Yule for Beginners

May 15, 2019

If you’ve experienced at least one Christmas in your life, you’ve probably heard the word ‘Yuletide’. But have you ever wondered where that word comes from, and how it came to be linked to Christmas?

On or around the 21st December is the longest night of the year, or the Winter Solstice. And on that day, Wiccans and Pagans are celebrating Yule. In Wicca, the Winter Solstice is regarded as the depth of darkness for the year, and after it, we know that the darkness will start to fade and the light will begin to return to the world. This is an important message to remember always, not just at Yule: even when it feels like the darkness is suffocating you, the light will always return.

Some Pagans would call Yule the Sun’s birthday, as this is when, in Pagan mythology, the Sun God is reborn! Remember that at Samhain He was wandering the world of the dead, and now He is back and stronger than ever.

Many Pagans also believe in twin brothers named the Holly King and the Oak King (some believe in them literally, and others prefer to regard them as a metaphor). The Holly King reigns over the latter half of the year, the darker half, and the Oak King takes over the beginning of the year, as the light returns. This concept could be why holly is so closely connected to Christmas time.

Paganism is closely linked to the earth, so it’s no surprise that at the time of Yule, we like to bring the outside in, and the tradition of bringing evergreen into the home started with ancient Pagans. Mistletoe is regarded as being a healer and protector, and holly is said to ward off unwelcome spirits. Ivy is a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and resurrection, as is the yew tree. And pine is used to bring healing and joy to the home, and it’s often burned to invite purification as well.

For centuries, Pagans have used evergreens to make wreaths, which were either hung up, or laid flat with candles – and that later became the Christian Advent Wreath. Ancient Pagans also started the concept of a beautifully decorated tree, although their trees were decorated with food, and were said to be a warm home for woodland sprites through the cold time of Yule. Which is actually really sweet, and makes me want to cry…

Since this Sabbat is all about the return of light, it should come as no surprise that candles are burning everywhere thanks to Pagans. Typically, we use red, green, and gold ones, as they are the colours of the season!

There are many other Pagan traditions that creep into our modern celebrations today, including the giving and receiving of gifts, the concept of a Yule log (although the traditional one is less chocolatey, more literal log-gy), and many more.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that Christians and Pagans historically got on well, and so it’s no surprise that so many traditions overlap so closely. I hope that this post has been informative, and has given you a new perspective on why we do so many of the things that we do at that time of year.

Have a lovely day, and blessed be.

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