Yule: Celebrating the Wiccan Winter Solstice

by JoHarrington

Yule is a time for family and friends, feasting, talking, relaxing and sharing. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and repose.

In the midst of the cold, dark days of winter, a fire crackles and the human spirit is lifted from its hibernation.

For a day (or more) we blaze in our defiance of nature and the Lords of Misrule. We are here! We exist and thrive! Even in the frozen wastes and blinding snow, we can dance and party!

Come the Spring, we will be back. When the hedgerows blossom and the fields thaw, we will be there. Until then, a moment of reflection, as we hunker down again.

What is the Wiccan Yule?

An introduction to one of the Eight Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

Winter Solstice Sunrise by Sian LindseyThe date of the winter solstice changes every year, though it generally falls between December 20th and 23rd. In 2013, the longest night occurs on December 21st, at 17.11 GMT.

From this moment, the days will almost imperceptibly grow longer, stealing minutes from the darkness.

Eventually those incremental bits of extra light will take us into spring, then summer, before reaching its zenith at the summer solstice. Both extremes are celebrated as Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

Celebrating the winter solstice is not confined to witchcraft and Paganism in general. Many religions incorporate very similar festivals at this time of year. Two of the biggest examples is the Christmas of Christianity and the Hanukkah of Judaism. They each have their roots in the same solar calendar, which is the basis of the Wiccan Yule. We are all marking the rebirth of the sun (often reworked into 'son').

Do you celebrate the Winter Solstice?

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Winter Solstice Festivals Around the World

Wikipedia has a list of the solstice celebrations, which take place around the time of Yule.
The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet's polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits. Earth's maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26'. More evident from high ...

The Importance of Yule to our Ancestors

Newgrange is an ancient monument in Ireland, which was built to note the exact moment of the winter solstice.

Books about Yule | Books about Winter Solstice

Learn more about this Sabbat by checking out these titles.

How Witches Celebrate the Winter Solstice

Some of these common activities might sound very familiar, even to non-Wiccans.

Solstice Dessert by Arkady RoseAt Yule, Pagans will be banding together. It might be in family groups, covens or with a wider group of friends. Now the festivities will begin.

There will be present opening, gifts and sharing, goodwill and things said in love and understanding. This is a time when all feuds and bad feeling should be put to one side. It's Yule and there's peace upon the Earth.

Once the affirmations of sharing and presents are done, we eat together. Our communal table has a feast upon it, from which everyone leaves full to bursting. In the depth of winter, while crops can't grow and the foliage in the hedgerows appears dead, we fill our stomachs. It's an act of defiance to the natural world, stating strongly that we will survive until the food is bountiful again. In our darkest hour, we are fed.

There's possibly an historical imperative at work here. Winter solstice marks a mid-point between times of harvest. A quartermaster in the storeroom and pantries can see what has been eaten and precisely calculate what is left. People always underestimate in the beginning, so it will be obvious that there's now excess. This was what covered the tables of our ancestors, when their lives were so much more reliant on the availability of food in their immediate environment. These days, we just have the nearest supermarket instead.

Beyond the feasting, there are other tokens of co-operation - games, telling stories, singing, participating in joint entertainment and all of the other ways in which we indirectly state that we're in this together.

Of course, there is also drinking. Part of that is in the same spirit as the food. We know how much liquid we have left to store in order to survive until spring. But another huge factor regards the laws of hospitality. People are visiting. They are offered sustenance and that often took the form of a drink. Hot beverages are the quickest way to warm visitors after a trek in the snow. Moreover, we're here to relax and celebrate. Alcoholic drinks especially have been a traditional feature of that.

In short, Yule is a time of togetherness, fun, goodwill and feasting.

Does this sound like a midwinter festival that you celebrate?

Winter Solstice as a Time of Reflection

All of nature is working with us to make this a time to hibernate and think about our lives.

Photo: Yule by Sarah Murray

There's nothing like sitting in front of a fire for musing upon things, especially while sipping hot mulled wine and munching on one more mince pie. They may be silent thoughts or shared in conversation with equally relaxed loved ones.

