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The Winter Solstice is a solar holiday that occurs on December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere. During this time, the earth’s axis is tilted farthest away from the sun, creating the longest night of the year. The Winter Solstice is celebrated across many pagan traditions, honoring the sun and the halfway point of winter.

Yule was originally celebrated by the Norse and Scandinavian peoples. Depending upon the source, Yule was celebrated as a two month celebration beginning mid-November, a 12 day celebration starting on the Solstice, or a three day feast beginning on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Today, many Pagans still celebrate Yule on the day of the Winter Solstice. Pagans celebrate the rebirth of the sun through gift exchanges, merriment, and deep spiritual reflection. For Pagans, this is a time of new beginnings, rebirth, transformation, getting rid of unwanted habits, and creativity. The symbols of Yule are evergreens, the Yule Log, a Yule tree, mistletoe, holly, wreaths, and bells. The colors of Yule are white, green, red, gold, and silver.

Evergreens are popular decorations during Yule because they remind us that life continues through the cold and dark winter. Traditions of decorating with evergreens date back to many ancient civilizations, including the Romans. Today, Pagans decorate a pine, fir, cedar, juniper, or spruce as their Yule tree. One way to celebrate Yule is to craft a magical ornament to hang on your Yule tree.

Seasonal plants are an integral part of Yule. The custom of setting up an evergreen tree is an old tradition of bringing the outdoors in. Evergreens symbolize the continuation of life, as they remain full and bright while all the other trees lose their leaves. Boughs and garlands collected from evergreen trees can be used to decorate indoor spaces.

Holly represents the old solar year as well as the Holly King, who may have been a precursor to Santa Claus. It was once considered a sacred plant by the Druids, and was a symbol for protection. Ivy is another reminder that life continues, as the plant often lives on after its host plant has died. It is said to represent fidelity and loyalty. Hanging ivy around the house during this time of year is a way to symbolize the strength of family bonds. Well-known for its association with December holidays, mistletoe stands for peacemaking and the end of discord. It’s said that the Norsemen laid down their arms if they met underneath a growth of mistletoe. Birch is another plant that is associated with rebirth, as it’s often the first tree to grow back in a forest that has burned.

As contemporary pagan religions differ in both origin and practice, these representations of Yule can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some Heathens, for example, celebrate in a way as close as possible to how they believe ancient Germanic pagans observed the tradition, while others observe the holiday with rituals assembled from different sources. Heathen celebrations of Yule can also include sharing a meal and gift-giving.

In most forms of Witchcraft, this holiday is celebrated at the winter solstice as the rebirth of the Great horned hunter god, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home, while others do so with their covens:

  • Generally meeting in covens, which anoint their own Wizards and Witches, Witchcraft chant and cast or draw circles to invoke their deities, mainly during festivals like Samhain and Yule, which coincide with Halloween and Christmas, and when the moon is full.
  • This dark and quiet time of the winter season is an opportunity to focus on new beginnings. It’s a time to incorporate nature into your home, practice gratitude for abundance, and celebrate the returning of the light. Decorating the house with greenery and lighting candles are important ways to incorporate this holiday into your home.

    Celebrate Yule include:

    • Setting up a Yule altar.
    • Reciting prayers to welcome back the sun.
    • Performing cleansing rituals and tree blessings.
    • Smoke purification. Burning seasonal plants like pine, cedar, rosemary, juniper, and frankincense can cleanse the home and provide delightful holiday aromas.
    • Sending Yule greeting cards.
    • Holding a Yule log ceremony. The old tradition of holding a Yule log ceremony is a way to welcome back the sun. A log can be used first as a Yule altar, decorated with candles and evergreen boughs, before it’s burned on the evening of the winter solstice.
    • Feasting!

    It’s a great time to enjoy the process of cooking large meals to share with family and friends. Specific courses for Yule include plum pudding, mulled apple cider, and hot buttered rum. Of course, the classic Bûche De Noël is a cake that represents the Yule log.

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    High Priestess Natalie

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