ceremonies at home, while others do so with their covens. Here are some ideas on how to celebrate Yule in solitary or with friends and family:
Decorate your altar and your home with pinecones, branches, evergreen leaves, and candles. Hang mistletoe and holly for the protection of windows and doors.
Light a sacred fire. This could be a bonfire inside a circle made of stones, or in a fireplace or cauldron at home. Before starting the fire, you can clean the space and open the sacred space with a prayer or meditation.
Make a Yule Log with candles: Instead of lighting a fire, you can make a yule log with candles.
After the ritual, you can burn the log in a fireplace or bonfire.
You can also consecrate each candle for a specific goal you have for the cycle that begins. You could place three candles of different colors on it. For example, a green candle to ask for prosperity; a red candle to ask for strength; and a purple candle for health. Learn more about candles and their meanings here.
The Yule Log Tradition
A tree trunk or log, usually pine or oak, is harvested (never bought) and taken home. The log is then burned during the Winter Solstice celebrations. It is said that the ashes of the Yule log will protect the house from evil and provide luck and abundance.
The flames would scare evil spirits and the ashes were scattered through the fields in the morning to bring good crops. Traditionally, the process would last for twelve hours, when the log would slowly burn after being prepared with libations of wine that made the combustion slower.
Sing songs to honor the fires of Yule, the God and Goddess, your friends and family, or Nature. Here’s a Pagan playlist for Yule.
Make wreaths and celtic knots, and hang them inside or outside your home to invoke protection and Yule blessings.
Decorate a Yule tree using Pagan symbols:
“The Celtic Druids venerated evergreen trees as manifestations of deity and as symbols of the universe. To the Celts, these trees were sacred because they did not die from year to year like deciduous trees. Therefore they represented the eternal aspect of the Goddess who also never dies. Their greenery was symbolic of the hope for the sun’s return.” - Earth Witchery.
Pagan Symbols for Yule ⛤
- Celtic knots
- Golden candles
- Wild animals (deer, elk, antelope)
- Incenses: Pine, Cinnamon, Juniper, Cedar, Myrrh. ·
- Colors: Red, Green, Gold, White, Silver.
- Drinks: Wine, Cider, Hibiscus Tea, Ginger.
- Herbs: Holly, Mistletoe, Ivy, Laurel, Cedar, Juniper, Rosemary, Pine, Oranges, Lemons and Cinnamon Sticks around the Yule Tree.
- Food: Nuts, Apples, Pears, Cakes, Bread, Yule log dessert.
- Crystals: Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds, Garnets.
- Goddesses: The Great Mother and Earth Goddess, Freyja, Gaia, Diana, Bona Dea, Isis, Demeter.
- Gods: Mabon, The Sun God, The Star (Divine) Child, The Oak King, The Holly King, The Green Man, Cernnunos, The Red Man, The Horned One, Odin, Lugh, Apollo, Ra, Helios.
Other Pagan Festivals around the Winter Solstice
- Dísablót, an event attested from Old Norse sources as having occurred among the pagan Norse.
- Mōdraniht, an event attested by Bede as having occurred among the pagan Anglo-Saxons on what is now Christmas Eve.
- Julebord, the modern Scandinavian Christmas feast.
- Lohri, a Punjabi winter solstice festival.
- Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on 17 December and expanded with festivities through 23 December.
- Yaldā Night, an Iranian festival celebrated on the “longest and darkest night of the year.”
- Koliada, a Slavic winter festival.
Bonus: Tale of the Holly King
In many Celtic-based traditions of neopaganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. The mythological figure of the Holly King represents one half of the year, while the other is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King: the two battle endlessly as the seasons turn.
At Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. The Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King’s favor; his strength peaks at Midwinter.
While Yule means that the Oak King conquers the Holly King, we celebrate both gods (not one over the other) because they are equally important in the bigger picture, and one couldn’t be without the other.
Yule is not just the longest night of the year, but a a time for looking ahead and feeling hopeful for the growth that will come after.
Personally, I enjoy this time of the year as an opportunity to celebrate the endless cycles of Nature, the duality of light and dark, and everything that exists because of the dual Nature of the Divinity: The Lady and Lord.
Blessed Be and have an Abundant Yule Feast!