There is a lot of talk about ‘Christmas’ and the different ways that we can go about celebrating the holiday, but today I’m going to touch on a different celebration that is happening during this season. Recognized by Pagans around the world, Yule and the Winter Solstice is a time of ‘rebirth’ and new beginnings. In fact, many aspects of our modern Christmas celebrations can be traced back to traditional Yule folklore. Interested in learning more? Let’s dig into this time of reflection and renewal with ideas for your Yule celebrations!
Winter solstice is a time that is recognized by many different cultures, religions and beliefs. Why? It marks the shortest day of the year, the time in which we will see the least sunshine before the days start to become longer once again. Scientifically speaking, for those in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the day when the North Pole is tilted the furthest away from the sun, causing the longest night of the year.
For many people, however, this is more than just taking note that the days will start to get longer once again. Looking specifically at my own spiritual path, the Winter Solstice marks the time for Yule celebrations.
Yule holds special meaning to us as Pagans due to the important symbolic nature of the balance between light and dark, and the shift in balance at this point in the year. Historically, this was a time marked by a large feast, toasting with spiced ciders and mulled wine, music and dancing. Homes were decorated in celebration, the decorations themselves often carefully selected for symbolic reasons.
For example, the fact that evergreen trees were said to hold power over death due to the fact they didn’t die out with the colder weather. They were cut and brought indoors to represent strength, believed to hold off death and destruction in the lives of the homeowner and to encourage the return of the sun. Wreaths were made from evergreen boughs and hung to symbolize the infinity of friendship and goodwill in their lives. Meanwhile, candles were lit around the home to represent the light of the sun, believed to chase away the evil spirits that would lurk in the darkness.
In our home, we have adopted a practice that has grown in popularity among many modern-day Pagans. Each year the Yule log is constructed from a simple branch or small log. Traditionally it was made from ash wood, but today other woods are accepted depending on where you live and what is available. It is flattened enough on one side to allow it to sit on a table or another flat surface, while spots are made along the top for 3 candles. It is then decorated with evergreen boughs, pinecones, feathers, berries ribbons, twine, and other decorations to commemorate the season. This is usually done early in the holiday season allowing for the Yule log to serve as a decoration or centrepiece.
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On the night of Winter Solstice, the Yule log is often part of the celebrations. Paganism is a broad grouping of different spiritual beliefs and spiritual paths. The Pagan path doesn’t all require the following of a single doctrine as you see in many organized religions, but instead groups together a large number of different variations and individual paths including, but not limited to, Wicca, Asatru (or Heathenism), Eclectic Paganism, Pantheon-based Paganism, and more.
In our home, we demonstrate this acceptance of individual paths as I identify as an Eclectic Pagan while my husband has recently started to explore his own path focused more on Asatru. While some of our celebrations are incredibly similar, we have also chosen to adopt a blend of the two to mark many of the special days throughout the year. For Winter Solstice, we use the Yule log to help mark ‘rebirth’ by allowing us to release our struggles and challenges throughout the previous year as well as set our intentions for the year to come.
Each person participating in the celebrations on the night of Winter Solstice is given a piece of paper upon which they write the things they need to release as well as their wishes and intentions looking forward. For example, one may need to release anger towards a specific former friend or family member after a big falling out or self-doubt and resentment after the loss of a job. Intentions for the coming year could be as specific as dedication and tenacity focused on a specific big project that you will be tackling, understanding or compassion while addressing a strained relationship that you have chosen to make a priority or more broad, such as determination and perseverance as you set out on the search for a new job. These papers are then folded and tucked into the ribbons or twine decorating the Yule log where they will stay when the log itself is burned, releasing those thoughts, feelings, emotions and intentions.
Traditions centred around the Yule log have taken many forms around the globe. Furthermore, this time of year is one of importance in many different religions and cultures. The most important thing that we can do during this time is to be respectful of one another, regardless of what we believe!
What ways do you celebrate the holiday season? Do you celebrate a more Christian-focused Christmas or do you also focus your celebrations on Yule and Winter Solstice? I would love to hear all about it in the comments!
