Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yule lore (and a recipe)

My apologies for not posting more often this month. It's December. I run a shop and make jewelry. 'Nuff said.

To make up for it, here is my take on Yule, the Winter Solstice, as found in my second book, EVERYDAY WITCH A TO Z. Today is Yule, so I hope you find this entertaining and educational. Happy holidays!

Yule is another name for the Winter Solstice, which falls every year on or around December 21st. Yule is the longest night of the year, and it marks the point on the Wheel of the Year when the Goddess gives birth to her son, the infant Sun God.
It is a time of great rejoicing and merriment and is often observed with family and friends. Pagans bring in evergreen trees and boughs to symbolize life in the midst of the death of winter, and exchange gifts to celebrate the holiday. They often sing traditional songs and feast on the hearty foods that will sustain them through the cold months ahead. Sometimes they hang up holly or mistletoe, which was sacred to the Druids.
Is any of this starting to sound strangely familiar?
If so, there is a good reason: the holiday currently known as Christmas was taken in great part from the pagan traditions of Yule. Even the colors, green and red, were taken from the colors of the berries and evergreens that early pagans used to decorate their homes, and if you listen to Christmas carols you will hear the words “Yuletide” or “Yule” pop up from time to time.
There is even a theory that the origins of Santa Claus can be traced back to the Oak King, who regains his throne at Yule from his counterpart the Holly King, who reigns from midsummer until midwinter. And that star on the top of the Christmas tree? Yup, you got it—that comes from the Witch’s five-pointed star that symbolizes the five elements.
So why did the Christians take so many pagan traditions and adopt them for their own? Historians theorize that when the Christians moved into Europe they tried to force the Pagans who already lived there to change their beliefs and practices to Christian ones. When that didn’t work (stubborn folk, us Pagans) they simply put a Christian twist to the holidays that were already celebrated in the region and called them their own. Pretty clever, when you think about it!
Yule was, at least in those days, a pretty raucous holiday, involving a great deal of drinking, carousing and dancing in the streets from home to home (the origins of caroling, by the way)—so much so that the Pilgrims made Christmas illegal for a while once they moved here. Big party poopers, those Pilgrims.
Yule is a little calmer these days, but still a time for celebration and joy. And one of the benefits of having so many traditions in common with those observed by our Christian friends is that we can use the Winter Solstice as an opportunity to merge our two worlds in shared gratitude and appreciation for the light of friendship and family on the darkest day of the year.

“Yule Wassail”
Wassail comes from a toast that translates as “be in good health” and can be made with (traditional) or without alcohol. It is usually made for Yule, but can be served at any of the harvest festival holidays.
Combine: A gallon of apple cider, a bottle of red wine, and a bunch of spices (usually in whole form, such as allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a slice or two of ginger) with maple syrup to sweeten (how much you use will depend on personal taste). Warm on stovetop or in a crock-pot, top with slices of orange or an apple sliced crosswise to show its pentacle shape. Then shout “wassail!” and share with those you love.


  1. Terrific information! I talked to my second graders about Solstice yesterday and today. Your excerpt provides a much richer picture of Yule than I was able to give them. I'll be bookmarking this for next year (okay, maaaaybe I'll leave out the raucous celebration part).

  2. You are so good at this! Do you mind if I link this post to my blog tomorrow (okay, technically today)?
    I manage a kiosk during the season, so it's been a while since I checked in here. (You understand dealing with retail at this time of year!)