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We all know that December can be a stressful, mad rush to buy gifts, mail out holiday greetings and overload credit cards. But there is another side to this season and it's called Yule – the old holy day of northern European Pagans.
Yule, the festival of the Winter Solstice, is celebrated between Dec. 20 and 23 based on the solar calendar. This year, it is on Sunday. In the Wiccan/Pagan Wheel of the year, Yule is a solar holiday, celebrating fire, whether the fire is the sun, the hearth fire or the flame of a candle.
Many cultures and religions have festivals revolving around this theme. Chanukah is also known as a festival of lights. Traditions such as the Yule log have grown up around this mid-winter holiday. The Christmas tree also has its origins with Yule. The evergreen tree was a symbol of continuing life and more.
“The ‘Christmas tree’ is also Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the old Norse nations,” said Amber K, a local Wiccan priestess. “They imagined the cosmos to be a huge tree with the realms of the gods in its highest branches, the world of humanity at the base and dark underworlds among the deep roots. Each year they recreated the universe by bringing a tree into the great hall and decorating it with suns and stars and moons, and little figures of all the creatures that dwelt in or under the World Tree.”
The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and in the native lands of many of our ancestors, it is the coldest time of the year. In ancient times there was a need to do something to bring the warmth of the sun and spring back. Lighting hearth fires and candles is a form of sympathetic magick. Fire may very well be the oldest magic we know.
Many current traditions other than the Yule Log have roots in the Pagan past. Our Norse ancestors hung mistletoe and holly along with tossing both into the Yule fire for protection, luck and love.
Celtic lore has it that for the half of the year starting at the Summer Solstice until Yule the Holly King rules. At Yule, the Holly King and the Oak King battle and the Oak King reigns until they fight again at the Summer Solstice. “Thus there is a balance between the realms of winter and summer, darkness and light, death and life,” Amber said. “The continuity of these age-old cycles was very reassuring to our ancestors – and still is to some of us today.”
In the Wiccan way, the Sun King is born at the Winter Solstice to the Mother aspect of the Goddess. As He grows through the year, He becomes the God of the grain and harvest. He then sacrifices Himself at harvest time to feed us. He then returns again at Yule to start another cycle in the wheel of the year and life. Many Wiccans stay up all night on Yule Eve drumming to help the Goddess in her labor to give birth to the new God.
“I enjoy Yule because it reminds me of how my ancestors waited for the return of the sun,” Tehom of Our Land of the Woods, said. “I like to imagine myself in their place, at Yule I would know I made it through the dark part of the winter and a new year is coming.”
The main message of Yule is that of hope. The sun’s heat will increase, the days will be longer, and life will go on. “After the somberness of the Samhain season, I very much enjoy the celebration of light and hope that comes with Yule‚” Mist, also a member of Our Lady of the Woods, said. “It is one of our most light-hearted and fun Sabbats.”
Our Lady of the Woods will celebrate the Sabbat of Yule at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church. There will be a ritual for Yule and a visit from one of the traditional Pagan Yule characters followed by a potluck dinner.