Yule, also known as Winter Solstice or Midwinter, is celebrated each December 20-23 at the halfway point between Samhain and Imbolc. Yule welcomes the official start of Winter with the shortest day and longest night of each year. As cold weather draws us into our homes, it also draws us into ourselves. The darker days find our bodies more still so our minds can process and reflect on the recent seasons past. The darkness draws us into a period of introspection and inner growth where we can achieve perspective, process the past, and plan for the future knowing the light will return again. There is a beautiful duality in Yule. We transition from darkness back into growing light as our cold, somber environment is adorned with lights and the laughter of gatherings and holiday celebrations.
The term Yule is rooted in a Norse celebration honoring the Winter Solstice. Yule transformed into a synonym for Christmas and the holiday season in general, thus ‘Yultide’ is commonly known and still used. Winter Solstice has also been referred to as Midwinter. In this usage, it is believed that Samhain marks the true beginning of Winter and Imbolc the end with Yule landing in the middle of them.
In modern life, Yule is celebrated as the true beginning of Winter and the day where the sun begins to return to Earth. Often marked with evergreen wreaths, glittering snow, festive ribbons, and decor handed down through generations, Yule is perhaps one of the most celebrated of the Sabbats even when most of the celebrants are unaware of the root of their festivties. The days slowly begin to be longer with more daylight and our optimism that Spring will return enters our hearts once again. Candles are often lit to encourage the return of light as we begin to chase away the real and perceived darkness.
All of our rituals are unique, personal, and deeply sacred. I’ve put together ritual components to guide you in celebrating Yule. Work with the elements that resonate with you and honor your connection to this sacred time. Whether your ritual be private or public, I wish you comfort, clarity, and celebration. The following ritual components are intended as a mix-and-match menu so you can engage in the practices that you most connect with and enjoy.
- Colors: Red, Green, White, Gold
- Flowers: Holly, Mistletoe, Poinsettia, Christmas Cactus
- Herbs: Cimmanon, Clove, Rosemary, Peppermint, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Myrrh, and Frankincense
- Crystals: Onyx, Garnet, Bloodstone, Ruby, Emerald, Pearl
- Trees: Evergreens, Pine, Cedar, Spruce, Bayberry, Ash, Balsam, Laurel
- Foods: Citrus, Root Vegetables, Mulled Wine, Wassail, Gingerbread, Roasted Meats and Fish
In a space that will not be disturbed but is visible and accessible, begin to construct your Yule altar. Clear the surface of all items and use a natural cleaner to ensure a fresh surface. Drape a colorful cloth, piece of fabric, or decorative paper (including gift wrapping paper) to designate your altar space. Assemble your altar space utilizing root vegetables, evergreen branches, containers of melted snow, ornaments, imagery or figures representing Winter and the Solstice, and Goddess/God/deity figures. As you place each item, hold it for a moment and connect with the energy it brings to your sacred space. Intuitively place your items on your altar and move them as necessary to accommodate for additional pieces.
This altar space can be used to meditate with, engage in energy work, read tarot, journal, or simply sit quietly and reflect. Speak to your altar and let all the components know what they mean to you and why they are important. Express gratitude freely.
Your altar is an ideal space to burn incense or candles and to charge and protect your energy work tools. Tarot or oracle cards make great additions and can also contribute to the energy at hand.
Those with deeper meditation and energy work practices may find this is a particularly potent space to receive messages, connect with sacred energy, and hear one’s intuition speak. As with all sacred spaces, do guard this area with bright white protective light and ask for divine barriers from anything that may interfere with your work. Open and close your sessions in recognition of this sacred space and use a mantra, prayer, or incantation to welcome energy, call in the 4 elements, and express gratitude.
NOTE: Pine and other evergreens are extremely flammable. Any live trees or shrubs should always be well watered and monitored, including your Christmas trees. If decorating with cut Pine or evergreens, do so with extreme care and caution and take all precautions to avoid any potential fire risk. Don’t believe me? Goggle or search YouTube for ‘Christmas Tree Fire’ videos and you will be shocked at how quick devastation can occur.
