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Yule is a holiday that taps into the eternal cycle of life and death and the battle between light and dark. It reminds us that even in the darkness, there is hope in knowing that the sun will return.
Kicked off by the Winter Solstice, Yule is a holiday that celebrates the shortest day of the year and the waxing of the sun. The Winter Solstice is the longest and most intense night of the year.
Early humans had to prepare extensively to survive this time by building up a stock of food. They also had to hunt for furs to keep warm, and make sure their shelters were ready for harsh winters.
This is a time of settling in, and in that way encourage inner reflection and a deeper spirituality than other parts of the year.
In many parts of pagan Europe, the winter was bitterly cold, barren, and long. There was little hope of finding fresh food unless one wanted to brave the cold to hunt game. This lack of new food made all early humans aware of their mortality. For that reason, death is at the forefront of our minds.
For pagans and some witches, the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the 12 days of Yule. At this time, we give respect to the underworld, ward off spirits, and honor the rebirth of the sun god.
When Is Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice is an astronomical occurrence that happens between December 20 and December 23. It is the shortest day of the year, after which the sun is waxing and growing in strength.
In 2019, the Winter Solstice of the Northern Hemisphere will happen at 11:19PM on Saturday, December 21. The Winter Solstice in 2020 will happen at 5:02AM on Monday, December 21.
The Symbols Of Yule
Traditionally, evergreen plants were cut and brought into the home to hang around doors and windows. They were used to ward off death and destruction. They also symbolized life, rebirth, and renewal.
The green of these plants never dull, which is why they were thought to have power over death and could ward off death even in the depths of winter.
Because they were thought to be strong enough to stop death in its tracks, they represent immortality and eternal life.
Holly is another evergreen plant. Its bristles are said to repel spirits and protect babies when holly is soaked in water, which is then sprinkled on the newborn.
Sacred to the goddess Holle, who is a goddess that rules the underworld, it symbolizes everlasting life and life energy itself.
The red berries represent the monthly blood of women, which also ties this plant to the moon.
This plant was special to the Druids and was known as a healer and a protector. It must be cut specifically to ensure that it never touches the earth.
This is a liminal plant, it lives between heaven and the earth. In that way it represents the Winter Solstice, which is between death and life, dark and light.
The white berries represent the masculine semen, a symbol of life.
The ancient Scandinavians began the custom of burning the Yule log. Their log was huge and felled from an Ash tree. It was burned to honor the god Thor.
Celtic tradition has the log coming from an oak tree, where it was brought into the home to keep the hearth fire burning into the new year. This was done to prevent unwanted spirits from entering the home.
Yule trees represent the Tree of Life or World Tree. In ancient times, these trees were decorated with gifts that represented what people wished to receive from the gods.
The trees were also decorated with natural objects like pine cones, berries, and fruit.
Candles represent the eternal flame, the same as an undying hearth fire does. Candles are used to chase away spirits and guide the sun back into the sky.
They symbolize the wheel of the year and the eternal cycle of life and death. Made with evergreen plants and decorated with pine cones, acorns, and berries then hung throughout the home.
Bells are a tool used to drive away demons and negative energy, which makes them a great tool for this liminal time when we are banishing what is bad for us and drawing in all that is good. Ring them in the mornings to chase away the darkness.
Mistletoe represents femininity and fertility. The white berries of mistletoe represent the semen of the Forest God or Oak King.
When Druids harvested the mistletoe from their sacred oak trees, they did it with golden scythes. Any branches that may fall were catched by maidens to stop the sacred energy of the plant from escaping back into the ground.
Hang mistletoe over doorways to protect against storms and evils, or wear it as an amulet for fertility.
Carolling was traditionally done by children who were honoring the Winter Solstice. In return for their singing, their neighbors would reward them with gifts like sweets.
Wassail is hot mulled cider that was traditionally drunk while carolling (or wassailing). Offerings can be anointed with wassail to honor the gods at this time.
What Is The Meaning Of Yule
The themes and true meaning of Yule death with life and death.
Yule tells the story of the cyclical nature of life. Birth, death, and rebirth. From Christianity to paganism, this holds true in many cultures and religions that recognize the importance of the Winter Solstice.
Look at the deities that we celebrate at this time. Baldur, who was killed by a spear made of mistletoe and then restored to life.
Demeter, who tells the story of the journey to the underworld for her daughter and the subsequent death of the land until they are reunited again in the spring.
The Oak King and the Holly King, who each rule for half of the year. At Yule, the Holly King surrenders his life to fuel the life of the Oak King.
Because of this connection, it seems obvious that this is a time to let go of those things in our lives that no longer serve us, and to be reborn as new people for the new year.
Allow yourself forgiveness for the mistakes you made in the past year. Consider your relationships and which ones you shouldn’t continue. Take inventory of every part of your life. Now is the time to change. The magic in the air makes it naturally easier to do so.
This is also a time to look to the future, and all of the hope and possibility the future holds. Dream a little bigger during Yule, and allow yourself to really believe those dreams can come true.
A lot can happen in just a year, after all.
Food And Drinks For Yule
- Yule log cakes
- Ginger tea
- Spiced cider
Colors Of Yule
- Red (Represents the Holly King, who is giving his power to the Oak King)
- Green (Represents the Oak King, who will be ruling in the Holly King’s stead)
- White (Purity and hope for the new year)
- Silver (Represents the moon and moon deities. Silver also represents The Lady Sun in Finnish paganism, who spins silver yarns and makes silver clothes from them)
- Gold (Represents the sun and sun deities)
Crystals For Yule
Deities Of Yule
- The Sun God
- The Oak King
- The Holly King
- The Green Man
Tips For Remembering The Meaning Of Yule
While dwelling on the eternal cycle of life and death isn’t always pleasant, it is necessary to prepare us for the deaths we will all experience through our lives. If we never examine mortality, then the sudden death of a loved one or friend will wreck us even more.
Here are ways to meditate on, or celebrate the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth:
- Spend some time during this season to visit the grave of a loved one. Remember their life, celebrate their memory, and leave an offering for their soul.
- Work with a death deity in a ritual or on your altar.
- Observe how perennial plants seem to die away and then return in the spring.
- Add symbols of death, rebirth, and immortality to your altar.
- Try to do a ritual to celebrate the cycle of life and death.
- Spend time in nature, even when it’s cold. Remember that we are all a part of nature and its cycles.