December 6th, 2020
Updated: December 1st, 2021
Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes
Yule, otherwise known as the Winter Solstice, is a pagan holiday that marks the longest night of the year. Since the night hours will only get shorter after that point, Yuletide represents the rebirth of the Sun God. In essence, it is the symbolic end of the cold and dark winter and the return of light.
Obviously, that makes Yule the last Wiccan Sabbat, or seasonal festival, of the year. But even if you’re not familiar with the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, you might still recognize elements of this festival in another mainstream holiday — Christmas. Like many Christian holidays that have their roots in pagan celebrations, Christmas is basically Yule in disguise.
So let’s talk about Yuletide! And while we do, try to figure out how these pagan festivities have influenced the creation of Christmas. Once you start looking for the connections, you won’t be able to stop!
What Is Yule?
Historically, Yule was celebrated by various Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. Although the word itself was first noted around 1475, the holiday was, by all accounts, present before that. The festival was at one point connected to the Norse god Odin, who is also called the Yule father. Notably, stories about the god describe him as having a long beard — which is potentially what inspired old Saint Nick’s appearance.
In any case, Yule is only one of eight Wiccan holidays that exist on the Wheel of the Year. Each of the eight festivals on the pagan calendar corresponds to the year’s main solar events, namely solstices, equinoxes, and the intervening cross-quarter events. The winter holidays, Samhain and Yuletide, are perhaps the most important Wiccan festivals on that cycle, though the rest of them are meaningful in other ways. But what is the significance of the Wheel in the Wiccan tradition?
A Brief Overview of the Wheel of the Year
In essence, the Wheel represents the cycle of birth that is perpetually repeated year after year. Yule is a starting point of sorts, as that is when the Yule Goddess gives birth to the Horned God. At the same time, the Triple Goddess restarts her own cycle, this time in her maiden form. The other Wiccan festivals are thought to represent various points in the courtship of these two deities.
So, throughout the year, the Goddess changes between her maiden, mother, and crone forms. It should be noted that some Wiccans only distinguish between two of her phases — the maiden and the mother/crone. Similarly, some Wiccans project a parallel ever-shifting nature onto the masculine deity.
Instead of the singular Horned God, they believe in the Holly King and the Oak King, as different divine personalities that rule during the winter and summer seasons. However, rather than having a cycle of courting, impregnation, and birth, the beliefs surrounding the two kings usually center on their battle for dominance. Notably, the Holly King is generally described as a woodsy figure dressed in red with sprigs of holly in his hair. So that may be another potential origin of the Christian Santa Claus character.
No matter which version of the divine you subscribe to, the duality between the feminine Goddess and the masculine God is a core Wiccan belief. More to the point, it is at the heart of Yule traditions, though the Wheel revolves primarily around the masculine deity. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to the festivities.
When Is Yule, Anyway?
Most Wiccans celebrate Yule on the day of the Winter Solstice — though there are exceptions to that rule. However, that date tends to move around from year to year. Generally, though, the Winter Solstice falls between the 20th and the 23rd of December. So what is the Winter Solstice all about?
Basically, it’s the shortest day of the year when we get the fewest hours of daylight and the longest night. The date varies because our calendars aren’t exactly aligned with the Sun.
Of course, some Wiccans believe that the end-of-the-year festivities should start on Samhain, which is also known as the Witches’ New Year. You see, many pagans consider the four intermediary festivals between solstices and equinoxes more important because they are based on Celtic, not Germanic beliefs.
Additionally, Samhain is technically the last stop on the Wheel of the Year before Yule ushers in a New Year. So some people deem it appropriate to celebrate during the period between these two holidays. On the other hand, some people celebrate Yuletide for twelve days starting on the shortest day of the year. But really, there’s no manual stating when you have to start your celebration.
Of course, the Winter Solstice doesn’t fall on the same dates in the Southern Hemisphere as it does in the Northern part of the globe. For example, people in Australia might opt to celebrate Yule — and Christmas, for that matter — between the 21st and 23rd of June. After all, that is when the shortest day is on that side of the planet. If they were to celebrate in December, they would be doing it on what is the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere.
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What Are Some of the Most Important Yule Symbols and Traditions?
As we have established, Yule has several symbolic interpretations. In the story of the birth of the Sun God, you can see why Yuletide represents the return of light after a long winter. And as the end-of-the-year festival, it celebrates rebirth and renewal on a more broad level too.
