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Yule, the Winter Solstice

Updated on July 14, 2014
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

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.

Gaia, wrapped in snow
Gaia, wrapped in snow | Source

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.

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.


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.


Come to the Yule Ball!

Yuletide Messages

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  • relache profile image

    Raye 10 years ago from Seattle, WA

    Rudra, that is my Millenial Gaia figure. She sits in the lightwell outside my bedroom window. The photo is from last year when we had a fairly decent snowstorm. She was designed by a friend of mine, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, and you can learn more about her from their website,

  • Rudra profile image

    Rudra 10 years ago

    Whos the green looking character?

  • ElatedState profile image

    ElatedState 10 years ago from Edmonton

    Whitney05 If you have celebrated Christmas, or 'Christs Mass' you have celebrated a 'personification' of the end of the winter solstice. Around the 21st/22nd of december the days reach the least amount of daylight (he dies), and to the naked eye seem to remain like this for the 23rd and 24th (he is dead for three days). On the 25th the sunrise is slightly higher than it was the day before signalling the 'birth of the sun'. This is a great hub you've got here, it is good to raise peoples awareness on the fact that christianity is simply one of the newest astrologically based religions.

  • relache profile image

    Raye 10 years ago from Seattle, WA

    The marking of the winter and summer solstices are some of the most universal celebrations found in cultures all over the planet.

  • Whitney05 profile image

    Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

    I've never celebrated the Winter Solstice, but it sounds interesting.

  • Denmarkguy profile image

    Peter Messerschmidt 10 years ago from Port Townsend

    Good and interesting reading!

    I grew up in Denmark, where Christmas is actually still called by its original name "Jul" (or Yule), and although it is celebrated on December 24th, the Christian aspects somewhat take the back seat to more Pagan/Earth religion influences.

  • Food for the Soul profile image

    Food for the Soul 10 years ago from US - Southwest

    Great Hub!

  • Princessa profile image

    Wendy Iturrizaga 10 years ago from France

    No dubt I will be getting ready to "celebrate" this!