What is Yule?
We can’t always trust everything we read online. Even the dictionary can steer is in the wrong direction:
Per Merriam-Webster: the feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ : CHRISTMAS
Yuletide had been more popularly used as synonym for Christmas. While like many other winter holidays, there are plenty of parallels, it is a very different celebration. There is no one definition for Yule, since it has evolved over time and many cultures. We do know that it pre-dates Christmas and that Jesus’s birth was not actually in December. His birth wasn’t even celebrated until A.D. 440.
It was actually the Sun King’s birth that was originally celebrated. He has many names, but we will stay generic. The placement of Christmas was to easily convert Pagans to Christianity. Ironically, the Pagan community follow similar patterns while still celebrating Christmas. Why shouldn’t our kids get Santa too? Many other Christian holidays shadow Pagan rites as well, but here we are focused on winter.
Yule can simply be celebrated only on the Winter Solstice, the entire month of December, or like I do, the twelve days from Solstice until January 1st. These dates recognize the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere may celebrate differently because of the difference in seasons.
Many Christian Christmas traditions were borrowed from Paganism. Many know the story of the Christmas Tree. As a Pagan, it’s okay to have one. We honor the many variations of Pine for the color they bring to our winters, their sturdiness and survival.
Your holly, mistletoe wreaths, fires and carols, all started off very Pagan. All are symbolism to our winter celebration. Even some of our older Christmas carols drop hints at Paganism. The twelve days of Yuletide is expressed in the famous carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
St. Nick is our Father Winter. Our presents are from the benevolence of our community, family, friends and the Gifting Stag.
There are the reindeer, which from study were derived from the Gifting Stag. My first encounter with the Stag was through a dream. I had no idea he was associated with Yule whatsoever. This next portion is my own personal gnosis and you won’t find this credited by someone else’s article.
I would have recurring dreams of running with the Stag in the woods. He was translucent blue and the stars would reflect off of him and fresh blankest of snow. We would run through the woods until we would reach a lake. There he turned into half stag, half man. I later found out this was Cernunnos. He would take the water from the lake, with the moon reflected so beautifully in its ripples, and bless me with it and embrace me. Most people would say this is just a cool dream, but for a Pagan, this is a most gracious blessing!
The tree and the Gifting Stag are connected. Bringing a tree into your home is said to be an invitation to him. If you hear a knock at your door, hail Cernunnos! Though a knock at your door with no no one in sight could also signify the wandering stranger.
The Wandering Stranger is folklore that during Yuletide, you will be visited by someone less fortunate and it is a test for you to invite them in and show you kindness. The wandering stranger is one of the many Yuletide spirits. It is customary to invite the spirit in and share the warmth of your hearth. You could also take this literally and help your local homeless community. Yuletide is more than family and friends; it’s community.
There are many more familiar Pagan traditions that parallel the Christmas tales you are familiar with, but this would be a book if I listed them all and no longer a blog. (:
How Can I Celebrate Yule?
There are many modern day Pagans that struggle celebrating the sabbats because the relevance to ‘now’ seems to be a fine line that is lost in some. Our ancestors had it rough. They didn’t have the convenience of buying their herbs, candles and trinkets in a store or online. They used what they had. Focus on warmth and family in the hearth was highly celebrated because survival in harsh cold was a feat! Asking for divine interference to survive is a lot different than the reflection Pagans use today. Most of us don’t have to fear for warmth and shelter to get us through winter. Food isn’t scarce. But then, it very much was.
Reflection can be done during any time of course, but during Yule, we use those twelve days to exhibit benevolence. Give to those in need. Offer food. Offer shelter. Offer companionship. Be the gifting stag and give heart-felt gifts that people need and separate that from a want. Maybe all someone needs is help cleaning their house. Maybe they need someone to talk to. Maybe they need a ride. Be selfless and don’t expect anything in return.
Another way to reflect is to ignite a Yule log. A fun family craft is to decorate your own family log and dedicate it to your hearth. I like to think of the hearth as a spirit, and I also honor Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth. Some ideas would be to use twine or red ribbon and lace in pine-cones, holly, pine needles and other winter sentiments. I’m a glitter person, so that’s always included! Any log can be utilized that is natural to your region, so I prefer Birch. Birch is a tree of the crossroads and opening up your spiritual gates. I find it the perfect choice to invite those into your hearth, ethereally or physically.
I burn my log on the Winter Solstice, which in my region is on December 21st. Another idea would be to use it as a table centerpiece and light candles around the log if you wish to preserve it. If you’re really crafty, try carving holders into the log for votives so you can re-use year after year! Maybe this could be gift idea for your Pagan friends. -wink wink-
Oh! And don’t forget the good food. The point is not to over-indulge, but to share your abundance with others. Whether your family and friends are Pagan or not, share a nice dinner with them and set aside your differences. ‘Tis the season to kill the hatred.
Aside from feasts, there’s the treats. Don’t want to burn a log? No problem. I got you covered. Holiday log cakes can be found in the frozen desert section of your bakery or grocery store. Funny story, my best friend and our kids celebrated last year by buying this and using birthday candles to sing happy birthday to the Sun King! This was the idea of a 4 & 6 year-old. I never had a more magickal solstice! Improvise. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate.
If you celebrate Yule, how do you do so? I’d love to hear your stories!