Before there was Christmas, there was Yule. I love origin stories as it provides a better appreciation for what we do and it helps us to understand why we do what we do. So much of what we say and do has pagan roots that have unfortunately been demonized over the years. So, I figured for this blog post, I’m going to give you a brief history of this time of the year, go over some of the Yuletide symbols, the magick of Yuletide, and some of the things we can do during this time.
Side Note: I have a little bonus for you. If you’re about to travel and won’t have enough time to read this post, I did a podcast episode about Yuletide. It’s literally the same information minus my side stories that add a bit of spice to the episodes. So, feel free to head to the podcast to listen to this post at episode 292:Yuletide Magick.
Yule v. Yuletide
Yuletide is the season. Yule is the day of the Winter Solstice, which usually takes place on 21 or 22 December. However, the words are used interchangeably. Yuletide is really about the honoring of the cycles, the seasonal cycles, and bountiful celebrations. And, of course, there is the solstice, the darkest night of the year, where we are celebrating the return of light. If you remember in the previous post, Winter Goddess Magick, I talked about how Winter gets a bad rap because it’s colder and darker during this time of the year. There’s ice outside and the wind makes your skin hurt. I get it but what if we acknowledge the meaning and magick of the season instead of just seeing it as this cold and dark time of the year?
Yule is a traditional holiday holding roots in various northern European traditions, namely pre-Christian Germanic peoples. As the days grew colder and the nights grew longer, people would light candles and gather ’round fires to lure back the sun. They would enjoy feasting and festivities. Dances were danced and songs were sung and all would delight in decorating their homes. This is the origins of what we do now for Christmas as Yule and other Pagan holidays and Traditions became part of a smear campaign and eventually underwent Christianised reformulation.
Most celebrations of the winter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log, having the decorative tree, and wassailing.
In some traditions of Wicca and Paganism, the Yule celebration comes from the Celtic legend of the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King, representing the light of the new year, tries each year to usurp the old Holly King, who is the symbol of darkness. Re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia beginning on December 17. Saturnalia is a week-long celebration to honor God Saturn, which involved sacrifices, gift-giving, and feasting. This was also a time for sacrifices, gift-giving, and special privileges for the slaves. Citizens decked their halls with boughs of greenery and even hung small tin ornaments on bushes and trees. Bands of naked revelers often roamed the streets, singing, and carousing — a sort of naughty precursor to today’s Christmas caroling tradition. More importantly, it was to honor an agricultural God.
In ancient Egypt, the return of raw the Sun God was celebrated as a way of thanking him for warming the land and the crops.
The Celts of the British Isles celebrated midwinter as well. Druid priests sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe in celebration.
Here is where we are seeing the development of the modern-day practice of burning your Yule log, having a mistletoe, gift-giving, Christmas parties, caroling, and the 12 days of Christmas theme and song.
Holda, The Germanic Gift-Giving Goddess
Before there was Santa Claus, there was the Hold, the Germanic gift-giving goddess, Norse god Odin bring gifts to children, and the Italian “Christmas Witch” La Befana.
I think that’s one of the most recognizable items you can bring into your home. Mistletoe’s energy is feminine, which means that is a receptive energy nurturing. That makes sense as it is associated with fertility as well. The Druid priests used mistletoes in special ceremonies during the Winter Solstice because they believed that its green leaves represented the fertility of the Mother Goddess, and its white berries, the seed of the Forest God or Oak King. The mistletoe was also worn as an amulet for fertility, or hung above the headboard.
I can easily see how the mistletoe became a symbol to hang over a threshold for kissing! It represents fertility. You want to make a baby…that usually starts with a bit of kissing. That’s my footnote theory. Ha!
The Yule tree is also another important symbol in pagan tradition. Originally, it represented the tree of life or World Tree among early pagans. In ancient times, it was decorated with gifts people wanted to receive from the gods. It was adorned with natural ornaments such as pine cones, berries, and other fruit, as well as symbols sacred to the gods and goddesses, and some holiday traditions. Garland’s of popcorn and berries were strung around the tree so that visiting birds could feed off the tree as well. I wonder what that your tree became over the years? Lol
The custom of burning the Yule Log began with an ancient Scandinavian in order to honor their god Thor. In Celtic tradition, a continual hearth fire was kept to prevent spirits from entering the home. It was also believed that the longer the Yule log burned, the faster the sun would come to warm the earth. It sounds like to me an early version of groundhog day.
