What is Yule?
Yule is the magical holiday celebrated on the winter solstice. Unlike the other witchy sabbats on the Wheel of the Year, Yule is often regarded as a whole holiday season.
Yule specifically refers to the shortest day of the year, sometime between December 20-22 for the Northern Hemisphere.
Therefore, Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Diwali (among others) are renowned festivals of light! From this day forward, the daylight hours will get longer until they are equal again.
A common theme in Yule traditions (and indeed, traditions within other spiritual belief systems) is welcoming the light, honoring the darkness and promoting optimism for a bountiful year ahead.
During Yuletide, we retreat inward to honor our inner light of life. And to reflect upon the previous year so we can better prepare for the next year. This season is all about birth and renewal.
“It’s time to honor the real and spiritual “dark” and to rejoice in the return of the light, celebrating and passionate traditions with friends and family.”Susan Pesznecker, Llewellyn
Most folklore surrounding Yule and other similar winter holidays involve light being brought into the world from the Heavens. Light is being created, retrieved, and gifted to the Earth from the Gods. Metaphorically, and literally too.
At its core, Yule is a day in which to proudly stand within the darkness, knowing in our souls that the light will be triumphant.
How to Celebrate Yule
Like all the lovely sabbats, there are so many fun and easy ways to celebrate! Similar to Samhain, traditional Yule rituals are embedded in our worldly cultures. We tend to not think about them too much, but look forward to doing them every year.
It’s no secret that winter is a harsh and dangerous season. Especially for our ancestors and animal friends, who spend most of the growing season preparing foodstuffs for the dark months.
While most of our daily routines and lives are not threatened in the winter like they used to be, there are still substantial seasonal shifts.
Honoring the season is what brings us closer to nature, at any time of year. Instead of grumbling about the colder weather as you pack away your swimsuits, why not embrace some new and magical traditions?
Many of the centuries-old traditions are an eclectic mix of all the winter holidays celebrated throughout the end of the year. And most of these traditions are invoked throughout the entire month of December, or at least for several weeks. Not just on the actual winter solstice day.
As always, I have loads of fun and easy things you can do to celebrate Yule! I guarantee you’re already planning on doing at least a few of these. So I hope you’re inspired to try a few more:
Enjoy a Symbolic Feast
Our ancestors had to ration their stored food supply very carefully during the winter in order to survive. A feast at Yule was a powerful, optimistic gesture.
By feasting with friends and family, they illustrated their belief in a bountiful growing season ahead. It was also well deserved and much needed to boost morale of the townspeople.
A grand winter feast is almost a guarantee during the holidays for our modern age. There are countless recipes to try! Susan Pesznecker’s book on Yule provides many traditional recipes to try.
While you’re enjoying your bounty, toast to another bountiful year ahead. Give thanks for all the abundance and the ability to share it.
Yule Log Fire
If you’re fortunate enough to have a functioning hearth in your home, use this opportunity to burn a Yule log. Or you could have an outdoor bonfire with a dedicated, magical piece of firewood.
Any piece of firewood can work for this tradition. If you decorate a real tree within your home, you can always save part of the trunk as the next year’s Yule log.
The magic of the Yule log is within its symbolism. When tossed into the fire and burned, winter is being replaced by the heat (another reference to the light being victorious over the dark).
You could carve, etch, or paint symbols of hope and light onto the log before burning, further instilling this symbolism. If you can’t burn the log itself, you can place candles around it if you can do so safely.
We can’t really talk about Yule without also talking about Yule trees! Whether real or artificial, Yule trees (also known as Christmas trees) are symbolic of the everlasting life in nature.
The trees are literally evergreen and persist through the harshest season, providing color, beauty and shelter for animals.
You could also use greenery harvested from evergreen trees to decorate around the house and altar. Swags, garlands, and centerpieces are just a few examples. Get creative!
Other outdoorsy decor you can have some fun with inside include holly berries, branches/twigs, pine cones, river stones, and even foraged nuts.