This is the very essence of the winter solstice - a time of repose and reflection. There should be no rushing about here. That is for the spring, when the natural world is waking and the light brings with it the anticipation of a bright summer. That's in the future.

For now, it's enough to settle down and consider all that has gone. Call it the Ghost of Christmas Past, if you will. Dickens had the right idea. Remember childhood, with all its expectations; and the months that have led up to this moment. Fix your position in time. This is your life, and the route you took through it - the decisions you made, the chances you took, the opportunities you let slip by - have brought you to this place.

Is it a good place? Is it where you wished to be? Are you content and warm and vital? If the answer to any of these things is no, then you have a new direction to take. Those are plans for the future. Right now, all you need to be concerned with is the musing. Sorting through the positive and the not so good, recalling your memories and honoring them in their turn.

Just as the quartermaster took stock of the sustenance before the feast, Yule is a time to gather your thoughts. By Imbolc, this inventory of self might just have suggested a new direction to take or a project to begin. That's the time for planting seeds, not now. Winter solstice is for enjoying the fruits of the seeds you planted in the past.

Yule with a Friend

How One Witch Celebrated the Winter Solstice.

Discarded Memories by Daniel Hsia

I hadn't expected my visitor, but I was glad that he had come. After 400 miles driving, he was on my doorstep with a hug and a kiss. I placed a hot drink in his hand and we sat before the hearth, catching up on the news of each other's lives.

It was a quiet time, as befit the early hour. We were soon in our beds, curled up in anticipation, for the next day was the solstice.

Our day passed in communication and shared meals. Gifts were exchanged - not all of them tangible - and affirmations of love and goodwill given. All over town, lights and decorations glistened in the winter air, strewn between buildings or draped over lamp-posts. We passed under them, linking arms and chatting. (In my home too, tinsel and baubles lined the mantel and the tree, sparkling in the glow from the hearthlight.)

As the sun slipped beneath the western horizon, heralding the onset of the longest night, we were out in the world. Two decades ago, we had met while both living in a nearby city. We drove around it now, parking the car outside homes where one or both of us had once lived. We stood in the chill air, exchanging stories as the memories occurred to us. One house was boarded up now; another was bright with the lights of the family who were currently there.

We recalled the dreams of the people we had once been. We laughed together over half-forgotten jokes. We squeezed an arm around each other, when the remembrances turned dark. We touched base.

Later on, we returned to my home and opened a bottle of rich, heady Madeira. Toasting each other, we flicked through album after album of old photographs. Our impossibly young selves laughed back from snapshots in time. We smiled fondly, adding texture to the images by telling stories of when they were taken, or updating each other on our knowledge of old friends pictured here.

It was a solstice worth sharing. Settling our roots in the past, discovering our places in the present, sharing a special moment in time. I wish you all a happy Yule and a wonderful year, however you celebrate it.

Other Midwinter Articles

The Divine Mother holding Her baby is one of the world's oldest representations of the world in winter. This is the Goddess protecting the light and the warmth.
On January 6th there is a mad frenzy to take down the Christmas decorations. That tradition is more modern than you might think.
NORAD watches the skies in defense of Canada and the USA. But it's not just potential missiles they might spot on one magical night.
All the colors of the rainbow are represented in these festive ornaments; and so they should be!

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Updated: on 12/08/2012, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 12/29/2011

I'm glad that you liked it, Michaela.

Yule is the best time for reflection. The entire of society is pretty much geared towards forcing us to sit back and calm down for a few days at least. Shops are closed; family and friends are all in touch for a chat; lives are updated with all that's been going on; and traditions dictate that we eat too much, drink too much, then remain stationary. The only thing we can do in those circumstances is watch the telly, play board games or chat and muse upon our world.

Good luck with integrating it into your life and if you have any further questions about any of the Wiccan Sabbats, I'd be happy to answer them.

Michaela on 12/29/2011

I really enjoyed reading your article. Some time ago I first learned about Samhain traditions and thought them beautiful, the way you describe Yule seems equally appealing to me.
I especially like how you describe Winter Solstice as a time of reflection - I'd love to integrate more of that into my life, too.



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