The longest night and shortest day. This is the Winter Solstice, when the sun is reborn to the world and begins once again his journey to full power at midsummer. Having a long history in ancient tradition of divine birth at this time of year, many Pagans hold to that tradition. At Yule, the God is reborn of the Goddess, in representation of the sun returning to the earth in the lengthening darkness of winter. From this day forward through the next half of the year, the sun will see it’s time in the sky lengthening, and the God of mythology will grow from infancy into manhood.
Yule is an ancient tradition found in many cultures throughout the world. Centering on the time of the Winter Solstice (falling around the 21st of December in modern times), many customs included lighting fires (candles, bon fires, Yule logs) to welcome and encourage the sun back into the world. Many Pagans incorporate the battle of the Oak King (bringer of light) and the Holly King (keeper of darkness) into their rituals at this time of year.
Other customs often included bringing in boughs of evergreens (a symbol of immortality since it is a plant that never dies), in hopes that faery kind would join us in our celebrations. The Yule log was burned on the day of the solstice, begun from a piece of last year’s log, and allowed to smolder for twelve days before ceremoniously being put out, part of it reserved to light the following year’s log. Feasts were had to celebrate the return of the sun, and eventually the spring growth that would result in bountiful harvests. In Celtic traditions, druids were known to gather mistletoe, in representation of the divine seed. Holly was kept near the door to invite good luck in the coming year. Early Germanic traditions exchanged gifts, and many traditions included wassailing – giving a toast and drinking to good health in the coming year, as well as singing carols (in some places this may even have been an old drinking song tradition!).
For many, this celebration is very much about rebirth and renewal. As the Sun god is reborn to the Earth goddess, this is a reminder that death’s product is reincarnation, a continuing cyclical process, giving comfort to those that believe this way. With this renewal come wishes and planning for a good year in harvest, home and health.
In modern times, we know that the Christmas holiday was adapted from the Pagan holiday of Yule that was already a very prominent celebration for many peoples. Many times, it was forbidden because of that association. But the popularity of the solstice holiday won over, and it was carried forward as a new celebration of the birth of a Christian icon. Many ancient traditions ring true for those that celebrate at this time of year, whether as a religious or secular holiday. So take a step back this year, and look around. How many traditions in your household come from ancient belief?