Yule in December is the time of the midwinter solstice, the crowning of Winter. The Native American Cherokees called this the time of the “Snow Moon”; the Celts referred to it as the “Cold Moon”, and in medieval England it was known as the time of the “Long Night Moon” or “Oak Moon”. This marks the last day of the year’s darkness, where from this point in the days will gradually lengthen as the light returns. “Solstice” literally translated means “sun stands still” and in some part of the world, the Winter Solstice is known as “the sun return”. Candles and shiny, sparkling decorations are ways of bringing more light indoors, to celebrate the returning light.
Yule is an ancient festival which celebrates the rebirth of the sun, of light and warmth. The word “yule” is Old Norse for “wheel” marking the change of light and darkness. The midwinter solstice was declared as the birth of Christ (Christmas) in the 4th century CE by Christians. Yule has roots in Britain and Ireland, and was known as “yul” in Scandinavia during the 11th century. The tradition of Yule logs is an ancient custom originating from prehistoric Northern Europe. Each family member would light a candle and make a wish on the Yule log, which would then be kept until the New Year where is was lit in the home hearth.
Our ancestors believed that all things on contained life force, including the auspicious properties of trees which were used to build special fires, particularly oak and ash trees. Evergreen trees are seen as powerful symbols of the enduring life within Nature. Wreaths, trees and fir or pine cones are reminders of life within the harsh winter environment. In the past the evergreens that had been kept and dried out indoors during the winter were burned for a source of heat throughout the remaining winter.
Kissing under the mistletoe is a tradition that is still popular today. Mistletoe (“viscum album”) is a plant regarded as sacred to Druids, symbolising power, strength and fertility. Mistletoe was thought to be especially magical because it grew between the earth and sky, and not in the ground like other plants; this is due to its semi-patristic growing habits of penetrating the branches of trees and living from its nutrients. In ancient times, our ancestors observed that the milky berries of mistletoe represented semen, a life giving substance, and thus associated mistletoe with fertility.
Another popular decoration- holly- is seen as a symbol of the Crone, the resting Goddess in the red berries. At this time, the Goddess in her Crone phase brings energies that lend to creativity, dream work and divination as she rests the Earth during winter. The green leaves represent the Holly King, the God in the Hunter phase.
Pagans regard the Holly King and Oak King as representing a balance of light and dark. In legend the Oak King and Holly King are brothers who share the reign of the year; the Holly King reigns from midsummer to midwinter with the increasing darkness, with the Oak King reborn at Midwinter Solstice in rule until midsummer as the light increases. During the midwinter solstice the Oak King triumphs over the Holly King as light starts to conquer day. After the midwinter solstice the sun returns bringing light, hope and fresh beginnings.
At this time of year the earth lays cold and wildlife hibernates or migrates throughout winter. In our modern world people often seek “winter sun” taking holidays over the festive season, and tend to spend more time indoors, reflecting inwardly. It is a time for stillness and rest, reflecting on the past and focusing on the future. We can imagine our ancestors gathered around the hearth over the years, gazing into the embers looking for answers, or telling stories ad singing songs in the flickering firelight. We meditate on what has passed us during the year, and make plans for the new year ahead.
Angels and fairies are often placed on top of trees and featured heavily on cards and decorations. These angelic figures could be a gentle symbolic reminder of our loved ones who have passed into the realm of spirit, and are remembered fondly. Angels are also recognised as messengers from the spirit realm. Our guardian angels- often our voice of reason, our conscious- offers us guidance and protection.
Jack Frost and the winter sprites dance across the grass in glittering frost turning ponds and puddles into ice, sometimes transforming the world in a blanket of white snow. Each snowflake that falls is unique, intricate in its design and detail and we are reminded of the beauty and cleverness of Mother Nature.
Robins are often sighted around this time, heralding the coming Spring. These birds are associated with renewal of life and new beginnings, with their red breasts symbolising the sun. There are many legends about the robin, including one of a robin going to the aid of Jesus at the crucifixion, plucking the thorns out of Christ’s head with the blood resulting in the red chest. Another old Irish folk tale says that the robin fanned a dying fire to keep a father in his son warm and burnt his chest by doing so. Robins inspire feelings of hope and healing.
Reindeer are often associated with pulling Santa’s sleigh, and they are also totem energies for safe travelling, exploration and journeying. The reindeer are renowned for their strength and endurance in tough conditions, and as herd animals, their social and family connections are strong. The regrowth of antlers is symbolic of regenerating life. The reindeer stag can be seen as a symbol for the God, who is connected to the Sun, of which returns to rule at the end of Winter.
- To celebrate the return or “rebirth” of the Sun, decorate your home with sparkling, shiny things such as baubles and tinsel. Candles are also another way to bring light into your home- scented candles (ie pine, frankincense, cinnamon, spiced apple) and coloured candles (such as red, green, gold, silver) can add a nice seasonal touch to you hearth, altar or home.
- Yule logs are a fun tradition to involve family and friends in the magic of the Yule season. You may like to bake an edible chocolate Yule log to share with special people as part of the feasting celebrations- each person could light a candle and make a Yule wish to put on top in the Yule log before eating. Or, you could save a special dried wooden log (or part of your Yule tree if you use a live tree indoors) to burn on a small bonfire on New Years Eve.
- Trees and bushes outside in your garden can be decorated with strings of popcorn and peanuts for the wildlife-particularly the birds- who will certainly appreciate the tidbits during the winter months when food is scarce. Pine cones make great bird feeders- simply spread peanut butter into the crevices and thread the top with string for a yummy bird treat.