Yule is the Lesser Pagan Sabbat that acknowledges and celebrates the rebirth of the Sun. In our symbolism of the Year as a constantly turning Wheel, this is the spoke where the Oak King (representing the light half of the year) vanquishes the Holly King (representing the dark half of the year), and thus ensures that the light and warmth of the sun will begin to increase each day.
Known also as the Winter Solstice, this is the longest night of the year and is akin to the Long, Dark Night of Soul. Sabbat celebrations often echo both of these sentiments, often beginning in silent darkness and ending in a blaze of light, fire, and laughter.
While Yule is most often juxtapositioned with Christmas today, Yule and Winter Solstice celebrations far outdate the Christian Christmas celebration. December 25th, the popular date to celebrate Christ’s birth, was also the birthdate of Mithras, the ancient Persian Sun god of light and the guardian against evil. Christianity didn’t even celebrate “Christmas” until the fourth century, and even as late as 1740, it was a normal workday for the Puritans in the New World of America. They viewed Christmas as a Pagan holiday, and forbid any celebrations and/or decorations of acknowledgement of the day.
Try as one might, one cannot erase the Pagan aspects of this holiday. Most of today’s Christmas traditions are Pagan in nature, derived from both old Yule and Solstice traditions, and include holly wreaths, decorated christmas trees, the Yule log, kissing under the mistletoe, and the jolly old man himself, Santa Claus.
In today’s society, living firs and pines are cut and then placed in homes to be decorated with ornaments, lights, and the crowning star. The largest fear at this time, as well as the biggest nuisance, is the dried, dead needles which fall from the tree onto carpeting, as well as being a potential fire hazard. In days long past, though, the decorated tree was a living tree, either one standing outside the home or which was brought into the home in a planter. Firs and pines were not chosen at random to be the tree of choice; they represent today, as they did in ancient times, the “life-in-death” nature of the season. It seems almost a parody that we today buy cut, dead trees to represent the important symbolism of the season.
Living trees were also brought into the home to provide a warm place of residence for the wood spirits, who would then look kindly upon the family during the year. Foodstuffs such as apples and cinnamon sticks were hung on the branches so the spirits would have plenty to eat in this barren time of year, and bells were hung from the branches so that their tinkling could announce the presence of a spirit. The five pointed star (the pentagram), symbol of the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit, would be placed at the top of the tree and crystals hung to represent icicles.
Yule, being a Sun celebration, was most often noted by the lighting of the Yule Log, a large log burned throughout the Yuletide celebrations and then saved as a protective charm until the next Yule, when it was used to start the new Yule fire. The red and green colors of the season are probably derived from the colors of the trees, mistletoe, and hollyberries found in abundance at this time of year. They are, however, also a form of sympathetic magick, with “red” representing the warmth of the sun and “green” representing the growth of new plants, aspects everyone wishes to draw into their lives at this time of the year.
Yule is a time of rebirth; of new beginnings and the setting of new goals for oneself. It is a time of putting aside regrets, resentments, and that which causes us unhappiness. But before we can rid ourselves of these, we must know them intimately. And thus, the season starts in the silent darkness of the cold winter’s night; a time when we cannot escape ourselves through pleasurable outside diversions. The beginning celebrations are a time of meditation and inward thoughts; of recognizing the cold sorrows of the season of barrenness as both those within the frosted panes of our souls, as well as those raging outside the frosted window.