Yule Traditions & Symbols

Yule Traditions: Pagan Winter Solstice Symbols and Ways to Celebrate

It’s the holiday season, which is the time of year that we celebrate many Witches’ favorite day. Put the Yule log on the fire, set the feast, and hang the mistletoe. Around December 21st, we gear up to celebrate Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice or Midwinter.

Throughout centuries and across cultures, we have gathered together in the darkest part of the season to hold festivals for light’s return. In this article, we’ll explore what Yule celebrates, and how to bring Winter Solstice blessings with magical, practical Yule traditions and ritual ideas.

Yule ideas

Winter Solstice, Yule, or Christmas

For Christians, this time of year is marked by Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ. Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration of the Festival of Lights. It is observed with the menorah, which was said to have burned for eight days without sufficient oil. Kwanzaa is the American celebration of African heritage, and it is marked by seven candles which represent the principles of its people.

Yule is based in the Pagan tradition of celebrating the Wheel of the Year, while Christmas belongs to Christianity. Many religions have adopted Pagan rituals over the years in an effort to bring Pagans closer to their celebrations and spiritual systems. This is why church officials settled on December 25th as the birth of Jesus Christ, to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn and Sol Invictus, the Pagan gods traditionally celebrated at the Winter Solstice in Europe.

Fire Wheel Winter Solstice Symbol
Fire wheel, symbol of the Winter Solstice

What Does Yule Celebrate?

In Pagan traditions, we celebrate Yule as the return of the sunlight. At Samhain we celebrated the end of summer and the fruits of the harvest. Yule marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. This is when the sun begins, once again, to rise in the horizon, promising the start of a new seedtime; encouraging us to move forward and trust that spring will come. Yule is a way to celebrate rebirth.

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This sentiment comes from the ancient folklore of the Oak and Holly Kings, who mark the cycles and celebrations of rebirth throughout the year.

Yule Stories

In Celtic mythology, the dark and light seasons of the year are ruled by a set of twins; the Oak King and Holly King. The Oak King rules the Summer, championing light, fecundity, and growth. The Holly King is the Ruler of Winter. He presides over the darkness, bringing death to the land. Each reigns over half the year. The two are in an infinite battle to rule.

When the respective twin falls, he journeys to the underworld and meets the Earth Goddess. To her, he sacrifices himself in love, becoming her mate and then dying in her embrace. He is after reborn to serve in the immortal equilibrium that is the seasons, and all of life; a constant dance of light and darkness.

Read it here: The Story of The Oak King and The Holly King

Yule Ideas

Yule altar
Yule altar

There are so many ways to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Sift through and find which ones bring the most excitement to you and your household!

Yule Symbols

Decorate your home and your Yule altar with these ornaments and Yule imagery:

Yule symbols
Yule symbols
  • Pine: Pine is thought to bring healing and jubilation to the dwelling. Pine has an incredible smell, and burning its leaves will purify your space.
  • Holly: Pay homage to the reigning King. Holly is thought to have protective properties, thanks to its spiked leaves. The crimson berries remind us of the blood of the Goddess.
  • Mistletoe: Another protective evergreen, mistletoe’s white berries represent the seed of the male. Holly and mistletoe join together to represent the sacred union between the King and the Goddess. This is where the tradition of, “meeting under the mistletoe” to share a kiss began.
  • Yule Tree: The Yule Tree was traditionally decorated with special objects, photos of loved ones, spiritual relics, and edible treats. Its lights remind us of brighter days ahead.
  • Candles: We’re celebrating the return of the sun! Decorate an altar, the feast table, or your entire house, with tiny flames of hope.
  • Yule Colors: Red, green, white, silver, and gold.
Yule Altar with Old Norse cult images
Yule Altar with Old Norse cult images

Yule Rituals

  • Light a fire. What do all religions have in common during this time of celebration? Light candles, burn a yule log in the fireplace, or hold a bonfire. Having a bonfire is especially nice for gathering around to tell stories, sing songs, and burn wishes for the coming year.
  • Make a wreath. Evergreen foliage represents immortality. Take a Solstice walk and gather fallen branches. Weave together boughs of evergreen in a circle to celebrate the infinite turning of Wheel of the Year.
  • Write down what you are grateful for in the past year. Have you and your guests write down gratitude for the blessings experienced this year. When everyone is ready, either decorate the Yule tree with the pieces, or read them aloud and offer them to the Solstice fire.
  • Hold a feast. This is the perfect time to invite over friends and family to a table abundantly set with all your favorite holiday dishes. Nothing says merry like a feast!
  • Cast a Yule spell. This video explains how to make your Yule log, and guides you through a ritual that includes calling our guides, the Lord and Lady, as we light the candles in ritual.
Yule correspondences
Yule correspondences

Yule Feast for Winter Solstice Blessings

As in all Pagan festivals celebrating the Wheel of the Year, dishes for feasts were determined by what was seasonal and available. A feast in the heart of winter meant that the table was spread with foods either preserved earlier in warmer months, or unearthed from where they grew despite frost above.

Yule log

Though you may have more access than our ancestors, try to use foods that are local and seasonally appropriate. In the Northern Hemisphere, these are the foods traditionally associated with Yule:

Warming Spices like ginger, cloves, turmeric, and cinnamon often made their way into Yule feasts, helping the winter stores to shine. These fiery spices were a symbol of heat from the reappearing sun.

Dried or Preserved fruits were a special treat enjoyed during Yule. It was common to use dehydrated whole fruits or pickled chutneys and jams including figs, dates, apricots, pears or apples. Preserved and dried fruits are easily incorporated into many dishes.

Yule Blessings
Yule Blessings

Root vegetables such as beets, potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips were able to withstand the frost. Even after their leaves died back, root veggies could be harvested from the earth as needed. I love to use Golden Beets, as they remind us, the sun is returning!

Winter squash harvested in autumn kept well throughout winter. Growing for months to sustain us through a time without harvest, winter squashes are a necessary component of the Yule table.

Alcohol was a ready treat; at the time of Yule, ferments brewed in warmer months were aged to maturity. Solstice feasts were warmed with wine, beer, and mead. Wassailing was a tradition celebrated in one of two ways: a group would either go door-to-door with a wassail pot, sharing a cup (or two) as they sang carols and spread good cheer, or they visited friends’ orchards and drank wassail while making merry and blessing the fruit trees, wishing them well for next years’ harvest.

Yule Greetings!
Yule Greetings!

Conifers are reminiscent of immortal life, as they remain green throughout the dead of winter. Many don’t know, but much of the trees are edible! Try pine needle tea or young cones preserved in syrup.

Make a Yule Log Dessert. If you aren’t able to light your own Yule log on fire, don’t worry! You can still bring the spirit of Yule to your home with a Yule log dessert. The Bûche de Noël cake became popular in the 19th century. Decorate as you’d find it in nature.

Find more Yule Greeting cards here: Yule Greetings, Cards and Yuletide Blessings

3 Comments

  1. Koran Johnson

    This will b my first Yule with my daughter Kadence. I hope it goes well so mote it be!

  2. A caution re pine needles. Use in moderation. They contain arsenic (a substance known as the slave mineral due to one’s ability to defend both mentally and physically fades away). However, as a plus, a woman needs a tiny amount of arsenic to carry a male child to full term. Quite the conundrum! Arsenic occurs in several other sources. A web search would probably be prudent. Don’t need the zombie thing manifesting. Folate and thiamin help protect against the effects, so I’ve read. Happy Solstice!

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