The 12 days of Yule are officially here! Read on to learn about the pagan traditions and simple ways to celebrate the winter solstice…
The History of Yule
The roots of Yule have been traced back to the germanic people of Germany and Scandinavia, it is a pagan celebration of the winter solstice. As this holiday originated in the Northern hemisphere, Yule takes place around December 21st and marks the shortest day and longest night of the year; this is the final Sabbat in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year and occurs in midwinter.
Although this is the darkest time of the year, Yule is a celebration of light. Solstice means ‘a time where the sun stands still’; this is taken from the Latin word ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’, and ‘sistere’ meaning ‘to stand still’.
Winter solstice celebrations are a sacred time in nature, focussing on the return of the sun, rebirth and excitement for the coming year. Our ancestors celebrated Yule by dancing around large bonfires, using evergreen plants to decorate their homes, or sharing food in a feast. This originally pagan holiday has provided yule traditions that remain universally prominent in modern day Christmas celebrations.
Decorate a Yule Tree
In ancient pagan tradition an outdoor evergreen tree would be decorated with fruit and seeds, this was believed to give thanks to nature spirits and support animals. The colour served as a reminder that soon the whole forest would be green again and the long winter season would eventually come to an end. A gold star was often added to the top to symbolize solar energy and the five elements of the pentagram.
When Christianity spread the tradition was moved indoors, often decorated with candles; this has since been changed to fairy lights for obvious safety reasons!
Create your own either in the forest or at home. Natural decorations can be easily handmade, such as a garland using orange slices and cinnamon sticks, orange and cinnamon both represent the sun.
Host a Yule Feast
This time of the year was when ancient people would store supplies and ration food in order to make it through the winter. As the solstice represents a change in direction for the solar year, communities would gather as a way to welcome back the sun, celebrate life and share food knowing that the season will soon change.
Yuletide celebrations are often associated with indulgent dishes and sweet treats, this is not only because fatty foods are best when food is scarce, it is also believed that eating rich foods at this time will fill the following year with good luck and abundance.
Host a feast with family and friends, this could be a pot-luck where everybody brings a dish. Alternatively it’s a great time to keep the sharing spirit of our ancestors alive and donate to a local food bank.
Check out this Yule cookie recipe from TikTok user @ashfiasco:
@ashfiasco I used to bake and decorate cookies for a living. #veganbakingideas #orangecookies #glutenfreebakes #yulefeast #kitchenwitchin #fypシ #cookietable ♬ Davy Jones Theme (Pirates of the Caribbean) – Je Suis Parte
Craft an Evergreen Wreath
Many Christmas traditions have been taken from Yule, the wreath is certainly one that has stood the test of time. Pagan cultures would gather greenery, seasonal plants like pine needles, holly or ivy; anything evergreen to represent new life.
The tradition is brimming with symbolism, the circular shape is representative of the Wicca Wheel of the Year and the change of season, it could also be associated with the circle of life. Wreathes are a nod to the Holly King, the deity from folklore who is responsible for the colder half of the year; the Oak King is present for the warmer months and summer solstice. Holly and mistletoe are associated with protection and good luck.
Make a wreath with friends! This is the perfect activity to include a walk in nature, forage your tools and hang the finished piece on the front door.
Light a Yule Log
In Celtic tradition, Yule log burning originally used a felled oak tree, the tree was brought into the home and placed trunk first into the fire, it was believed the longer the fire burned, the faster the sun would return. A piece of charred wood was often saved to light the festive fire the following year.
The Yule log is now significantly smaller, consisting of a dried out log, branches, berries and candles. The candle colour can be chosen to correspond with wishes for the following year, for example red represents courage and health.
Burn a Yule log with friends, light a candle and use it to manifest or reflect on the year ahead. Alternatively bake a yule log cake and eat together in candlelight.
Decorate your Altar
Every witch needs a seasonal altar! As many people celebrate Christmas it should be easy to gather seasonal plants and decorations from most shops. Foraging is also a fantastic option to gather supplies personal to you.
Candles are very important, yule marks the longest night of the year and candles bring light to the darkness. Options include red and green to encourage joy, success, prosperity and abundance, or gold to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. Crystals associated with yule include ruby, garnet and emerald. Scent options could include pine, myrrh, cinnamon and clove.
Making a pomander orange is another fun activity that can be used to decorate an altar. Pierce an orange with whole cloves for protection against illness.
@caththehousewitch day two of my 12 days of Yule, today here’s some ideas for putting together a Yule altar! I would really like to find a good log to make a Yule log this year ❤️ what do you put on your Yule altar? #yule2022 #yulecelebration #yulealtar #yuleblessings #yuleritual #yuletraditions #wintersolstice #beginnerwitchtips #hearthwitch ♬ Christmas Music(863539) – Draganov89
Mistletoe was used by ancient Druid priestesses in special ceremonies throughout the winter solstice. The plant was harvested from sacred oak trees with gold scythes, the falling bough would have to be caught before hitting the ground or all the sacred energy would pour back into the earth.
It was believed the green leaves symbolised the fertility of the Goddess Frejya and the white berries represented the Oak King. Mistletoe was hung over doorways to ward off negative energy, it was also worn as an amulet for fertility.
It is now traditional to share a kiss under this once coveted plant, likely a reference to it’s fertility symbolism. Hang over your doorway to carry on this ancient tradition.
The word ‘wassail’ means ‘good health’ in old english, this is a strong alcoholic drink usually made up of apple cider, ale, cinnamon, honey and other spices. After making the drink, wassailers would offer some back to the trees and sing to them to encourage a good harvest the following year, it is possible this is where the tradition of carolling came from.
This beverage is usually served in a large pot alongside a feast, the host will raise a glass and shout “waes hael”, to which the guests would reply “drinc hael”, which meant “drink and be well”.
Go on a Yule Walk
With every ‘turn of the wheel’ the seasons change, take this opportunity to soak in winter before the days start to get longer. Take some quiet time and connect with mother nature, this can be done through foraging or giving thanks, maybe sit outdoors and do some journaling.
This activity can be incorporated into many other options on this list! Go solo or gather a group!