Yule, or the Winter Solstice, is the longest night of the year. In Paganism, this is when the Sun is reborn (or the Oak King, depending on your tradition). Basically, it is the return of the days getting longer until the peak at Midsummer. Believe it or not, many other Winter holidays celebrate this return of the light as well. Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, with their progressing candle-lighting, are two that do.
There are many ways to celebrate Yule. From Yule logs to pomanders to wassail (spiced wine) to making donations, several can be incorporated into other Winter festivities. One year, my (Pagan) church had an overnight. We lit candles and waited for sunrise in our jammies, entertaining ourselves with games, story-telling, and holiday-inspired snacks. Most of us fell asleep by 4-5am but we had a great time celebrating Longest Night.
Traditionally, Yule logs were burned to bless the coming year and a piece was kept to light the next year’s fire, for continuity of blessings/protection. These days, fireplaces are less common and most people won’t hang on to a charred piece of wood a whole year. As a practical alternative, a reusable Yule log can be made by drilling holes into a small log and fitting it for candles and/or incense. Sometimes, certain woods are preferred for the blessings they bestow (i.e. oak for strength, pine for prosperity, birch for fertility, aspen for spiritual wisdom, etc.). It can be anointed with oils that are meaningful to you. In short, they can be customized to fit the family.
Spices are a big part of all winter celebrations, am I right? Whether you’re spicing up your mulled wine or baking gingerbread cookies, they bring a warmth all their own. Speaking of spiced wine, the activity of wassailing – going door to door with song and drink – is the precursor of Christmas caroling. The idea was to bless one’s neighbors, by drinking to their good health, and pouring a bit on the ground to assist Spring’s fertility.
Pomanders, made by punching cloves into oranges, create a nice holiday scent. Experience tells me they can be somewhat messy to make and draw flies after a few days, though. This year, I think I will just diffuse some clove and orange essential oils (1 to 5 ratio, respectively) instead.
In my family, we celebrate Yule in concert with Christmas. After all, from Mithras to Horus to Jesus, it is celebrated as a birth of a Holy King in many traditions and for many years. The winter holiday is a marking of a natural rhythm for me. As a family, though, the most important thing for us is the time spent enjoying one another’s company. And the sumptuous feast doesn’t hurt either…
Happy Holidays, Everyone!