With that in mind, let’s talk about Yule symbols. Even if you’re new to the world of Yule traditions, you’re sure to recognize some of them!
Red, Green, White, and Gold Colors
Since we’ve already talked about the symbolic meaning of Yuletide, you can probably guess what each of these colors represents. Since Yule is the festival of birth — the birth of light and the Horned God — that’s what the red symbolizes. In fact, many consider holly berries to represent the blood involved in childbirth. Red is also the manifestation of prosperity, which is also the reason Wiccans decorate their homes with red ribbons.
Green is significant because of its presence in evergreen trees which are connected to the Holly King. This color roots the festival in nature and also symbolizes abundance since it is the color of money. Many Wiccans use green Yule decorations to invite all these things into their homes in the upcoming year.
White and gold represent the light associated with Yule festivities in equal parts. Like red and green, the color gold also summons wealth and prosperity. It also brings the spirit of renewal and revitalization that pushes us toward the New Year. So basically, all these colors invite good luck into the upcoming year.
Red, green, white, and gold are great options for clothing during Yule as well. Dressing for the season is a fun and festive way to prepare for the holiday.
In Norse paganism, trees symbolize life. According to that way of thinking, a tree is at the very core of the universe. However, the idea of bringing evergreen twigs and trees into the home obviously didn’t stop with the Norsemen. And the idea that evergreen plants represent immortality isn’t the only meaning many of them carry. For example:
- Holly has protective properties and is therefore useful for warding off bad luck or unwanted spirits
- Mistletoe represents fertility and healing — according to pagan beliefs, it loses its power if it touches the ground, which is why we hang it up
- Pine also brings healing and joy into the home
- Ivy represents resurrection, rebirth, and immortality
Don’t have room for a tree? A Yule wreath is an excellent substitute.
Decorations and Ornaments
A Yule tree or wreath may have red and gold ribbons on it as well as decorative lights. Bells are commonly used as decoration to ward off negative energy. Some people also decorate with fruit to manifest fertility and abundance in the coming year. Dried oranges are particularly easy to turn into Yule decorations by tying a thread through the hole in the middle. Best of all, they provide a lovely contrast on the evergreen tree. Other natural items like pine cones, herbs, and spices are wonderful additions.
Runes and crystals can be made it into ornaments. Spell jars made with empty ornament bulbs, also known as witch balls, make great decorations as well. Here are more fun Yule ornaments that can be made at home.
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The Yule log is another one of those pagan customs that have inexplicably found their way into Christian traditions. Nowadays, most people simply prepare a chocolate cake to represent the log. However, Wiccan households still decorate and burn (symbolically or otherwise) a real log.
This tradition originated in Norway, where people would put a large ash log onto the hearth on the night of the Winter Solstice to celebrate the return of the sun. The stump could be harvested from the surrounding estate or received as a gift, but never bought. Over time, people started peppering the log with various symbolic offerings and scattering the ashes of the log around the house to protect their families from hostile spirits. Since most homes don’t have hearths anymore, the tradition has since evolved.
Today, Wiccans would get a 14–18-inch long log and decorate it with dried berries, evergreen twigs, pine cones, ribbons, feathers, and cinnamon sticks. After decorating the log, a family might burn it in a hearth or an outdoor fire pit while singing songs. But if those options aren’t available to you, you could attach a few candles to the log and burn it symbolically.
Some people believe that the Yule log must smolder for twelve days and nights to bring happiness and abundance into the following twelve months. But you don’t have to incorporate that custom if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to have a Yule log — even lighting some candles at your altar would be enough.
Yuletide is associated with many festive foods, particularly of the sweet and spicy variety. During Yule, Wiccans bake cookies, fruitcakes, or caraway cakes soaked in cider. When it comes to savory foods, meals with pork or boar meat are customary. Traditionally a pig or boar would be sacrificed, then a ham would be made for the feast. Lastly, ginger tea and spiced cider complete the spread.
In general, Yule recipes feature various fruits, nuts, and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Many of these ingredients are thought to have protective properties. So in addition to filling your stomach, these foods should also invite good luck and abundance.
Yule songs and carols are an entertaining way to celebrate the season. There are both traditional songs honoring gods and goddesses, and modern hits rewritten to fit the Yule holiday. A Spotify playlist of Yule songs would be a great introduction. Can’t find a song honoring your chosen deity? Feel free to write your own. You don’t have to be a musician. Your offering will be appreciated even if you’re off key.
