How do pagans celebrate the winter solstice at Yule?

The winter solstice is an annual event that takes place on the shortest day of the year. This year, that day falls on December 21. While the day of is often the pinnacle of the celebration, the days leading up to the festivities are just as important.

Qrisio via Adobe Stock

In the Wheel of the Year, Yule is the midpoint between Samhain and Imbolc. At Samhain, we honor our ancestors and the cycle of transformation and death. At Imbolc, we celebrate the appearance of spring and rebirth. Yule is the intermission between the two and is a celebration that honors both death and rebirth.

The Christmas season is a time of joy for many pagans as we prepare for the upcoming festivities and winter. We honor the solstice in a number of ways, as these often depend on our traditions and locations.

elaboration

The art of preparation is an ancient tradition. In this case, I’m referring to mundane crafting rather than spells, but often the two can be combined. In preparation to decorate our homes and altars, many will create their decorations by hand.

A popular tradition to celebrate Yule is the creation of a Yule log. The Christmas registry is both a literal registry and a delight. Not simultaneously. For this section, I’ll cover wood. Each type of wood has its own correspondences and can be chosen accordingly. For example, birch could be used for protection, while oak or pine are great for prosperity. In modern times, after a log is cut, it can be brought indoors and decorated with evergreens and candles. Traditionally, the Yule log was burned in the home for seasonal blessings.

Another popular seasonal craft is the use of fresh citrus. A common tradition is to create a garland of dried citrus to hang around our houses, on our trees, or on our mantles. Oranges have correspondences for good fortune and prosperity and are easy to make at home, with or without a dehydrator. This craft can be accomplished by thinly slicing oranges and letting them bake on the lowest setting of the oven for a few hours.

With citrus fruits as the protagonists, another craft that I have enjoyed since I was little is the creation of pomanders. Pomanders are created by piercing oranges with cloves for both prosperity and protection. If you’re looking to read more about this, you can find a handy guide to this and other Christmas crafts in my article “Winter Witchery: A Modern Witch’s Guide to the Season.”

Christmas Craft Ideas:

  • pomanderos
  • dried citrus wreath
  • Christmas log
  • witch balls
  • Cedar or Pine Herb Bundles
  • Pentagram ornaments made of branches

decor

In the days leading up to the celebration, it is common for pagans to decorate their houses and altars.

Often the practices include bringing evergreen trees into our homes. This tradition was borrowed, in part, from the ancient Roman festival, Saturnalia. This celebration was a festival of partying and joy in the middle of winter. During this time, people decorated their houses with evergreen branches for protection and good fortune. It is speculated that this same tradition planted the seedlings that became the Yule trees we know and love today.

Depending on the circumstances of my life, my own Christmas tree has been everything from a cool, sturdy tree to a faux tree made of a strategically arranged strand of Christmas lights—and the latter is incredibly pet-friendly, I might add. However, the act of decorating does not have to be historically pristine to be spiritually satisfying.

Another common practice is to bring in other foliage for the season. Weather permitting, the best way to do this is to scan your own backyard and the local landscape for materials, such as pine cones or acorns, to collect. Items like this house the seeds of the trees themselves and as such symbolize rebirth.

The winter season itself is one of hope, death, and rebirth. Historically, winter was a time of uncertainty for many. The festivals that precede Yule are those of the harvest, and it was with great hope that these last harvests would ensure their survival through the winter.

Ideas for the Christmas altar:

  • holly leaves
  • Mistletoe
  • Snowflake or snow globe symbols
  • Red, green, gold and white candles
  • Pineapples
  • pomanderos
  • bells

celebrating

What pagan celebration is complete without a party? I can’t think of a single one where a meal is not in order. This party can be with your immediate family, extended family, or just for yourself.

When creating a feast for this Shabbat, many may choose traditional foods such as winter vegetables, assorted nuts, and bread for the season. However, this is also a great time to bake. We can also use assorted nuts in many baked goods. Like the seeds mentioned above, nuts correspond to prosperity and new beginnings.

There is also the tradition of the edible Christmas log. Unlike its wooden counterpart, the dessert is a way for heathens to honor the season while satiating their taste buds. Making a Christmas registry can be a long process but also an enjoyable one. This method involves baking a thin chocolate cake before covering it with a sweet filling, rolling it into a log shape, and frosting the outside to resemble a log.

If you are looking for a recipe for this, you can find one here.

Grandma’s Wassail Recipe:

Drinks are another popular seasonal tradition, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Like the Yule records, Wassail is another namesake tradition. Wassailing was originally a form of carol singing, but it is also a popular seasonal drink option. The following recipe was passed on to my longtime friend and podcast co-host, Jaime Amanda, who graciously provided it for today’s article.

Ingredients

  • 2 gallons of apple cider
  • 2 cups of fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cloves

Addresses

  1. Stir apple cider, orange juice, sugar, lemon juice, and pineapple juice in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  2. Place the cinnamon and cloves in a tea ball and add to the apple cider mixture; simmer until heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve from the pot with a large ladle.

rituals

Some common Yule themes are new beginnings, introspection, reflection, and intention setting.

Creating a ritual for Yule must be personalized to both us and our location. This may not be as necessary for places that have all four seasons, but as a Florida native, mine are frequently spent in a tank top. Therefore, the chance of me getting snow for a ritual is extremely rare.

That being said, these coordinates don’t stop me from spending Yule around a fire. The fire is a simple ritual that incorporates the solar elements of the sabbat. Although the winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year, each day grows longer after this time. Creating a fire is a way to honor the sun and bring the element of fire to life on this sabbat. This fire can be as big as a bonfire or as small as lighting a candle.

christmas spell jar

Another ritual I like to do is create a Christmas spell jar for intentions. If you’re short on space or prefer a more subtle tribute, this is a great way to create an altar in tight spaces. To create this jar, you will need a wide mouth jar. This jar can be a mason jar or whatever clean container you have been saving for the occasion.

Materials

  • salt for purification
  • pine tree for prosperity
  • rosemary for wisdom
  • juniper for health
  • Nuts for new beginnings
  • red candle for courage

Addresses

  1. In a wide-mouthed jar, add each ingredient. I like to assign each component its purpose as the ingredients are added.
  2. If you want, you can also write your intentions on a small piece of paper. Roll up this piece of paper tightly and tie it with string. You can add this around the jar or directly into the jar.
  3. Depending on the size of the sail, this can be done in a single session or spread over several days. The critical part is setting the intention before casting the spell.

So how do pagans celebrate the winter solstice?

While there are many ways that pagans celebrate Yule and honor the winter solstice, many practices vary by tradition. However, the greater purpose is to honor the earth and our position within the cycle. It is also a time to check in with ourselves and determine what we can let go of and aspire to.

Pagans come in many shapes and sizes, so our festivities can be simple or decadent. While the winter solstice is a time for celebration, these can range from intimate, solitary celebrations to more elaborate gatherings or rituals. Rarely will two look completely the same.

What is consistent, however, whether we pay homage to yesteryear or create a celebration unique to ourselves, is that it is a time to honor the cyclical nature of the earth, ourselves, and life itself.


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