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Winter Solstice, Yule, or Midwinter ~ one of many festivals of light that occur this time of year. (Yule, from the Icelandic 'jol' via Old Engilsh 'geol')
Occurs on the 21st of December or 22nd of December depending on what you read. Traditionally celebrated on the shortest day of the year.
This is the first Pagan Holiday celebrated after the ending of the old year at Samhain
Located at the north on the Wheel of the Year
Represents the land of dark nights and the cold grip of winter and when the winter solsitce arrives we know we are halfway through the dark part of the year. This will be the shortest day of the year, and starting the day after the days will start to become longer untill the summer solstice.
To many this is the day the day on which the 'sun is reborn'
-burning of the Yule log ~ represents the increasing light of the season. It is common practice to keep a piece of it to light the next year's Yule log, and to scatter some of its ashes over the fields. A great log is placed on the hearth and lit with a brand from the previous year's log symbolising the return of the sun and ensuring good luck for the household.
-greenery - evergreen plants symbolise the promise of life to come even in the dark of mid-winter
-mistletoe ~ Kissing under the mistletoe, whose white berries symbolized semen to the ancient Druids, may be remnants of an ancient fertility practice. Mistletoe is believed to hold the life of the host tree when the tree itself appears to die during the winter season.
-holly and evergreen ~ both are symbols of the promise of the return of life and springtime, since their leaves do not turn brown and die like other trees. Tied in wreaths or decorated trees in the house also symbolising the return of the sun and ensuring good luck for the household. Holly and ivy protected the house from evil spirits and with their unseasonal greenness symbolised that life in death aspect so precious on the longest night of the year. Holly must be picked in before Christmas Eve or else you will be open to the evil intentions of an enemy in this world, or the one beyond. The prickly leaves are male and are lucky for men, whilst the smoth leaves are female and lucky for women. Make sure you have both types in your decorations. Ivy is associated with the Roman god Bacchus and brings good luck!
- Carols ~ The Wassail Carols date back to the Viking invasions of England, circa 700 CE, when the greeting was 'Ves Heill'. By Anglo-Saxon times, the greeting had evolved into 'Waes thu hal', meaning 'be whole' or 'good health'. The response was 'drink hail', meanding 'I drink and good luck be to you'. People would go from house to house in the village bringing good wishes and carrying an empty bowl. The master of the house being wassailed was expected to fill the bowl with a hot, spicy ale and pass it round the carollers.
-Feasting ~ Midwinter is traditionally a time for feasting. The prominence of the turkey dates to the 1900's. Formerly boar, geese, capons, swans, and pheasants were much more common. Mince pies were originally made with meat, but with the coming of spices to England during the Crusades, they evolved into their current form. Many witches use plum pudding as the dish for the cakes and wine ceremony during the winter solstice rite. Served in flaming brandy it is particularly effective.
Please add to this description, traditions, etc.
*info gathered from Paganism/by Joyce and River Higginbotham, The Winter Sabbat/by LP Ruickbie (witchology.com),
-Mark the circle with a spear. Decorate the circle with greens (pine cones and freshly cut pine boughs) and candles. Set tall red candles at the four quarters with holly at their bases.
-In the centre, lay a Yule wreath of evergreens, preferably one you have fashioned yourself. In the centre of the wreath, place a large red candle to represent the reborn Sun. Place it in a small cauldron, if you have one, to symbolize the Goddess of Rebirth. Around the outside of the wreath make another circle with sprigs of mistletoe which can be energized during the rite and later given to participants and friends to bring blessings to their homes in the New Solar Year.
-It is also said that the number of sparks struck off the burning log indicated the number of lambs and kids would be born in the coming year.
The custom of placing a light at the top of the Yule tree is another symbol of the rebirth of the sun. Catholics later changed this image to that of the angel heralding the Christ Child's birth.
- Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes. It was to extend invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay visit to the residents.
-Explain the concept of the holiday to your child. Using crayons or markers ask him or her to draw you a picture of the sun being born, or try other mediums like clay or finger paints.
-String plain popcorn or plain oat cereal to form garlands. Cut slices of bread with a cookie cutter and spread with peanut butter and sprinkle with birdseed. Add apple slices, cranberries and suet balls (mix birdseed into bacon drippings and form into balls which you tie up in pieces of the mesh bags that onions or oranges come in) All these are lovely, messy activities, with which your smallest children will be able to help.
-Create a ritual of re-birth. Let it begin with all in darkness, and, throughout the ritual, light candles until you are surrounded by warmth and brightness. Move from the womb to the full light of a summer's day!
-Bake gingerbread men. In ancient times it is said that Germanic tribes would sacrifice their prisoners to the god of victory by hanging them upside down from trees for nine days, as Odin was hung from the Tree of Life in order to obtain the wisdom of the runes. After the wars ended, they replaced actual men with gingerbread men, as way of asking for help from Odin in making it through the dark winter.
-Grains and seeds, and the feeding of creatures have been associated with Yuletide holidays for hundred of years in Europe. To continue this tradition why not feed our feathered friends as a family project? See who comes to visit your little sanctuary and identify them with a field guide.
-Place sunflower seeds outside for wild birds to feast upon.
(collected by shadow_kitten, from Pagan Forum, xposted with permission)
Last edited by roving_gypsy; November 5th, 2009 at 01:41 PM.
ETA: "The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.
Ancient people were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors. The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents.
~ I remember a book I had when I was a child which had a chapter about something similar to this. One of the servants of the house would be the "Lord of Misrule" for the "the twelve days of Christmas" or for however long the head of house would allow it! This is back in British history as well as other European cultures. From this type of merry-making comes traditions we still have such as pantomimes, masquerade balls, and of course the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - because of course Yule, a Pagan festival, was adopted by Christians as the time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year."
~ This is interesting. When I have my own house I will decorate it mostly with mistletoe, holly wreaths etc as well as of course a Christmas tree.
~ The only other thing I can think of that goes along with the celebration of Yule (and Christmas, in years gone by) is the tradition of wassailing. 'Wassail' was a drink, rather like punch, using ingredients such as hot ale, apples and spices - a bit like mulled wine today I suppose. This would be offered to or carried by the 'wassailers' - people who would go from door to door singing seasonal songs and general well wishes for everyone in the households they visited. 'Wassail' comes from the Old English term 'waes hael' meaning "be well".
Magickally, I would say that Yule is a time for seeing out the old and heralding in the new. The last two weeks of December represent this for me. So it's a good time to write down things that no longer serve you and symbolically bury or burn the paper, to burn a black candle to release negativity from your environment, to cut cords, to pray for healing. And a good time to burn a white candle for hope of blessings in the new year to come, and for making wishes as well as resolutions! Any new start is a powerful thing, but the new start that comes with the Yuletide season packs the biggest punch of all.