28 thoughts on “Celebrating Yule and the Winter Solstice”
That is so true, I believe in the true meaning of the season, which should be rebirth, love and compassion. It could be so good If we as humans could keep that spirit all year long!!!
It’s sad to see how the holiday has shifted to commercialism and materialism in today’s society.
We celebrate a more Christian focused Christmas though I can see many of the similarities between the two. Very interesting about the Yule log. I remember growing up in NY the Yule log used to be on TV and was basically a fireplace with Christmas music playing. Kind of funny when you hear the real story. Traditions interest me and I am always open to learn more.
I grew up in a family that celebrated a more Christian-based Christmas. Since I started exploring and transitioning to Paganism, I’ve found the connections absolutely fascinating.
This is fascinating! I never actually knew what a Yule tradition was. I definitely like the sound of new beginnings and rebirth.
It’s such a great way to set yourself up for a positive year ahead!
I used to have a book on celtic seasons and I find this topic really fascinating. I really enjoyed reading the paragraph about symbolism, it’s just an automatic thing to buy a wreath or light a candle without thinking about the meaning.
So many of the things we take for granted today once held great symbolic meaning. I love digging into that!
The Winter Solstice ritual of writing down the things you need to release and setting your wishes and intentions is a fabulous tradition for people of all faiths. Thank you for sharing your customs related to Yule and the Winter Solstice.
I have always found it to be such a great way to clear your mind and prepare yourself for the coming year with a positive focus.
Loved reading this post, i didn’t know much of Pagan Christmas culture so this was really informative . Love to see what a beautiful meaning of rebirth Pagans celebrate on Christmas. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you! I love that the internet gives us this opportunity to connect with and learn from other cultures, religions, etc
I absolutely love this! Your Yuletide log tradition is beautiful and I’m going to adopt it this year! I also didn’t know the pine trees represented a resistance to death. Fascinating. I wrote about taking a Christmas Pause this year, stepping out of the expectations and chaos for some restful restoration. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts and ideas. I also was inspired to tweet!
Thank you! I hope that you get the clarity out of the Yule log tradition that we do – I find it really does help me prepare for the year to come by eliminating the negativity I have been dragging along and setting my focus on the things that matter!
I love paganism and started reading a lot recently. I love the raw meaning of celebration like love, rebirth and compassion. Writing intentions and releasing emotions is really a wonderful. Enjoy reading this. Thank You!
I find many of the Pagan celebrations really break the holidays down in a simpler way, without the influence of a heavily commercial-focused society.
I don’t think i have heard of this wonderful tradition before. Very interesting. I enjoyed this
This was so interesting to read more about these celebrations!
I’m glad you enjoyed it!
We do celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. However, I never knew some of the things that you discussed in your post. Such as the meaning of the Yule, and why people use evergreen trees.
It’s hard to imagine that there is any day that is shorter than it is now, though, because it feels like this year it is getting dark earlier than before! I’m ready to put the kids to bed by 6 because it gets dark now around 5:30.
That’s the best part about this time of year, there are so many different holidays and celebrations happening!
I can’t wait for the days to start getting longer again – it is getting dark SOOO early these days. I find I get tired sooner because I see the sun go down and it’s like my body suddenly believes it’s a lot later lol
Thanks for sharing information about Yule. I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about the symbolism and it’s great that you’re teaching us about these traditions. Congrats on your husband’s first Yule log, it looks fantastic
Thank you! I love that he was so invested – doing the research to find out what he would need and completing it all himself. I wasn’t even home when he made it lol
This was quite an interesting read and I didn’t know much about this Yule tradition until now. It makes you think about how people celebrate Christmas differently yet similar at the same time.
There are so many different holidays all happening around the same time – it really gives new meaning to the ‘Happy Holidays’ sentiment.
Lovely post Britt. The ideas of new beginnings and rebirth, to me, are what Yule or Christmas should be about. It’s sad that it’s become so commercialised over the years. Although we don’t decorate a wooden Yule log, we always decorate the chocolate variety at Christmas.
It really is sad to see something with so much meaning become so commericialized. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way, we can change it!