Yule is the celebration of the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year - when the days begin to get longer and is a time to commemorate the rebirth of the Sun. At this time the Oak King - who rules from Litha (the summer solstice) to Yule - takes over from the Holly King - who rules from Yule to Litha.
Being the longest night of the year, Yule is a time to conduct spells and rituals aimed at shadow work, setting intentions for things you want to expand upon as the days grow longer and for letting go of the past, forgiveness, cord cutting and new beginnings.
The history of Yule is complex and varied, having been celebrated by many different cultures for centuries. While we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the complete history or how, exactly, it was observed, we do have some ideas about how it may have been celebrated and where some of our modern traditions may come from. The following are a few examples of where such traditions may have originated.
Santa Claus: It is thought that the idea of Santa Claus comes from the Norse pantheon of Gods and specifically refers to Odin – also referred to as the “Yule Father.”
Christmas trees: The tradition of decorating trees and bringing them into the home is believed to be of Celtic origins. Evergreen trees are a symbol of everlasting life because they stay green throughout the winter months. Lights were added (originally candles) to represent the return of the Sun and increasing daylight.
Yule logs: Yule logs represented the sacred flame, rebirth of the Sun and the promise of the return of warmer weather with a portion of a large log being burnt each night for 12 consecutive nights.
Mistletoe: A sacred herb of the Druids, mistletoe represents the fertility of the Goddess and Mother Earth. As a highly protective and herb, it was hung over doorways to ward against evil, sickness and death. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, however, is said to have begun in England around 1784 from song lyrics about kissing under the mistletoe.
Bells: Silver bells were popular in Celtic lore to protect against and banish evil and scare away negative energies while calling in the help of angelic beings.
How you can celebrate Yule
Your Yule Altar: Some items to include in your Yule altar would be pinecones, evergreen branches or pine needles, red, green, silver or white candles, clear quartz crystals and foods such as oranges, nuts and cranberries.
Spells and Rituals: Yule is a time for introspection, looking at the darker and more hidden aspects of yourself, shadow work, and to focus on things you want to expand upon such as personal growth, learning, releasing what no longer serves you, cord cutting and new beginnings. It is also a time to be grateful for all that you have and for sharing what you can with those who are less fortunate.
Activities: If you can get out in Nature, collect pinecones, gather evergreen branches to make a wreath, place protective herbs and/or branches under the mat at your front door or hang them above your door for protection, or you can make a Yule potpourri with oranges, cloves, nutmeg, pine needles, and other fragrant herbs to simmer in a pot on the stove.
Hold a candlelight vigil, leaving pillar candles to burn for the night in a safe place.
Ring bells to clear out old, stagnant energies and invite positive and helpful Spirits in.
Use this time to set intentions for the next year to come.
Conduct a Saining ritual (smoke cleansing) by burning protective herbs such as rosemary, lavender, cedar or juniper to cleanse and purify your home.
Wassail comes from the old English term “waes hael” meaning “good health.” Made with cider, oranges apples, cinnamon, lemon, cranberry and cloves this drink (served warm) is full of vitamin C and helpful for boosting your immune system along with keeping you warm on a cold winter’s night!
4 C apple cider
10-12 apples, sliced
1 C honey
3-4 cinnamon sticks
4-5 whole cloves
1 C cranberry juice
Rind of 1 orange
Rind of ½ lemon
In a large pot, combine all ingredients. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Strain and serve warm.
1-1/2 C butter or margarine at room temperature
1 C icing sugar (powdered sugar)
3 C flour
Cream butter or margarine with an electric mixer until smooth - about 1 minute. Add icing sugar and mix with the beater until well combined. Stir in flour ½ cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. You can either roll the dough out and cut into shapes or form dough into 1” balls and flatten with a fork. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes.
Have a safe and happy Yule!