Yuletide carols being sung by the choir…
Lighting the Yule log…
A lot of people associate Yule as being synonymous with Christmas, but for Pagans, it’s its own holiday. Christmas and Yule were actually merged together around 1000 A.D. during the conversion of many Pagan people to Christianity. The reason for the merging is actually that it was easier to convert the Pagans if the changes to their holidays were not so drastic. Those that celebrate Christmas get tree decorating, Yule logs, and wassailing/caroling from Pagan traditions.
Yule is the day of the Winter Solstice and this year it fell on December 21st. It is the shortest day of the year, followed by the longest night of the year.
To the Wiccans that follow the Celtic legend, Yule is about celebrating the triumph of the Oak King over the Holly King. The Oak King is the King of the Light. With his triumph over the Holly King, the days become lighter as the sun shines more. Also, some Wiccans celebrate Yule as the day the Sun King is reborn. There is not a battle that goes on, but throughout the year the Sun King is born, grows, becomes the maiden’s consort, grows old, and dies on Samhain, to be reborn again at the winter solstice.
There are many ways to celebrate Yule:
Yule logs are the most common centerpiece in pagan tradition for Yule. Yule logs are traditionally received as a gift or recycled from last year’s tree. As always, different woods have different magical properties and many choose to select their Yule log based on the type of tree it is cut from. Ours is always left over from last year’s Christmas tree (we celebrate both holidays in our house). Yule logs are decorated with holly, pinecones, mistletoe, dried cranberries, ribbon, small cuttings of pine trees, and many other natural and season-themed decorations. It is encouraged that you only decorate with things that have fallen to the Earth, as it is a waste to take live cuttings from plants. The Yule log can be left as a decoration or actually burned. Without a proper fireplace or backyard in the past, we usually leave the Yule log as a decoration and light a candle. This is done to welcome the return of the light and to keep light during the longest night of the year.
Rituals are a main focus of the Yule time tradition. Whether yours is formal, informal, skyclad, clothed, adults only, with the family, or even includes the pets… the general theme of these rituals is to celebrate the abundance of life and light that surrounds you. Altars can be decorated with the same decorations as the Yule log. Other decorations include cloved oranges and apples, pine boughts sprinkled with flower, and colored ribbon. Gems and candles associated with this holiday are generally ones in colors of red, green, white, and gold. After the ritual, a feast is held and includes beverages such as mulled wine and cider.
Yule is also the traditional day for pagans to give gifts, instead of Christmas.
This year, I was told of a tradition similar to that of the Advent candles that I grew up with in Christian church: Each of the four weeks preceding the solstice, a candle is lit and an additional candle is added. By the solstice, there are four candles burning and on solstice a fifth candle is lit. Each candle represents the growing light that is coming and helps give power to the Oak/Sun King. I thought that this was a really neat tradition and we just might borrow it next year.
For this solstice, we only had the youngest child and only on the night before Yule. That night we shared some apple cider, read a story about the Holly and Oak Kings and then lit a candle that burned until the morning of December 22nd. We also taught him a little rhyme:
Sun shining bright,
Hopefully this very brief overview of Yule was helpful.