Yule, the Winter Solstice
Observing the Shortest Day of the Year
Before there were clocks or calendars, ancient man observed the sun and moon, and many cultures held rituals or events to mark the day with the shortest amount of sunlit hours. This day came to be called Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice. Traditionally, the holiday is marked on December 21st, although physically the astronomical event can fall between December 20th and 23rd for the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, this holiday falls on the corresponding dates in June.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
In Wiccan beliefs, the Sun King is reborn as a new baby on this day, emerging from the fallow period that began with Samhain at the end of October. Gathering around hearth or bonfires all night was one of the most common rituals on this holiday and is the root of the Yule Log tradition known today.
A ritual hearth fire was part of many different cultures observanced of this special night. The tradition of the Yule log varies greatly across the many groups which lit fires for this event. It dates back to 12th century Europe, and was prevalent throughout France and Italy as well. The wood for the Yule log is supposed to be harvested off the owner’s own land, or received as a gift, never purchased. Sometimes this log is harvested as part of Beltane rituals, whereas other cultures cut it fresh for the winter solstice holiday.
Yule Rituals and Traditions
- The Tradition of the Yule Log
This lens has links to the history of the Yule Log, recipes for how to bake Yule Log Cakes, a video Yule Log to download for your iPod and much more!
- Yule: circa December 21
- Christmas, Jul, Noel, Weihnachten
E-zine on Icelandic yule
- You Call it Christmas, We Call it Yule
For modern pagans who observe the holiday because their families do, it is a confusing time of year; how to celebrate this as a seasonal festival when so many of our associations with this holiday have to do with gifts, food and merrymaking?
Celebrating Yule Night
Most often, Yule is a small hearth ritual held in the home with gathered family versus the larger bonfires seen for some holidays. Sometimes the log is lit with splinters or a piece of the log from the previous year. Holly sprigs often appear, a kindling for the fire, or thrown in the fire by the guests and family to carry away troubles from the past year. The logs are also sometimes dressed with ribbons or anointed with oils. The wood most favored for this ritual fire was oak.
For some cultures, the burning of the Yule log represented a time when servants were released from their usual duties and allowed to celebrate for as long as the log remained burning. Some cultures believed that the longer the log burned, the more bountiful the coming year would be. There are a few tricks to help a Yule log burn longer, and these worked best when the tree was harvested ahead of the holiday. One common trait among nearly all Yule logs is that they are preferably cut from thick trees. Sometimes the log would then be soaked in water, cider, ale or wine and allowed to dry again. This served as a libation and blessing before lighting, and contributed to the log burning more slowly over a prolonged period of time.
Recipes for a Yule Feast
- Icelandic Yule Recipes
A collection of traditional Yule feast recipes from Iceland, including mutton, ptarmigan, pork, lamb, leaf bread and caramel potatoes.
- Vegan Christmas or Yule - recipes and gift ideas
What do vegans eat for Christmas anyway! Check out our lovely offerings! Creamy mushroom puff, sage and onion, pud, chocolate logs, trifle mmm....lots of vegan gift ideas too
- Organic Winter Salad
If I want to make a full meal of the salad, I sprinkle the top with cheese or left over chunks of chicken. Sunflower seeds are good too, and add a nice crunch. With a slice of home made bread, or a bowl of soup, this makes a great supper.
Yule Log for the post-modern Yule celebration
Other Types of Yule Logs:
There are couple of ways to adapt the Yule log concept to celebrations where fire pits or fireplaces aren’t possible. The log can be adapted to be piece of wood set as a centerpiece with pine boughs and candles set to burn instead of a fire. Seasonal altar offerings can include hard nuts, holly sprigs, mistletoe, fruits that have been covered in cloves, spiced cider, mulled wine, and fruitcake.
At many modern solstice celebrations, the log takes the form of a cake. From a simple roll cake to a virtual recreation of a fallen winter log with powdered sugar snow dusting the chocolate frosting bark, this recipe can be as complex a kitchen challenge as you wish.
Yule Rites and Rituals
- Yule Rituals
Yule Ritual outlines for a small gathering or for solitary practitioners
- Celtic Yule Rituals - ADF Neopagan Druidism
The Winter Solstice represents the rebirth of the sun, which is a particularly important turning point. The night of Solstice is the longest night of the year. Darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light.
- Yule Rituals | Starcrafts
A Ritual for Interfaith Yuletide Sharing, An enjoyable ritual that enables all to share the joy of the seasonal
- Yule Ball
The Yule Ball website is the online interactive flash destination designed around the huge holiday event that takes place in the fourth Harry Potter feature film based on the fourth Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling
- Yule Rituals
Welcome to my place of rituals to celebrate the Winter Solstice!
Come to the Yule Ball!
More by this Author
The Summer Solstice was observed and celebrated by a wide-range of communities and culture around the world. Some of the names given to this day include Litha, Midsommer and Midsummer's Eve.
Samhain, celebrated on October 31st, is the night the Wheel of the Year turns back on itself, marking the start of the Pagan year. Celebrations are marked by spiral dances and dumb suppers.
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