Celebrated at the 21st or 22nd of December Yule marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere while Litha is celebrated as the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It is of course close to Christmas Day while that is also the feast day of Frau Holle, a Scandinavian spirit who is honoured as the embodiment of nature and the woods. There’s an article at About.Com on the History Of Yule and the various global celebrations held on or near the solstice. In the Southern Hemisphere it is the time of the Summer Solstice, Litha.
This year the solstice occurs on Wednesday December 21st at 10:44 GMT (Universal time).
Holly Kings, Yule Goats, and more winter customs below the cut
Yule for many modern pagans is about the recognition of the return of the light, of new beginnings, a time of reflection on the past and a time to celebrate another year over and the hope of spring to come.
This is my favourite of the eight neo-pagan/Wiccan sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. I don’t remember when, since actively becoming pagan, I’ve needed Yule so much, with its promise of a turning point from dark back towards light, hope over despair. This is a time for fun but also my spiritual celebration while Christmas is my secular celebration with the wider family.
Holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreens are in plentiful supply for Christmas and make great decorations, as do star and gingerbread themed ornaments. I love combining as many facets of Yule and Christmas as possible. Red, green, gold and white are great colours to use at this time of year.
Recreational Witchcraft also suggests metallic colours; pine, ivy, juniper, cedar; oranges, pears, nuts, berries; snowflake obsidian, clear quartz, bloodstone.
You can read more about The Magical Colors of Yule about About.Com.
The Oak King and 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. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King conquers the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. In the legends of some belief systems, the dates of these events are shifted; the battle takes place at the Equinoxes, so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer, or Litha, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule. From a folkloric and agricultural standpoint, this interpretation seems to make more sense. ” – The Legend of the Holly King and the Oak King
“The oak-log symbolises the regeneration of the earth at Winter Solstice but at this time of the year, the attention is on the holly and between the beginning of the month and the Winter Solstice (21st) the scarlet berries on the holly will become more and more spectacular.” – DECEMBER TREE LORE: Holly Magic
Trees and Sheaves
Is the Yule Tree an Ancient Pagan Custom? – ” Short answer: No. … The operative question here is: does it matter?…And, like pagans of all times, modern pagans know a good idea when we see one.
Whatever its historical origins, the Yule Tree reads pagan”
This article answers the question “I’m Pagan, Can I Still Have a Holiday Tree?”; “The short answer to that question is: it’s your house, you can decorate it any darn way you like. If a tree makes your children – or you – happy, then go for it.
The slightly longer answer is that a lot of modern Pagans find a way to blend the Christmas traditions of their childhood with the Pagan beliefs they’ve come to embrace as adults. So yes, you can have a family Yule celebration and still have a holiday tree, roast chestnuts on the open fire, and even hang stockings with care by the fire.
During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrants often decorated their homes with clippings of shrubs, and hung metal ornaments outside on trees. Typically, the ornaments represented a god — either Saturn, or the family’s patron deity.”
Plenty of ideas on yule decorations are included in that article while this one has a list of Ten Things to Hang on a Pagan Holiday Tree
Instead of a tree, what about a wheat sheaf?
“Before the Yule Tree, was the Yule Sheaf.
Across a broad swathe of Northern Europe—from Scandinavia, through the Baltics, and across Russia—the central symbol of Yule was (and in many places, still is) the Sheaf.” – The Feast of the Sheaf
Which brings us to:
The Yule Goat
“The Yule goat’s origins might go as far back as pre-Christian days. A popular theory is that the celebration of the goat is connected to worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. The last sheaf of grain bundled in the harvest was credited with magical properties as the spirit of the harvest and saved for the Yule celebrations, called among other things “Julbocken” (the Yule goat).” – Julbock (Yule Goat) and Julebukking
This article gives instructions on how to use wheat To make a Yule Bock (yule goat).
Wassailing, or drinking mulled wine.
Burning a Yule Log. You can also try burning a list of things you are thankful for or that you want to bring into your life – some cultures believe burning is a way to send the item to the gods or even an alternative way to send a letter to Santa/Father Christmas or other winter figure.
Making cookies or other baked goods, decorated to your personal taste.
Some people like to try divination at this time, although it isn’t as powerful a time as Samhain; some like to wait until the New Year.
This is a good time to think about the things you’re thankful for and the things you want in your life over the next year.
More ideas from the recreational witchcraft post celebrate yule include taking a prosperity bath with orange slices and essential oils of frankincense and myrrh, and plenty of things to make:
[Make and] Leave out birdseed ornaments as offerings to the season
Make stovetop potpourri as an alternative to incense
DIY gifts with your witch skills for your friends and family
Make winter spice bath bombs and enchant them for prosperity
(Recipes and ideas for making the items are linked at the post)
On the subject of making items; separate from Christmas presents, for a while now my sister and I have been exchanging small gifts at Yule. Ideally a Yule gift should be something handmade in some way so a cross-stitched or knitted item, a digital scrapbook or video, a story or poem, or other item that has more to do with personal effort than cost. This can be something for you or a pet, something useful or frivolous, but imbued with personal meaning.
If you want something less Christian focussed to listen to, this article has some Songs for your Yule Playlist while Pagan Yuletide Music gives some recs for music that “evokes the sound of Yuletide music from our childhoods” but with less of the overt religiosity and includes music by Loreena McKennitt.
The Educational Bit
In previous years I have shared stories about the Pagan secrets of the festive season and how Religions intertwine during the winter solstice as well as 10 Christmas Customs with Pagan Roots , 10 Reasons to Enjoy the Winter Solstice and The Forgotten Female Figures of Christmas.
Other articles of interest:
The article “Winter solstice 2016: What time and when does the shortest day of the year occur?” gives a lot of information on what the solstice is, when it takes place, why Stonehenge is important, why the sunsets might be later for a while post-Solstice, and looks at various festivals from around the world including Juul:
Feast of Juul
“The Feast of Juul (where we get the term ‘Yule’ from at this time of year) was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice.
People would light fires to symbolise the heat and light of the returning sun and a Juul (or Yule) log was brought in and dropped in the hearth as a tribute the Norse god Thor.
The Yule Log often was an entire tree, carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony and sometimes, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth, while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room.”
Ten Christmas Customs with Pagan Roots – from carolling to holly.
Mistletoe: Myths, Mysteries and Medicine from its use by Druids, to Saturnalian rites, to the Church’s disapproval, to it’s rediscovery as a medicinal plant.