From December 21st in the New Year, pagans, witches, and more will witness one of the most important sabbaths of the year: Yuletide. Set around the time of the Winter Solstice and continuing on throughout the rest of the year, Yule is a time of merriment and coming into alignment with the earth. Yule has gone through countless changes through the centuries it has existed– so what is the history of this sabbath? And what are the modern traditions that we use today? All answers lie within.
History of Yule
In the 5th century or so, the first instances of a Yule celebration have been documented by ancient Germanic calendars. Along with the old Anglo-Saxon calendars, which celebrated a yearly winter tradition in the month of ýlir, Yule seemed to be a holiday that coincided with the longest and cold nights of the year. Many old traditions that were witnessed and described often include animal sacrifice, feasting at temples, and drinking merrily with fellow farmers and clansmen.
Various other traditions from all over the world have conglomerated into how we celebrate Yule today. The Yule Log, a decorated tree or tree stump, comes from Norse traditions. Celtic Druids would gather mistletoe to adorn their celebrations, and so on do these familiar traditions you may see in Hallmark movies actually belong to the Pagans and Spiritualists of the past.
The current history which many Pagans and witches follow is that Yule is the final moment of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, where the Holly King stands victorious. Yule is a celebration of his victory.
You may be wondering how Yule and Christmas traditions have become so tired up of each other. Well, the obvious answer is most often the correct one– simply blame the missionaries! Hundreds of Christian and Catholic missionaries over centuries of collecting information, cultures, and secrets managed to twist the once pagan Yuletide into a religious holiday to better suit the Bible. Christmas trees are direct descendants of Yule Logs, we still hang mistletoe over our doorways, and the 25th day, which is said to be the birthdate of Jesus, actually stands as the median between the winter solstice and the final breath of the year. Yule has influenced modern society in countless ways. So, why not go all in and celebrate?
How to Prepare for Yule
Yule preparations are similar to most other important sabbaths in the Wheel of the Year. Like Mabon, I always say the best way to prepare for a holiday is to clean and adjust your altar to fit the sabbat. Yule is all about evergreens, holly, myrrh, and ice, so decorate your altar with various sprigs of pine and clear crystals or stones. Offerings of pastries, pinecones, and incense can be placed on the altar to welcome the solstice.
Fire and the burning of Yule Logs is an important tradition that requires some preparation. Consider hosting a party somewhere close to nature; this can be your backyard or a rented park. Set up a bonfire with collected logs, bonus points if they’re from evergreen trees. Decorate with holly and mistletoe and candles to light the way for your party guests. A feast of meats and warm, usually alcoholic drinks are suggested to keep things merry! Finally, set fire to the bonfire and warm your souls to fully harness the power of the Yuletide.
Common Symbols of Yule
Every sabbath has its own symbols associated with them. Yuke is no different. Consider using these symbols to decorate your home and incorporate Yule into your everyday life this December.
Green, red, and white are the obvious first choices most have when it comes to Christmas. This is another ghost of Yuletide! Other popular colors are silver and gold, with gold, in particular, aligning with the strength and power of the sun while silver matches the moon. Burning green and red candles during Yuletide welcome abundance and protection into the home, as you are honoring both the Holly and Oak Kings with these colors.
Cattle are particularly important for Yule. Cows, goats, and lambs stand as a testament to centuries of tradition, as seen in Sweden’s goat obsession. Even Christian folklore shows lambs and donkeys as beings that witnessed the birth of Christ! Place a figure of a lamb or goat on your Yuletide altar to beckon in their strength and resilience.
Holly, mistletoe, myrrh, frankincense, pine, evergreens, nutmeg, cinnamon, and thistle are all favored herbs used during the Yuletide season. Consider making dishes or dreams that feature these herbs or using them to decorate your Yule Logs or home!
Rituals for Yule
Excited to celebrate but not sure where to start? Here are three rituals to use during the Yuletide seasons to strengthen your connection with the sabbath!
Cleansing Space Ritual
Welcome in the crisp and powerful energies of Yuletide with this cleansing ritual that will chase out the old and beckon in the new. Light a scented candle in the space you want to cleanse and crack open the front door just a tad (don’t want to let the cold in!). Then, dust all surfaces and sweep all dust to the front door.
Visualize yourself sweeping not just the dust and grime that is visible, but the metaphysical energies hanging in the air around you. Sweep away the heavy old energy into a pile and then, once you are satisfied, sweep all of it out of the door! Now you have a cleansed space for you to do any sort of work with! I recommend setting up a simmer pot and meditating.
Yule Simmer Pot
Simmer pots are a great way to endue a space with positive energy and abundance. For this pot, all you’ll need are oranges, cinnamon sticks, full cloves, sea salt, and enough water to cover just barely cover all of the ingredients. Slide the oranges (peel on) and toss them into a pot of your preferred size, being sure not to overcrowd the pot. Add your spices and water and set to simmer on the lowest heat possible.
Stir the pot counterclockwise to chase away any remaining bad energy in your space, then clockwise to bring forth abundance, merriment, and warmth. Let that simmer until the oranges become mush and the water has lowered a considerable amount, just be careful not to burn your pot!
Yule Log Decorating
As mentioned above, decorating a Yule Log is a great way to get into the Yule spirit. The best part about this ritual is that it’s as personal as you’d like it to be! You can get yourself a full pine tree or just a simple log, and you can use whatever decorations, natural or not, that you’d like. I recommend decorating with cinnamon sticks, just to add a wonderful scent to your home! Before Yule is over, you can even place the log to burn in a fireplace or bonfire, releasing all of that wonderful energy into the universe to come back for you threefold later on! Just be sure to burn safely!