Yule is a traditional festival celebrated by many cultures around the world during the winter solstice. It is a time of joy, gratitude, and hope for the new year.
In this blog post, I will share some of the history and customs of Yule, as well as some ideas on how to celebrate it in your own way.
The word Yule comes from the Old English word geol, which means feast or festival. It was originally a pagan celebration of the rebirth of the sun after the longest night of the year. Many ancient peoples, such as the Celts, Germans, Scandinavians, and Romans, observed Yule with rituals, sacrifices, and feasts. Some of the symbols and traditions of Yule are still familiar to us today, such as the Yule log, the evergreen wreath, the mistletoe, and the gift-giving.
Yule is also associated with various deities and spirits of nature, such as Odin, Freyja, Thor, Cernunnos, and the Holly King. Some of these beings were believed to visit the homes of humans during Yule and bring blessings or mischief. For example, Odin was said to lead a wild hunt across the sky on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, while Freyja was said to ride a chariot pulled by cats (the origin of jolly old Santa and his sleigh pulled by magical reindeer?). The Holly King was a figure of winter who battled with the Oak King, a figure of summer, for control of the seasons.
Today, Yule is celebrated by many modern pagans and Wiccans as one of the eight sabbats or festivals of the Wheel of the Year. It is a time to honour the cycle of life and death, to reflect on the past year and make plans for the future, and to connect with nature and spirit.
Some common ways to celebrate Yule are:
- Lighting candles or a fire to symbolize the return of the light
- Decorating a Yule tree or altar with natural items such as pine cones, berries, nuts, and dried fruits
- Burning a Yule log or making a Yule log cake
- Singing carols or chants
- Exchanging gifts or making donations to charity
- Performing rituals or spells for prosperity, healing, protection, or love
- Meditating or doing divination
- Enjoying a festive meal with family or friends
Yule vs Christmas: What’s the Difference?
Many people use the terms Yule and Christmas interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same thing. Yule is an ancient pagan festival that celebrates the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Christmas is a Christian holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, although his actual date of birth is unknown.
However, there are some similarities and connections between Yule and Christmas. Both festivals involve feasting, gift-giving, and decorating with evergreen plants and candles. Many of these traditions have pagan origins and were later adopted by Christians to celebrate their faith. For example, the Christmas tree was originally a symbol of fertility and protection for the Vikings, who would burn it for 12 days during their Jol festival (the original Yule log).
Some people celebrate both Yule and Christmas, either as separate occasions or as a blended holiday. Others prefer to stick to one or the other, depending on their religious beliefs or cultural preferences. In any case, both Yule and Christmas are festive occasions that bring joy and warmth to the cold and dark winter season.
Yule or Christmas are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the beauty and magic of winter and to welcome the new year with optimism and joy.
Whatever specific tradition or rituals you may follow, I hope you have a blessed holiday and a very happy new year!
© Colin Lawson Books