rebirth, quiet introspection, new year, hope, setting intentions, celebration of light
Winter Solstice, Midwinter, Saturnalia, Yuletide
Yule comes from the old Norse jól and Old English géohol which was a season of hunting after the harvest was done. This fell in what we now call December. The first recorded use of the noun Yuletide, according to Wikipedia, was in 1475. The Yuletide season lasted from the end of November to the beginning weeks of January but the feast of Yule lasted three days over the Winter Solstice and marked the beginning of the new year. It was and is a time to slow down and reserve energy over the winter season.
This is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night we will experience in the Northern Hemisphere. Though it’s typically celebrated on December 21st, the exact moment of the Solstice varies from year to year due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. It also occurs at differing local times, so that depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or the day after the date listed on any given calendar. That Yule is a fire festival, however unlike the more public community filled outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private family and close friends type of celebration. Yet like its midsummer counterpart, is strongly associated with fertility and the continuation of life.
From this point forward, the days will gradually grow longer again, until we reach the height of the Sun’s power at Summer Solstice. Although we will still see comparatively little of the the Sun’s light for several more weeks, this celebration reminds us to have patience, the waning portion of the year is over, and warmth, growth, and light are returning!
The early Christian church dedicated December 25th to celebrate the birth of Jesus as well. nobody really knows exactly when Jesus was born. Some scholars think that he was born between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C., based partly on the biblical story of Herod the Great. The name “Yule” actually comes from the pre-Christian festivities of Germanic tribes.
A celebration of the renewal of life, return of light (Jesus). A time to bring family close and celebrate. As a Yule tradition, decorate the hearth, an altar, place of prayer; with evergreen branches, such as cedar, pine, hemlock and spruce, as well as bright sprigs of holly, pinecones, and other festive winter flora. And light the room with candles (to conserve energy of course). Yule and Christmas share the same colors of reds, greens, white, silver and gold. Images of the Sun (or Son of God-Jesus) are a way to honor the return of the light. Those lucky enough to have a fireplace can burn a Yule log to brighten and bring warmth! Interestingly, the Yule log, a decorated tree, wreaths, and even caroling—are actually rooted in pre-Christian culture and traditions. So in a sense, Yule and Christmas are very similar in celebration. In Christian culture we celebrate Jesus and the New Testament, in Norse, Germanic and other cultures we celebrate the coming return of spring and fruitful crops. In Pagan culture, scholars the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. Later departing from its pagan roots, Yule underwent reformulation, resulting in the term Christmastide (Yule/Christmas).
The Yule Log
Out of the mighty Yule log came
The crooning of the lithe wood-flame,
A single bar of music fraught
With cheerful yet half pensive thought,
A thought elusive: out of reach,
Yet trembling on the verge of speech.
A poem by: William Hamilton Hayne
The Yule Log played an important role in the celebrations of the winter solstice and later Christmas, a large oak log was ceremoniously brought into the house and kindled at dusk, using a brand from the previous years Yule Log. It was deemed essential that the log, once lit, should burn until it was deliberately extinguished. The length of time, varied from region to region, from 12 hours to several days and it was considered ill-omened if the fire burnt itself out. It was never allowed to burn away completely, as some would be needed for the following year. The ashes from the Yule log were often used to make protective, healing or fertilizing charms, or scattered over the fields.
In modern times, the Christmas Tree has been used as a stand in for the Yule Log in some families traditions. Burning the tree in a fire pit on Christmas day. This custom is more as a right of passage to the season and to eliminate the tree in a way other than tossing it in the trash.
People in many countries also serve cakes shaped like the logs and call them Yule cakes.
Yule Potpourri Recipe
You will need:
- A cinnamon stick
- Star anise
- An orange
- Cut the orange into thin slices.
- Bake the orange slices in a single layer in the oven until dry (120 celcius/250 fahrenheit).
- Let the orange slices cool down completely before use.
- Mix the ingredients in a lockable jar (I just use a mason jar). You can of course customize the ingredients to your preferred scent.
- Shake the mixture well and leave to marinate overnight or until your ready to use.
- Put the mixture in a cloth or linen pouch.
Warning: eating any part of the plant can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness and seizures. The symptoms are caused by a poisonous ingredient called phoratoxin, which is found in all parts of the plant, including the berries, and is especially concentrated in the leaves. Eating the plant raw or drinking it in tea can cause poisoning.
