Yule is the Sabbat that is celebrated on or around the 21st of December, with dates differing from year to year, as being when the sun enters the sign of Capricorn, to mark the Winter Solstice.
Long, long ago, in ancient Europe and Britain, the indigenous peoples celebrated the Winter Solstice, Yule in many different ways. Ancient Archaeological sites throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Nordic Provinces, and the Germanic Provinces, have alignments with this date, as do Aztec and Maya ruins and North American Native sites. The one thing that is common among all of these is a small hole, which light shows through only at sunrise or sunset on the day of the Winter Solstice.
The British tribes had their festival of Yule on this day. They decorated the houses with Holly, known to them as the “Holy Thorn” and with evergreen boughs. It was traditional at this time to indulge in many sweet things, as this was believed to bring sweetness into the new year. The festival celebrates the re-birth of the sun. . . the first step to a new growing season. This was the only day of the year that the High Druid would take his golden sickle and newly made white cloth and go out to harvest the “Oak Child” their name for the mistletoe, which was then used both ritually and medicinally throughout the year. Mistletoe was considered holy, and never allowed to touch the ground. The berries contained a poisonous substance, which in small doses work very similarly to digitalis in heart cases, and is an anti-cancer agent. The leaves, steeped into a tea, were considered a strong aphrodisiac. This has led to the modern custom of hanging mistletoe, and kissing under it to encourage true love. The Yule tree is of Germanic origins. A large evergreen was dragged into the house, and decorated with cookies and apples and wishes were hung on the tree with symbols, so that the people in the house would have them granted in the new year.
The Gauls, a branch of the Celts, were the originators of the Yule Log, which is still practiced in France today, and in some places in Britain. The largest log available was cut and dragged into the house. Yule continued from Sunrise on the Solstice, to the time the Yule Log was all consumed. Merriment and frolicking were the order of the day, and servants as well as their masters did no work.
When the invading Romans, with their new religion, (Christianity) came north to conquer and plunder these people, they looked for ways to incorporate their ways into their Catholicism. Many of the Catholic Saints were canonized to keep the followers of the Ancient Gods happy. If they could not worship their Gods as Gods, they would be allowed to worship them as Saints, and that way the Church could control them and cash in on their accustomed offerings. Many times the invaders, in an effort to destroy the indigenous religion would build their churches on the holy sites, thus getting the common people to convert, just to be able to worship where they had for untold generations. A tour of Ancient Churches will reveal Sheila-Na-Gig’s, Foliate Masks, and many other symbols of the old Gods, as the stonemasons who built these structures were Pagans, and would, knowing they, like everyone else in their area would be forced to attend services there, added their God and Goddess figures, so that they could worship them while bending the knee to the Roman Church. to deny the church of Rome meant sure death, by whatever means the local priests prescribed.
There is historical evidence that Christ was actually born in the Spring, as there were lambs in the field, among other references, however, the date picked for Christmas was December 25th, as that was the first day following the Solstice that the days were noticeably longer, and the village priests would tell their people that the rituals of Yule had worked, and the Sun had been re-born, another theft from the Pagans.
The modern Neo-Pagan, celebrates this holiday, as they do the other solar and lunar holidays, with as many of the old customs as we have access to. Many do not use the customs that have been Christianized, but some still have the Yule Tree. Santa Claus was once Papa Yule, who would leave presents and candy for good children. He was Canonized as St. Nicholas, as he was referred to in Britain as “Old Nick” who wore Antlers, and dressed in skins, a far cry from the Modern Santa.
The Holly King, the old year, was killed in pageants by the Oak King, dressed as an infant, symbolizing the new year taking over, and the old one passing away. So, as Yule approaches, and we deck our halls, altars, and our homes with the Yuletide decorations, pause and remember the rich heritage that this truly pagan holiday affords us. The old ways, buried under years of deceit and oppression, still survive.
Somewhere, deep inside the collective unconscious the warm, festive memories of the ancient past gather us all at this time of the year with warmth and happy memories, shared with our families, both here and in the beyond.
This is the time of greatest darkness and the longest night of the year. Since the Sun is considered to represent the Male Divinity in many Pagan Traditions, this time is celebrated as the “return of the Sun God” who died at Samhain and is reborn of the Goddess. Yule is a time of awakening to new goals and leaving old regrets behind. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. The world has laid long periods of darkness, and it grows weary from the lack of sun. Yule is the day the Goddess gives birth to the Sun King. The old Holly King who has ruled the Earth since Midsummer gives his life so that the new infant sun king (or Oak King) can be reborn into the world, bringing the newness of life and rebirth. After this day, the days grow progressively longer, and we celebrate this return of the sun through birthing rituals, gift giving (when the sun is born, it is a birth celebration for all of us, hence the tradition of gift giving). It is obvious to see how the Christian Church borrowed the Yule holiday and incorporated their own Deity into the story.
This is a solar celebration so is celebrated with fire, hence the yule log. The act of cutting and decorating the Yule tree are pagan traditions. Wreaths of holly and fancy cookies and bread are part of our tradition as well. The colors for the season are red and green. Bayberry candles are burned to ensure wealth and happiness throughout the coming year. Hanging bells is a good custom, so you know when the wood spirits are frolicking about your home. A lesser known tradition is the burning of the Yule log. magical symbols are carved into the log prior to setting it ablaze on the evening before Yule, A piece of the Yule log should be kept to protect the home throughout the year from negative energies and to light next year’s log. If you can’t burn a log, find the biggest red candle you can get your hands on and carve symbols into its side. Surround it with holly, mistletoe, cedar, and rosemary, light and let it burn all night long to ensure a prosperous year of warmth and light.
I have spent over two decades researching Paganism, and more specifically Wicca, and have combined that information in my own personal Grimoire. Back then, I had never thought to share my knowledge with anyone other than my own children, so I never kept track of where my information came from specifically. Now that I am sharing my knowledge with you, I want that known up front. If I have included information that is yours, please contact me so we can work things out. Again, no copyright infringement is intended on this site.