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  • Writer's pictureNichol Skaggs

Yule – Yuletide – Winter Solstice Dec. 21

Mother Night is the first of the 12 nights of Yule.  It starts on December 20th, and the twelfth night is on the 31st, Yule proper. Solstice in Latin means, “Sun stands still ” and Winter Solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.

The Winter Solstice and the Yule are the time of the year for when your dreams and visions are the most active and accessible.

It’s a time for balancing our nature, spirit and physical body. Be still, meditate, connect with and receive your divine inner wisdom.

In Celtic mythology, the Winter Solstice symbolizes the end of the reign of the Holly-King.  As the sun reaches the end of its decline at the Winter Solstice (represented by the Holly-King) and once again begins its ascent back to summer (represented by the Oak King) the two engage in battle.  This time the Holly-King is defeated by the Oak-King who then rules over the first half of the new year until they meet again and do battle at the Summer Solstice.  This in essence is an enactment of the annual cycle of life, growth and death in nature.  The Oak King is the growing youth whose life and strength reaches its peak in Mid-summer, while the Holly King is the mature man whose life and strength declines in Mid-winter, from where he is again re-born of the Goddess.

This change from one King to the other is a common theme for ritual re-enactments at Mid-summer and Mid-winter festivals.  In theory, the Kings are twin brothers and both exist as different aspect of the same Sun God, but each has varying levels of influence throughout the year.  The youthful time of the Oak King is for growth, development, health, healing and new projects, while the time of the mature Holly King is for deliberating, reflecting, contemplation and learning.

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The Yule Tree is an important symbol in Yule tradition. Originally, it represented the Tree of Life or the World Tree among early peoples. Evergreens were cut and brought indoors to symbolize life, rebirth and renewal. They were thought to have power over death because their green never faded. In ancient times it was decorated with gifts people wanted to receive from the gods. It was adorned with natural ornaments such as pinecones, berries and other fruit, as well as sacred symbols. In some holiday traditions, garlands of popcorn and berries were strung around the tree so that visiting birds could feed off the tree as well.

Holly, which represents the masculine element, was often used to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces. Because of its prickliness it was thought to capture or ward off evil spirits before they could enter a home and cause harm. The holly leaves, symbolic of the Holly King, represent hope, and the red berries represent potency.

Yule is all about community, friendship and helping others.  This sense of community led to another old tradition called “Wassailing”, which was the precursor to today’s practice of Christmas Carolling.  The word “Wassail” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon term “Waes Hael”, which has been variously translated as a toast meaning:  “Be Well”, “Be Whole”, “Be Healthy” or “Be Happy”.  The proper response to this is:  “Drink Hael”, making it a shared and mutual well wishing.  As Caroler’s still do today, traditionally friends and neighbors would go from door to door on the eve of the solstice, singing and bearing their “Wassail Cups”, to be rewarded with seasonal drinks, fruit, bread or sweets.

TREES and PLANTS of Yule: Holly, Oak, Mistletoe, Ivy, Evergreens, Laurel, Bayberry, Blessed Thistle, Frankincense, Pine, Sage, Yellow Cedar, Laurel, Rosemary, Ginger, Valerian.

INCENSE: rosemary, frankincense, myrrh, nutmeg, saffron, cedar/pine, wintergreen, ginger, bayberry, cinnamon.

SYMBOLS: Yule log, gold pillar candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, christmas cactus.

CELEBRATE: by Carolling ~ Wassailing, Gathering with Family and Friends ~ Burning the Yule Log ~ Decorating the Yule Tree ~ Exchanging Gifts ~ Kissing under the Mistletoe

COLORS of Yule: Red, Green, White, Silver, Gold Red represents the waning Holly King. Green represents the waxing Oak King. White represents the purity and hope of new Light. Silver represents the Moon. Gold represents the Sun/Son.

FOOD and DRINK: Yule Log Cake, Gingerbread, Fruits, Berries, Nuts, Pork dishes, Turkey, Eggnog, Ginger Tea, Spiced Cider, Wassail

ANIMALS and Birds associated with Yule: Dove, Stags ~ Deer, Horses, Squirrels, Wrens and Robins

STONES of Yule: Rubies, Bloodstones, Garnets, Emeralds, Diamonds

MYTHICAL CREATURES associated with Yule: Unicorn and the Phoenix.

The aspect of Yule reminds us to take care of each other, the earth and all her creations. Yule is the season for peace, returning hope and restoring balance, which fosters harmony and increased happiness. It’s the perfect time for planning, making wishes and seeking visions.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”  ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

Deities of Yule: Goddesses: Virgin Mary (Christianity), Frigg, Brigit (Celtic), Isis (Egyptian), Demeter, Gaea, Pandora, Selene and Artemis, Juno and Diana, Astarte, Spinning Woman (Native American), Freyja, Gaia, Isis.

Gods: Jesus (Christianity), The Sun God, Dagda, The Star (Divine) Child, The Oak King, The Holly King, The Green Man, Odin, Lugh, Apollo, Ra, Father Sun (Native American)

Yule - Winter Solstice Holly, Mother Mary, Solstice, Unicorn, Winter, Yule

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