What is the History of Yule?
Marking the first official day of winter, Yule (or Winter Solstice) is celebrated by pagans around the world, and is the shortest day of the year. In the 16th century, most Yule celebrations included merriment and festivities within the community. These celebrations included feasting, drinking, and dancing around the Yule tree.
In Scandinavia, for example, a traditional Yule feast would last for 12 days and participants would take part in burning the Yule log. In modern day solstice celebrations, pagans and druids gather around spiritual landmarks (i.e., Stonehenge, Newgrange, etc.) to celebrate the holiday.
How Can I Celebrate Yule?
Depending on your individual practice, there are a variety of ways to celebrate Yule. The most common include the following:
Build a Yule Altar: A large part of celebrating Yule is centered around the altar. The main purpose? To honor the sun’s return. That said, it’s important to have something that symbolizes the sun, such as candles or a bright piece of cloth. It’s also a good idea to fill your altar with pinecones, fir, mini wreaths, and a small Yule log. Everything on the altar should represent the sun and winter.
Create a Yule Wreath: A wreath composed of pine, evergreen, or fir is the perfect way to ring in Yule. Many pagans forage their own supplies from the woods, and build wreaths to honor the earth’s winter abundance.
Decorate a Yule Tree: Most families have likely decorated a Christmas tree before, but in ancient pagan traditions, a Yule tree was decorated outside with candles. Similar to a Yule altar, candles were meant to symbolize the sun as well as passed loved ones. If you have trees outside your home, consider brightening up your yard by (carefully and safely) placing a few candles on them.
Celebrate with Candles: Since the solstice is the shortest day of the year, it’s important to have light sources in the evening. For many, taking a plethora of candles and putting them into a shape (such as the sun or another sacred pattern) help welcome in the holiday.
What Herbs and Plants Are Associated With Yule?
Like many holidays on the Wheel of the Year, certain herbs play an important role in each Sabbat. For Yule, here are a few herbs that can add a little magic to your day:
Cinnamon: Known for its warming properties, cinnamon is a wonderful herb to incorporate into your celebration. Consider sprinkling cinnamon over Yule desserts, or adding a little into your coffee to see what symbols appear.
Vanilla: Acting as a representation of comfort and seduction, vanilla is the perfect herb to add to your kitchen witchcraft. The best way to do so? By adding vanilla to your recipes. Try making desserts or teas that have hints of vanilla for added comfort.
Bay Laurel: In Roman cultures, bay laurel represented Apollo, God of the sun. With Yule also celebrating the sun, it’s no wonder this herb appears in many Yuletide traditions. Take some bay laurel and spread it on your altar for good luck and light.
Rue: Known as a highly magical herb, rue is great for protection and magical spells. It’s also a good herb to use for banishing things that are no longer needed in your life. As you enter into Yule, consider placing rue leaves in satchels and carrying them around with you for comfort.
Final Thoughts on Yule:
When celebrating Yule, remember to choose the rituals that resonate with your tradition. While there are a number of ways to honor the sun and winter, focus on whichever practice speaks to you.
Honoring your inner work is an important part of the practice. Whether it’s cooking, creating your altar, or decorating your Yule tree, take time to recognize what your inner self enjoys!