Candles represented another way to have an eternal flame within the home. They symbolized the light and warmth of the sun and were used to chase away evils and lure back the returning sun.
In ancient times, wreaths symbolized the wheel of the year and the completion of another cycle. They were made of evergreens and adorned with cones and berries and hundreds of decorations throughout the home. They were also given as gifts to symbolize the infinity of goodwill friendship and joyfulness.
Bells were rung during the Winter Solstice to drive away demons that surface during the dark time of the year.
The need to bring back the sun caused elves to be associated with Yule. The ancients knew that the Spirits that created the Sun inhabited the land of Elves. By including elves in the Yule celebrations, the ancients believed they were assuring the elves assistance in the coercion of the Sun to return.
Due to strict laws during the 11th century regarding specialty breads in that time, Gingerbread was only allowed to be produced during the holidays and thus it became associated with Winter. Sometimes, the answer is just that simple! If there wasn’t a strict law, then there is a great chance that the gingerbread would not have been such a sought after holiday treat!
This is probably my favorite origin story. Wassail derives from the Old English words waes hael, which means “be well”, “be hale” or “good health”. It is a strong drink, usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices, or mulled apple cider. When pagans went into the forest to fell the great oak for the Yule log, they would anoint the tree with wassail and bedeck them with wassail-soaked cakes, thus the ritual of wassailing was born.
At home, the wassail would be poured into a large bowl during feast time, and the host, when greeting his or her guests, would lift a drink and wish them “waes hael”, to which they would reply “drinc hael”, which meant “drink and be well”. You’re saying, “Hey, I’m wishing you good health, and I’m wishing you a good drink during this time of celebration.” How freaking cool is that? This is literally one of the early forms of “toasting” before a drink!
Well, what’s the magic behind Yule? Here’s the thing, the magic is that this is a time where you get to make this season what you want it to be? Why? Because YOU are the magick, it will always be you and begin with you. And, it is because of that, that you create your world and your circumstances. Please note that this is not me talking about some things that are unavoidable in life.
For example, we can have a normal, mundane day (outside this unusual time of the pandemic). We can wake up and say, “Oh God, I got to drive to work, traffic is going to be crazy. Hope I got time to get breakfast. Oh, gosh, let me make this coffee real quick. And, I’ll just have toast for breakfast. Ugh, I got this meeting later on the day, I really don’t want to talk to Bob, he talks too long.”
Or you can wake up and say, “Ah, you know what, I’m going to make time for breakfast. Even if it’s something small. I’m going to make my coffee. I’m going to take these slow sips while driving to work. You know, I’m going to put it out there that it won’t be any traffic or at least is going to be a smooth ride where there is traffic. My meetings today will be quick and easy. Today is going to be a good day.”
Look at where you directed your energy. Look at what you are speaking into existence. Look at the visualization magick you are doing.
This is a season where darkness, endings, and shadow work applies. So, you can look at this Yuletide as a season where you get real with yourself. You get honest with yourself. What works for you What does not work for you? Who has your best interest in life? Who does not have your best interest in life? What’s your end game with your career? Is it there a place where you want to retire? Or is it just temporary until you find what you really want to do because it’s paying the bills is keeping up with your lifestyle? Where can you make commitments to yourself to do better so that come Spring you will really have that sense of rebirth/new beginnings?
You can do divination magick, use cord-cutting magick, dance magick to raise your vibration.
Things To Do During Yuletide
You can really focus on creating daily rituals, whether you do it in the morning or at nighttime. This is a great way to elevate your magick and maintain its potency. For example, can you create a Christmas music playlist and dance every day? Can you say gratitude for what you’re grateful for during this season? Can you light a holiday candle and stare at the flames to clear your mind every day? Can you wear Christmas clothes to boost your happiness level?
This is the time where things die off figuratively and literally, it’s changes that some people don’t like because they don’t want certain things to end to need to end. However, we have to make the decisions of what needs to go, accept it, and trust in our decision-making process. Also, this is a time where some things get “frozen.” In other words, we’re putting some things on the back burner to revisit later, such as during the Springtime.
Remember, it’s also about honoring cycles. So, we really can’t capitalize on this time of the year if we only want to embrace Summer or Spring because it’s warmer out. We have good days, we have bad days, we have horrible days, and we have great days. We can’t really fully dive into our lives if we’re just going to honor one cycle because that’s the cycle that we feel good in this is where we get our thick skin.
On the spiritual front, we can focus on the above. Then, we can do the fun holiday stuff like have the mistletoe and the wassail. We can do both because we are multifaceted like that!