Yule & TAROT
If including tarot into your ritual feels appropriate, The Moon may be a good fit. The Moon comes out at night, reflects shallow light, and forces us to face our fears. The sounds of the night keep us on high alert and it is difficult to discern if the rustling in the brush is friend or foe. Being in this place of exposure to shadows and the unknown pushes us to confront our fears and come into our personal power. Given Yule’s connection to darkness as the longest night of the year, The Moon reminds us that when we’re feeling stuck in the darkness to find inspiration and strength in knowing that the light will always return, even if we have to make our own.
Yule CANDLES & INCENSE
Candles and incense are wonderful additions to any space, altar, or ritual. The flame of a candle or smoke from incense can be a wonderful focal point for meditation while also adding to the visual aesthetic and aroma of the space.
For your Yule altar candle, begin with an red or green. I also find a pale blue to represent fallen snow and ice can be a good fit; choose what resonates with you. Chime candles can be gently rubbed with oil and rolled in dried herbs and flowers to dress them. Use a stand to burn them and be aware of any dressing that may catch fire during the burn. 7-day glass candles can have a very small amount of herbs and flowers added to the top prior to burning. Keep the wick trimmed as the candle burns and be aware of dressing that may catch fire, which could lead to glass breakage.
For your Yule incense blend choose herbs, flowers, and resins that are pleasing and seasonal. Combine your blend with a mortar and pestle, reciting a mantra, prayer, or incantation. Using a charcoal disk on a heat-safe surface, add small amount of your blend. Know that more incense creates more smoke; best to start small and slow.
Some herbal allies for your candles and incense that correspond with Yule include Cedar, Cinnamon Clove, Pine, Myrrh, and Frankincense . Let your intuition guide you as you choose your blend; there is no wrong combination when your intention is pure.
If you prefer incense cones, our Hand-Rolled Incense • Yule are ideal for all your Yule rituals.
NOTE: Always burn candles and incense responsibly using heat-safe surfaces in well ventilated areas. Never leave burning items alone for any amount of time. Be aware of pets and children that may be nearby.
Yule Tea from Nor’Eastern Herb Company
INGREDIENTS: Pine Needles, Rosemary, Peppermint, and Citrus Peel
DIRECTIONS: Mix dry ingredients in equal parts or to taste to create an herbal blend. Add 1 TBS of the herbal blend to a tea filter or steeping insert. Pour boiling water over tea into a mug and cover for 3-5 minutes. Remove tea blend and press liquid from the herbs. Add a slice of fresh or dried orange or a scoop of local honey to add sweetness and mix to incorporate. Allow to cool. Finish with milk of choice to taste. Enjoy!
MORE WAYS TO HONOR Yule
- Bring the Outdoors Indoors – The most common way to welcome nature inside for Yule is in the form of a Christmas tree. The first Christmas trees (as we know them today) were a Pagan practice dating back to the fourth century in Europe. Trees, branches, and shrubs would be brought into the home to decorate and add color to the bleakness of Winter. Give your modern tree a traditional feel with bells, bird and animal figurines, fake candles, warm lighting, stars, herbs, and berries. Thank the spirit of the tree for giving itself to you for your celebration and honor it appropriately at the end of the season when you release it back to nature. Always use best practices and keep your trees and greenery well hydrated as they can pose a significant fire hazard. If using an artificial tree, also treat it with respect and follow all safety precautions.
- Embrace Warming Spices – It’s easy to catch a chill, especially when temperatures drop, the Sun doesn’t stick around, and the snow starts flying. Warming spices like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cumin, garlic, horseradish, cayenne, and black pepper are wonderful allies to get your blood flowing and warm you up from the inside out. Add a warming herbal kick to tea, ground coffee, soups and stews, smoothies, casseroles, baked goods, and whatever else your cooking up this Winter. If it seems like some of these spices are synonymous with the holidays (ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon in baked goods… mmm) that’s because they serve to flavor blander Winter foods and have a medicinal kick to keep us healthy with immune systems ready for any cold or bug your local school kids can throw at you (think of garlic horseradish in a traditional Fire Cider).
