- Also known as: Yule, Yuletide, Midwinter, Alban Arthuan, Saturnalia
- Pronounced: Yule (pronounced: Yool)
- 20th to 23rd December (Northern Hemisphere)
- 20th to 22nd June (Southern Hemisphere)
0 degrees Capricorn
- quiet introspection
- new year
- setting intentions
- celebration of light
And so the year has turned and we finally reach the Winter Solstice, the night may be darkest but the promise of light has returned to the world once more, the days imperceptibly getting longer with each sun rise and sun set from this point onward. The darkness is still oppressive, and the weather in the northern hemisphere cold and biting. Traditionally this is the season of deep snow and ice but in our more modern climate we may not see such things until as late as February or March.
Despite the vagrancy of the climate nature is as much as a standstill as the sun in the sky. Animals are hibernating bet they can and many birds have flows south for the winter. This brings a quiet to the natural world, reflected in the lack of growth and deciduous green in the landscape, which we also reflect in our day to day life. We withdraw to our homes and hearth, and even during the high celebrations of the Solstice we often keep on family and friends and there are many seasonal celebrations which share the same timings which have these associations.
In my personal praxis winter solstice is not just a tine for celebrating with living family members, it is also a time where I take a moment to remember those who have gone before. Because this is a personal praxis of mine this ancestor worship does not feature within the core of modern pagan interpretation however the is a sound argument, based on both archaeology and anthropology, that the Celebratory focus of Stonehenge was not the Summer Solstice as many modern Pagans understand but in fact was the Winter Solstice as a celebration of the ancestor. This is based on the extensive work of the University of Sheffield Riverside Project which you can see in summary here though I do recommend reviewing their public publications of the project overall.
Still, these long, cold nights lend themselves well to log periods of reflection on the self, what has past and what is to come. Quite often the light and life in potential are used as a focus for intention setting, and many a with will set their resolutions for the year ahead during a Solstice celebration.
Depending on the tradition Winter Solstice may be seen as the end of the ritual cycle or the beginning. If a tradition views Samhain as the death of the God then Yule is is the time of his rebirth and the promise of Beltane fulfilled. There are some traditions which hold Winter Solstice as the time when the God descends into the Underworld, with the inception of light belonging to the Son-Consort lies within the womb of the Goddess awaiting birth during Imbolc, thus placing conception during Summer Solstice. Conversely the Goddess is either celebrating the arrival of her consort-son or she is mourning the passing of one and awaiting on the birth of the other. In either scenarios she has not begun to shake away her raiment’s of mourning and it will be some time before she is read to welcome life and new growth into the world.
A lot gets bandied about about the connection between the old seasonal celebrations and modern Christianity, the link between Ostara and Easter, Samhain and All Saints Day. Needless to say Winter Solstice is another of those times. I don’t really want to get into the debate of who stole what from who, as with many of our modern traditions the synchronisation runs deep. Needless to say the themes of light, birth, celebration and cycles being upended begun again are very consistent. It really doesn’t matter if you envisage the Coca-Cola Santa, Father Christmas, Odin, Saturn or Jesus at the centre of the season, it is a season where a good time can be had by all.
Winter Solstice is one of those celebrations where people like to go all out, decorating not only the altar but the home as well. Evergreens such as fir, holly and mistletoe are all appropriate, reminding us of the life that remains in the world even as the coldest days draw to a close.
One of the more famous traditions of the winter season is the bringing in and burning of the Yule log. The log was usually a large branch, if not trunk, of a hard slow burning wood such as oak, which was brought into the house and set alight and allowed to burn down over the festive period. In one telling the final flames of the log were saved and preserved through out the year, passing from one lighting of the hearth fire to another, until it could be used to light the next yule log. Whilst it is more than possible to keep a lick of flame going for such a period of time using bushcraft techniques such as keeping fire in a horn other telling of the tradition also suggest that it was the ash that was kept safe and were used in the preparation of the laying of the following years yule log. Both practices were carried out to bring good luck to the household throughout the year ahead.
Regardless of which is true the latter is a little more practical and one ritual idea would be to gather, with appropriate reference and respect, a small branch or twig of oak and burn it on your altar as part of your ritual. At the end gather the remains in a container and hide about your altar to promote good fortune and protection in the next year.
This might be a little awkward, especially if you don’t have anywhere safe to burn the wood, so a simple alternative is to place a lit candle in an east facing window at solstice eve and keep it burning through the night until dawn of the day of solstice. Again, keep fire safety in mind. If you have animals or small children, or even curtains with drapes, you may want to ensure that the flame is enclosed in a lantern or placed well out of harms way.
There are so many craft ideas for Winter Solstice it is almost impossible to choose which to promote today so I will follow my stomach.
Chocolate Yule Logs make a great addition to the ritual feast and if you are up to making your own Swiss roll then you can cheat and pick up a prepare chocolate roll from the supermarket. Decorate with evergreens like holly and fir, though don’t be afraid to use false greens if that is all that is available. It’s much nicer to eat cake than set it on fire so instead of generally setting such things on fire place three candles (birthday size are fine) and ritually light then to welcome in the reborn sun. Allow the candles to burn down and keep the stubs until next Winter Solstice when they can be replaced for good luck in the year ahead.
If you are looking for something for your tree, or even to give as gifts, then maybe you may want to consider spell baubles. You can pick you plain glass baubles at most hobby stores or from major online retailers which you can fill with charged herbs and things representing your hopes and wishes for the year ahead. If you don’t want to leave them plain you can decorate them with nail polish. There are a couple of different methods including the pour and swish and the pour and dip both of which are really fun activities for kids. Neither method entirely coats the bauble so it will leave the recipient with a nice bauble after they have removed their gift of herbs and wishes.