Traditional Yule gifts are less commercialized than other holiday gifts. They have more meaning when you make the gift yourself or the gift can be used in magickal practice. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy your gifts, but making them is usually a better option. Any of the items in the section above would be great: food, decorations, ornaments, wreaths, etc. A few more gift ideas are:
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How to Celebrate Yule
So Yule has finally rolled around. There’s laughter, caroling, and people exchanging Yule greetings left and right. But what’s a good Wiccan to do?
Christian traditions are so similar to pagan customs — should you just partake in them? If nothing else, gathering items associated with Yule is much easier and cheaper than getting Christmas decorations.
Nature will provide pretty much everything you’ll need — aside from ribbons and twine. So before you start putting up Yule decorations, take a stroll through a forest or even a nearby park. Since you shouldn’t disturb living plants, try to only gather pine cones and evergreen twigs you find on the ground. You could even leave behind an offering of bird seeds or nuts as a token of gratitude.
Set Up Your Yule Altar
Now that you know all about the basic Yule symbols, you should have some idea of what you can put on your altar. Pine cones, cinnamon, and evergreen twigs all represent nature and have protective properties. You can also bring in some bells to ward off evil spirits and bad energy. Lastly, to invoke light and represent traditional Yule colors, get green, red, gold, or white candles.
If you want, you can also put offerings of fruits and nuts at your altar. Fresh oranges and apples should do the trick, but you can also set aside a bowl of various nuts. Remember, if you want to use mistletoe, you’ll have to harvest it from the branch, not the ground. If your mistletoe touches the ground, it will lose its symbolic properties.
If you like working with crystals and precious stones, there are several options you can use during Yuletide, including:
- Rubies, which summon protection, prosperity, as well as love and sexual passion
- Bloodstones, which boost energy, motivation, and help you make good decisions
- Garnets, which are manifesting stones that can reveal your purpose
- Apatite stones, which can make you more motivated to pursue your dreams
- Emeralds, which summon prosperity and healing
As discussed, you can either do this the day before Yule or right after Samhain. While you’re at it, you can also decorate the rest of your home. Bring in a Yule tree and decorate it with dried fruit, cinnamon sticks, strings of popcorn, and other low-cost options. The point of Yule decorations is ideally to use things you’ve had a hand in making, not items you’ve purchased.
What Does a Yule Ritual Look Like?
Once your home is ready for Yuletide festivities, you can look into local Yule celebrations. The annual festival at Stonehenge is incredibly lively, attracting crowds of Wiccans, Druids, and pagans from all over the place. Generally, these people will wear seasonal colors or black, to represent the Sun God or the Goddess. Some of them will even dress up!
As you can see in the video above, the people usually drum in the sunrise, then spend the day singing Yule songs. If you want to join the carolers, ask someone who’s been to the local Yuletide festival which songs they usually sing. Don’t be surprised if you hear some familiar tunes. There are several cheeky pagan versions of established wintertime classics, such as Dancing in the Wiccan Wonderland.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Yule traditions you can do on your own or with your family. For example, you could make holly water by soaking holly leaves in spring water under a full moon. Or if you want to keep it low-key, just prepare a festive dinner for your loved ones!
Solitary Yule Rituals
If you find yourself celebrating Yuletide by your lonesome, there are several solitary rituals you can perform. If you want to go all out, you can praise the sun and pray for a prosperous year. Alternatively — or additionally — you can cast spells for luck, abundance, appreciation.
Yuletide is also the perfect time to declutter or redecorate your space and start fresh. While you do that, you can think of anything you’d like to accomplish in the New Year. If you have a Book of Shadows, you can write your goals in it. Alternatively, you can add them to a spell you’ll keep on your altar.
Light Is Returning!
The winter season should be a time of hopeful contemplation for everyone, whether they celebrate Yule in the Wiccan fashion or opt for more mainstream festivities. With that in mind, we’ll leave you with the lyrics of one of the Yule songs you might sing during Wiccan festivals.
Light is returning
Even though this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn
Let’s keep it burning
Let’s keep the light of hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm
One planet is turning
Circles on her path around the Sun
Earth Mother is calling her children home
We sincerely wish you a joyful Yuletide and a prosperous year ahead!
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