- Seek the Light – While it may not be easy to get out of bed early on a cold Winter morning, try to be present for Yule’s sunrise. Settle in at a window with a warm mug of tea or bundle up and head outdoors to embrace the return of the light. Thank the darkness for what it has brought and taught us while you welcome back the light and open yourself to new lessons and ventures. Feel in your body the shift that happens when the sun first peeks over the horizon and notice the activity of any local wildlife. Being fully engaged in this moment is a powerful experience for all the senses and a way to truly and deeply connect to Yule and the Winter Solstice.
- Set Your Intentions – While technically Imbolc is the final Sabbat on the Wheel of the Year, Yule comes when our calendar year is ending and a new year begins. This is a potent time to set powerful intentions for the new year and work to release the year past. This can take the form of writing a letter to yourself, practicing divination, journaling, meditating, creating a visual intention, or utilizing your favorite spiritual and magickal tools. When setting any intention, always remember to be specific! Spirit can be quite literal so if your intention is for a new car and a model of a car shows up, perhaps you were not specific enough. That’s not to say you prescribe every detail but do be very clear with what you are working to manifest or release. Consider your physical, emotional, and energetic bodies and the impact of your intention on them. Set your intentions will a full heart and open mind now while continuing to tend to them over the coming year, next 6 months, or a time period best for you. It’s great to set energy in motion but you have got to keep it flowing and focused for optimal results.
- Say Hello to Ghosts – We all know the story about the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. On the surface we have a curmudgeon reconciling his life but deeper than that we have a message of seasonal introspection and the importance of self reflection. Join your own ghosts of past, present, and future in meditation, divination, or dream work this season. Converse with them about lessons learned, where you are currently in mind, body, and spirit, and the promise and potential of what’s next. There are times when looking back can be painful or discouraging but look to your ghosts to guide you through this process and help you to embrace the path forward.
- Sing a Song – With so many holiday tunes to choose from, there is a seasonal song that each of us can connect with. For a more traditional vocal experience, give Wassailing a try. While many believe Wassailing to be the act of drunkenly caroling, Wassailing has much deeper roots. The act of Wassailing translates to wishing health upon the apple trees with the hope that this blessing will ensure a fruitful harvest the coming year. In traditional Wassailing, basic instruments (bells, drums, whistles) would be utilized to scare away oppositional spirits and wake the tree up. A warm drink of fruit juices and rum would be consumed and also shared with the tree as an offering for fortify the tree. If pouring rum on your neighborhood trees doesn’t feel like a wise option, perhaps a tree on your property would be better suited. For an even more private practice, a simple libation offering on your altar with clear intentions for the tress that surround you will have just as much of an impact.
- Welcome Spirit to the Celebration – While Samhain is typically the Sabbat associated with our ancestors and loved ones who had passed, I find Yule to be a potent time to connect with spirit. Many of us feel the space and distance of missing the departed especially hard during the holidays. I personally grapple with grief during this season and have explored that on a previous blog post. Whether it be your first Yule without someone or a pet, or your 15th, take a quiet moment to say hello to them. If it feels comfortable, invite them to join your holiday gathering, walk with you in the snow, or visit in a quiet moment. Light a candle and speak directly to that person or pet out loud, it can be a bit awkward at first but once you feel their energy, you’ll know they are there to honor the season with you.
- What darkness do I carry with me?
- How am I bringing more light to myself and those around me?
- Where is there duality in my life?
- What lessons can I learn from evergreen trees?
- How has my physical body changed and adapted to the season?
PAYING IT FORWARD
If advocacy is part of your personal rituals, I ask you to consider talking action along side Remote Area Medical (RAM). While many of us thankfully have access to timely and appropriate medical care, that is not the case for many people in rural areas or vulnerable populations. The impact of free medical, vision, and dental care for people and pets can be truly life changing and life saving. Visit their website to learn more about their work or make a donation.
(I do not have any affiliation with Remote Area Medical (RAM) other than supporting their work and appreciating their advocacy.)
When you have completed your ritual, take a few moments to sit with the emotions, and images that came to you. Journal your experience or take notes that you can return to as Winter officially arrives and embraces us. As you move from your sacred space drink a large glass of water and wash your hands in cool water. Express your gratitude for these moments and know you have participated in an ancient and sacred tradition.
I wish for you all a very blessed Yule. With love and light, Kristen