Mistletoe, or in old English, misteltãn. Mistletoe is also known as birdlime, all-heal, golden bough, drudenfuss, iscador and devil’s fuge. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasite that attaches itself to trees, plants and shrubs, stealing their nutrients and water. This can weaken or disfigure the host plant, and eventually even kill it. It is often associated with thunder, and regarded as a protection against fire and lighting. Druids and Romans both held mistletoe in high regard. These groups believed that the plant had healing powers and could ward off evil. Mistletoe was seen as a connection between earth and the heavens because it grew without roots. Mistletoe is poisonous to humans and animals.
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wand’ring, So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you, And to your wassail too
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year, And God send you a Happy New Year.
We are not daily beggars Who beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children, Whom you have seen before. God bless the Master of this house,
Likewise the Mistress too And all the little children, That round the table go.
And all your kin and kinfolk That dwell both far and near
We wish a Merry Christmas And Happy New Year.
Wassailing is a very ancient custom that is rarely done today. The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. From this it developed into a another way of saying; Salute, Cheers, Happy Yule and Merry Christmas to each other!
Modern Recipe for Yule Wassail
3 red apples
3 oz brown sugar
2 pints brown ale, apple cider, or hard cider
1/2 pint dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger strips or lemon peel
Core and heat apples with brown sugar and some of the ale or cider in an oven for 30 minutes. Put in large pan and add rest of spices and lemon peel, simmer on stove top of 5 minutes. Add most of the alcohol at the last minute so it heats up but does not evaporate. Burgundy and brandy can be substituted to the ale and sherry. White sugar and halved oranges may also be added to taste. Makes enough for eight. Wassail!
A wreath is a circle with no beginning and no end– much like life. They symbolize the cycle of everlasting life. In fact, the Celtic wheel of the year is often symbolized as a wreath made from evergreens. and has been depicted as such for thousands of years.
Wreaths are also a beautiful way of bringing natures life inside. The best way way to find materials for your wreath is to go on a walk in your backyard or a local park or forest and forage for evergreen branches, *holly, *mistletoe, pine cones, and any other seasonal foliage. If you can’t get outside, you can find greenery at a florist. Or better yet, a Christmas tree lot. of Then arrange your foliage in a circular shape, either gluing it to some sort of circular structure, like Styrofoam, and tying it with twine. Or just make a circle with the greenery tied with twine to lay on your table as a center piece around a Yule cake or candle. As you are doing so, reflect on the circle of nature and life.
The “Yule tree,”, or Christmas tree, is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen species, such as pine, fir, cedar, juniper, or spruce. The tradition has origins with ancient civilizations in the middle east, Asia, and Europe. The modern custom flourished in Germany and spread to other European nations and North America in the 19th century. The Yule tree’s brightly colored decorations and lights (originally candles) symbolized stars in the heavens, spirits of those who died, religious events and figures, and provided edible treats for children. Many families begin their holiday seasons by cutting their own Christmas tree at tree lots or from their own yards, or buying pre-cut at lots. You need appropriate permits purchased from a local Forest Service office to cut and remove a tree from designated areas on National Forest land. They are often decorated with dried fruits to remain on the tree when tossed outside providing shelter and food for wildlife.
Yule Candle Magic
Candles, fire, The hearth all warmth, light are perfect for Yuletide intention setting. You will need:
- a white, gold, or light green candle.
- sage or palo santo.
- charcoal disc.
- and dried herbs; thyme for courage, hawthorn berries for joy, mint for purification, rosemary for strength.
Twelve hours prior to the Winter Solstice, begin to raise the energy by preparing your sacred space with the sage or palo santo, background instrumental music, decorations, etc… Be still and center yourself, calling upon any guides or higher powers you wish to be with you. Then light the charcoal, place it in a fireproof dish, and add the herbs. Light your candle, and meditate on the flame. Let your mind wander where it will. How do you feel? What do you notice? While gazing at the flame, bring to mind everything that you are nurturing inside of yourself right now. All of the dreams, plans, relationships. truths, art, and love your are birthing into this season. Once you feel complete, blow out the candle, thank the light, and journal.
