Winter Solstice: Celebrating the Yule Festival
The world is frozen at Winter Solstice and, in nature, little is happening on the surface. Deep in the Earth, however, the roots are quietly putting out shoots, building up the resources for the great push towards life when the weather warms in spring. This is the season of rebirth and many religions celebrate the birth of the Sun King. In Christianity, it is the child Jesus, the ‘Light of the World’.
The fruition of dreams
The ideas, dreams and visions you begin to connect with at Samhain can now be born. They will grow in power and strength – in parallel with the waxing of the Sun’s strength and nurturing warmth as it begins its journey towards Summer Solstice.
In Wiccan lore, the power of the winter Holly King is at its maximum now, but the summer Oak King has been born. He will gain in ascendancy from this point on, showing that the Wheel of the Year always turns.
Yuletide in the modern world
In Christian countries, Winter Solstice, is replaced by Christmas. The stillness of this time of year is felt, but rarely acknowledged. Most people have exhausted their energies in the preparations for Christmas Day, when they inherently know it’s time to stop – and eat!
The feast of fools
The ancient Yule rituals still predominate today. The Lord of Misrule, who originated in the wild Roman Saturnalia festival (that ended on the Winter Solstice) presided over a time of chaos, which is still echoed in some of today’s Christmas office parties. Normal behaviour is replaced by people acting like a fool. Yule has also always been a time of feasting and plenty, hopefully setting the pattern of abundance for the year to come.
Celebrate the Yuletide traditions of old, such as kissing under the mistletoe and making Yule logs, as the Wheel of the Year turns around the Winter Solstice.
Ancient Pagan roots
Many of the customs you may observe at Christmas are rooted in Pagan ritual. Evergreens, for example, have always been brought indoors at Yuletide to symbolise everlasting life. This ritual survives in the traditional Christmas tree. Other aspects of the festivities, such as kissing under the mistletoe, also hark back to ancient beliefs.
Holly and Mistletoe were used in fertility rites to ensure the coming of spring. Red holly berries represent the life-blood of the female, while white mistletoe berries represent drops of male semen. The Yule’s holly wreath also referred to the Wheel of the Year, as Yule means ‘wheel’.
Making a Yule log
The Yule log was traditionally cut from oak, because of its connections with the Oak King of Summer. It burns slowly and with great heat, redolent of the Sun. Make your own Yule log by following the steps below.
- Get a piece of wood, preferably oak, approximately 10cm in diameter and 25cm long.
- Drill three holes in the top of the log. Then wrap tin foil around the bottom of three red candles and wedge these in the holes in the log.
- Decorate the log with holly, ivy and mistletoe, and light the three candles to welcome the rebirth of the Sun King.
When the season’s festivities come to an end, keep your log to use for next year’s Winter Solstice.
Welcome the Sun
Many customs surrounding the Winter Solstice involve honouring the return of the Sun and celebrating the birth of the Sun King – or Oak King, in Celtic circles. As a change of pace from the usual rush of social activity, Christmas parties and festivities surrounding this time of year, you may wish to find a moment of solitude to welcome back the Sun.
A meditative ritual
Set the atmosphere for your private Winter Solstice ritual by darkening a room in your home and kneeling at a small table where you have placed a red candle.
Reflect on all the things that you hope for the New Year, and visualise the Sun rising up out of darkness to a position high above the Earth. Light the candle and say, “I welcome back the life-giving light of the Sun.”
An ancient need stirs within the human soul at this time of year for contact with the tribe. On the eve of the Winter Solstice, gather with friends and family, and watch the Sun set for the last time under the rulership of the Holly King. Then invite everyone home and light the Yule log.
Sit everyone around the fire and let people tell their hopes and dreams for the following year. Here begins the start of the 12 days of Yule, a special event for all family and loved ones to get involved in. You can also have fun making a hot punch with plenty of spices and apples, then drink together from a communal cup – traditionally called the wassail bowl.
Your gathering may wish to spread their good cheer and visit your neighbours with gifts of food, to share the festivities of Yuletide in this very traditional way.