You can decorate your greenery, indoor or outdoor, with homemade ornaments. They can be made with natural materials, or you can get crafty with more modern materials.
For more natural ornaments, you can dry out orange slices in the oven or dehydrator and adorn them with holly berries, cinnamon sticks, pine cones, or anything else you can forage outside.
For more modern ornaments, you can paint glass bulbs, cut out shapes from clay then paint, or you can upcycle any trinket in your home.
Decorating greenery with ornaments is a fun tradition we can do with family and friends of all ages. This promotes quality time together and adds a bit of whimsy to the space.
Going off of this, you can decorate your home, altar, and yourself with the colors of Yule season. White is the most prominent, as it closely symbolizes light and expansion.
Green is equally symbolic in Yule, for reasons stated above. Bringing green into our home (and in the form of our clothing) inherently opens our hearts and brings us closer to nature, whose primary color is green.
Red is similar in its symbolism. Many of the flowers, berries, and crops that grow in winter are red in color. We can also be reminded of the warmth of the sun within this color. The red against the white snow is striking!
Operate by Candlelight
When it is safe and easy to do so, replace your electric lights with candles. This will bring more empathy for our ancestors. And continuously remind us of the returning light.
You’ll be amazed at how much light can be given off by one candle. If you choose to light the same candle(s) each day until they are gone, you’re partaking in an ancient tradition of honoring both the light and the dark.
Another tradition we all participate in every single year! But–we need to give gifts responsibly and ethically. There is no need to give into all the marketing pressures of the modern world. A gift is meant to express love and gratitude, not show off the latest scheme in capitalist pandering.
Instead of buying a bunch of plastic toys for the kids, why not find them more traditional, interactive toys to play with? Art supplies, cuddly stuffed animals, blocks, and books are just a few examples of more practical (and still fun to receive) gifts for children.
Every year I give baskets of home baked goodies to my loved ones. It’s not necessarily cheaper or less time consuming, but it is definitely more sustainable. It can be difficult to buy gifts for people who are capable of buying whatever they want/need at any time.
Making them something yummy to eat or drink expresses the love and gratitude without the clutter or the negative environmental impact. I reuse the same food baskets and tins every year! This is a bonus because we can utilize traditional Yule recipes to do this.
Did you ever think you could celebrate a holiday by sleeping? It’s one of the benefits of partaking in the Earth religion! Getting cozy and comfy in bed actually does count as a celebration because it brings us closer to what our ancestors would have done.
To conserve energy and resources, our ancestors often went to bed early and slept late. It was cold and keeping fires lit cost valuable wood, so it was only practical to stay cuddled up in bed for longer than in the summer months.
In our modern age, we can make a romantic date out of hibernation. Even if you don’t share your bed, you can still give the sheets a good wash, the pillows a good fluff, bring in all your favorite books or movies, snacks and beverages and enjoy being warm under the covers.
Quite the opposite of hibernation! Our ancestors would also throw themselves wonderful parties around Yule time, embracing the opportunity to be with the community. They would dance, feast, mingle, and basically act a fool, all in good fun!
Centuries ago, these wild parties were known as the Feast of Fools and often consisted of mock religious ceremonies and all kinds of satirical acts of sacrilege. There’s something about misbehaving and going against what the authorities deem as “appropriate” that is just plain fun.
It’s believed that these Feasts of Fools would bring much needed banter and enjoyment to the people. A bright, fun event to look forward to during the dead of winter.
The most beautiful thing about Yule is how seamlessly ancient traditions blend together with modern traditions. Most everything we do now around Yule has roots in the practices of our ancestors.
Yule is a powerful solstice because it reminds us that the light will always return. We must honor the time of darkness in nature by retreating within. Once the light begins to grow in strength, we can emerge from the darkness with fresh energy.
While Yule day itself has the least amount of daylight through the whole year, it’s not about eternal darkness. Sometimes it feels like the darkness will envelop everything and everyone. But then Yule comes along and reminds us that literal brighter days are just on the horizon!