Family Yule Intentions
• A large central candle
• Smaller votive candles – 1 for each person participating in the ritual
Gather in a central space in your home. This should be a place where you can safely light your candles: around your family prayer or meditation space, family altar is ideal (if you have one) or even just at your dining table. Light the larger, central candle.
Begin by talking about why the Winter Solstice is meaningful:
All through summer & fall the days have been growing shorter & shorter. Every day has grown shorter, and the sun is up less & less. Today is the shortest day of the year. We’ve gone as far toward the darkness as we can possibly go. This is the longest night all year. In some places (like the north pole!) it is dark almost the entire day.
Now, the whole family, together, goes through the house together & turn off every light. Tell the children we’re going to pretend the darkness inside the house, is just like the darkness outside. Leave this one center candle burning & go through the house together and turn out all the lights.
TIP: Carry a flashlight with you to return safely to your gathering place.
Gather back around your candles. Remind everyone: For half the year, day by day, the Earth has slowly grown darker & the nights longer. Now, on the Winter Solstice we’re in almost total darkness. Blow out the last remaining candle.
TIP: Make sure you know where the match/lighter is so you can easily reach them in the dark. Keep small kids on your lap so they don’t get scared when it gets completely dark.
Pause for a moment to reflect on the stillness of the dark. Before you relight your candle, pause for a moment & absorb the quiet & the stillness. Sit for a moment & feel the darkness, its powerful simplicity. Talk about how, at first, the darkness is scary, because we’re not used to it. But darkness is important. We’re all born in the dark, in our mama’s belly. We grew in the dark until we were ready to be born. Just like the Earth–things are growing deep inside the Earth right now, preparing to be born. We need the dark to sleep & to dream. It’s in the dark that we dream up all the new dreams for the year to come.
Before you light your central candle remind everyone: even though everything seems so dark, it was never totally complete. There was always a spark waiting to return. Relight the central candle. Explain on Yule, we’re celebrating this spark. And, the return of the sun! Now that the sun has returned it will continue to grow & grow, and get bigger & bigger. The light is coming back now & one day soon we’ll celebrate spring & then summer.
Tell everyone right now the light is only a tiny spark–the light of the Sun & the light inside us–so we have to help it grow by lighting candles & twinkling lights. Explain: Winter is the time of darkness & that can be scary. And just like the Earth, we all have moments when things seem dark & it feels scary. But the Earth teaches us, no matter how dark it gets, there’s always a spark of light. The light will always return. A new day will always begin. Remind everyone that in the darkness, new dreams are born.
Go around the table & take turns lighting your votive candles from the central candle. As you do, have each person say what they wish for themselves in the new year. What do they wish for their family/community?
Send the kids on a mission through the house turning on all the lights. Turn on every light to drive away all the darkness and shadows.
Blow out the candles, one of the adults goes first, say: May the light of the Yule candles burn in our hearts all throughout the coming year. Blessing of the Season on you all. As each person extinguishes their candle, say: Blessings of the season on you all.
Traditional Yule foods include festive meats/vegan meats, winter vegetables, and colorful preserved fruits. Yule apples are usually red varieties, and are often preserved in some way. Whole spiced crab apples or sliced and spiced apple rings come in jars, to be served as a side dish or desert. Dried figs and dates apricots, pears, and apples are often served on a platter either as an appetizer or alongside deserts. Nuts are a popular winter snack. Nuts like; hazelnuts, acorns, and walnuts. turnips, onions, and potatoes store well through the winter so are a popular dish served throughout the season. Winter squashes are a delicious side dish and can be eaten baked in their shells, or mashed. Sweet treats like candy canes, ribbon candy, cookies, and other confections are always included. Many traditional “Christmas cookies” originated from much older traditions. The Yule log cake is centerpiece has been around a long long time. This is usually a rolled chocolate or vanilla cake filled with jelly or cream. Decorations can be as elaborate as sculpted bark made of frosting or fondant; marzipan sculpted into birds, animals, holly or mistletoe sprigs; or as simple as powdered sugar and chocolate shavings. Fruitcake is another classic, but no one likes it and no one wants to eat it. It’s basically dried fruits baked in cake batter and often, alcohol. Different cultures carry with them different traditions. You can get lost in google searches with recipes steeped in culture and Yule tradition!