The crisp winter air, the feeling of snow on your cheeks. The smell of pine trees, cinnamon, oranges, cloves and cookies baking in the oven. The long dark nights and the clear skies full of stars that shine brightly like diamonds glinting down on us. I am talking about my favourite time of year and one the festivals that we celebrate as a family, Yule.
Yule, also known as Midwinter or the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the shortest day. The solstice falls between the 20th and 23rd of December each year but traditionalists often celebrate Yule on the 21st December. During the winter months, many things start to shrivel or die, they wither away. Trees become bare as they lose their leaves and many flowers die away altogether. However, what is really happening is magical. As they start to die, start to lose their leaves or petals, underneath each tree and plant is getting ready to start again in the Spring, to be reborn.
Yule is often referred to as the ‘great battle’. This is the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King. The Holly King looks after the colder months, autumn and winter and the Oak King looks after the warmer months, Spring and Summer. During the winter solstice, the Holly King and the Oak King fight and the Holly King is defeated once more so that the Oak King can take over for the next few months. As traditional witches, we see this as the seasons phasing, one to another, rather than a kings battle but when my children were younger we told them the story of the great kings just to make it a little easier for them to understand the changing of the seasons. It is important to remember that all seasons have their place in our calendar year and that they all bring great things to us during the 12 months.
During the Yuletide season we bring evergreens into our homes and decorate each room with boughs of holly, sprigs of mistletoe, ivy swags, pine trees and garlands of fir, pine cones and berries. But all these have meaning. The pine trees are for healing and cleansing the home and those within. Holly is protective. Mistletoe is not only great for kissing under (oh I say!)… but also revered for it’s protective properties as well as for fertility. Fertility isn’t just about babies either within magic, it is the birth of anything new including ideas, creativeness, new businesses and the like. Ivy is used as a symbol of ressurection. What dies will be reborn or maybe it never died at all? The true meaning of evergreen.
We hang handmade ornaments from the trees and garlands made from dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, baubles and bells that we hand down from generation to generation. Candles are lit throughout the season to symbolise light through the darkness of winter and all the magic in the air as well as the forthcoming lighter days of spring that will soon be upon us. With light comes hope. With hope comes strength, and with strength comes courage to keep going, even in the darkest of days.
The colours of Yule are very traditional and the ones that you would probably think of as the modern day Christmas colours. The colours are green, red and gold.
Green reminds us that not everything dies and that even when things are gone, they are always alive in our hearts. We use evergreen trees, bushes and garlands to symbolise this.
Red reminds us of the blood of the Earth (and also the blood of Christ if you are Christian based) which keeps us grounded and loved through the cold winter months.
Gold is the sun, shining through the darkness. As Yule is the shortest day the sun is on its way bringing longer days and warmer nights.
As the Christian celebration of Christmas is only a few days after Yule, most houses are filled with trees, lights and other decorations. Town and village high streets may also be lit with twinkling lights and Churches open their doors ready for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. All these things help us witchy folk get into the Yule spirit too, even though by then we have already celebrated our special day. The birth of Christ, although is now thought to be sometime in March is still celebrated on the 25th December, as Christmas Day or rather CHRISTmas day. It is of no surprise that the Christians used the dates of many pagan (not neo-pagan, there is a difference! Please see here if you are not sure what the difference is!) to align their own festivals to so that Christians could celebrate ‘roughly’ the same calendar. But this should never have and still should not make any of the festivals or celebrations on either side any less special.
Some traditonal witches do not celebrate Christmas at all and only celebrate Yule, some celebrate both, and some people do not celebrate either. It is entirely up to you. In our house, we have always celebrated both, and each is celebrated with love and respect for it’s own day and meaning.
There are many ways you can bring magic into your Yule celebrations one of our favourite ways is a simple yet effective spell that is perfect for your children to do too.
We take a large chocolate Yule log and add birthday candles down the spine of the chocolate log, one for each person. We all sit around the Yule log and each person lights their candle. Whilst lighting their candle they make a wish for the forthcoming months. Once every one has made their wish we then once again go around the circle and in turn, blowout our candles to release the wish so it can come true (think birthday cake….easy huh?). Once all candles have been blown out we slice the log around our candles and enjoy the chocolate Yule log. We have done this every year since our children were toddlers and we still do it now even though they are grown up and married themselves. It has become something that has become our own special Yule spell.
Because we celebrate both, the festive season for us as a family starts on the 21st and goes right through until St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) on the 26th and we have small presents on both Yule day and Christmas day. Both days have a feast. Both days have games. Both days usually involve a walk in the forest or along the moors (or a drive on both if it’s bad weather for walking). Both days have fun, love, respect, fun, honour and reverence.
Yule is a special time for old and young alike, and in this year where Covid19 restrictions are heavily in place I hope that you stay safe wherever you are. So, with that being said, whatever you are doing this Yuletide, we wish you a very merry, magical, happy and healthy time.