Honor the Winter Solstice with these delightful Yuletide customs and festivities.
Yule – also known as Midwinter and the Winter Solstice – is the darkest and longest night of the year. Falling on or around December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and June 21st in the Southern, Yule marks the moment when the days begin to lengthen and the sun’s power begins to grow. This is why Yule is celebrated as the birthday of the sun and the renewal of the light.
Here are some ways to celebrate Yule and to bring the magic of the Winter Solstice into your hearth, home, and heart.
Yule Celebration Idea #1: Create a Yule Altar
Honor and anticipate the rebirth of the sun by creating a Yule altar. A candle holder shaped like a log will make an excellent Yule altar centerpiece by anchoring the symbolism of the Yule log. In Yule: Rituals, Recipes, & Lore for the Winter Solstice, Susan Pesznecker explains that an old log represented the old year and the “embodiment of cold and death [which was] tossed into the fire so that the family could watch as ‘winter’ was replaced by heat and light, a ritual in keeping with the burning log’s representation of the waxing solar year, Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice.”
Other appropriate Yule altar items include solar-related botanicals such as cinnamon sticks, citrus fruits, star anise, and cloves. Also consider rosemary plants or bundles, pine boughs, pinecones, oak, ivy, unshelled nuts, myrtle, holly, and poinsettias.
You might further adorn your Yule altar with Christmas lights and other holiday decorations.
For divine and magical beings associated with the Winter Solstice, consider statues or other imagery of the Green Man, Befana (the Christmas witch), holiday elves, the Holly King and Oak King, Bacchus, Odin (many believe he was the precursor to Santa Claus), or Father Christmas in any of his abundant incarnations.
Yule Celebration Idea #2: Perform a Yule Ritual
Perhaps my favorite Yule ritual is a re-visioning of the childhood tradition of leaving cookies and milk out for Santa. Santa, after all, is the embodied spirit of generosity, and he lives within all of us, and in the world at large. (He is also believed to have ancient Pagan origins, perhaps as an incarnation of the Norse god Odin.)
While the ritual itself is performed the night before Yule (or Christmas if you prefer), begin preparing for it as soon as you write your first holiday card, craft your first holiday gift, or embark on your first holiday shopping expedition. The preparation simply involves getting into the joy of giving and spreading cheer. Don’t do it out of guilt, obligation, or habit: do it for the joy of it! This will activate the spirit of generosity within you and set the boomerang effect in motion (also known as karma and the Threefold Law: what you send out returns to you, multiplied).
On the day before Yule, bake a batch of cookies. Eat and share as many as you like, as long as you save four of them. That evening, write a letter to Santa, telling him what gifts your heart of hearts most dearly desires. Include one wish or several, little (like a warm scarf) or big (like a new car). The important thing is that you tap into a childlike sense of holiday excitement and anticipation. Feel that you deserve these gifts and that the Universe wants to give them to you. Thank Santa earnestly, fold up the letter, place it in an envelope, and write “Santa” on the outside. Place it next to a plate of four cookies and a cup of a milk product of your choice. (I like almond.)
In the morning, pour the milk product out on the earth. Place the cookies in a compost or yard waste bin. And throw the letter on a fire. (Or safely burn in a cauldron or pot.) Feel joyful anticipation about receiving your gifts in the forthcoming New Year.
Here’s a more traditional solitary Yule ritual.
And here’s a more extensive Yule log ritual you can do with your family, spirit circle, or coven.
Yule Celebration Idea #3: Do a Yule Meditation
On the morning of Yule, bundle up and take some cinnamon tea in a travel mug to a prime sunrise viewing location. Settle in, breathe deeply, relax, and feel the unique magic of the Winter Solstice, when the light, bright, expansive half of the year is reborn. When the sun peeks over the horizon, toast the sun with words such as these:
“Sunshine of my soul, radiant and beloved star, I salute you. I welcome you. I thank you.”
Feel gratitude for the warmth, beauty, sustenance, and joy the sun brings. Feel and imagine the sunlight flooding your soul and your every cell. As you drink the warming cinnamon tea, internalize the expansive and life-affirming energy of the sun.
(If you prefer, you can do this indoors instead while looking out the window towards the sunrise.)
Yule Celebration Idea #4: Say a Yule Blessing or Invocation
Here are some lovely invocations from Yule: Rituals, Recipes, & Lore for the Winter Solstice:
Invocation to the Old Woman of Winter
Ancient mother of Midwinter
watcher over life and death,
the one who rebirths the world,
be with us on this longest night!
See us through the dark hours
and stand with us
as dawn births the promise of new life.
So mote it be!
Invocation to Father Yule
Heroic father, giver of life,
one who stands with sword in hand
to fight against the dangers of the wild,
bring that sword into our circle
and stand with us against this night’s darkness.
For the night is long,
and you will keep us safe.
Yule Celebration Idea #5: Start a Magical Tradition
During these dark, cold days, traditions bring warmth and happiness to the soul. This year, start a magical tradition that will last you for decades to come. Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
Find a cookie or candy recipe you love, empower it with some kitchen witchery, and spread the magic around in the form of holiday gifts.
Create Yule cards with magical messages of joy, prosperity, harmony, and love. Tuck a packet of organic seeds into each one of them to symbolize planting the seeds of positivity. Empower the whole lot with positive energy by holding the cards between your hands and sending visualized light and well wishes into them. Then drop them in the mail.
Choose a crystal to symbolize gratitude for all the gifts and blessings of the previous solar cycle. Choose another one to symbolize gratitude for all the gifts and blessings to come in the new cycle. Release the former into a moving body of water while feeling thankful. Next Yule, release the latter in the same way after obtaining a new crystal to symbolize all the blessings ahead. (And so on throughout the years.)
Celebrating Yule can light up these wintery days like nothing else can. So go forth and celebrate!
…Did you try one of these Yule celebration ideas? Or do you have favorite Yule traditions or rituals of your own? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Hi! I am Wiccan and I am devoted to Norse Gods like Baldr and Odin. I was wondering if these are acceptable to do? I noticed that you said to write a letter to Santa or say an invocation to Father Yule and I was wondering if this is acceptable in the eyes of my Gods/Goddesses to do or if it is an insult to do these things. (P.s. I am new to the Pagan scene as well as the Wiccan scene and I just want to make sure I am doing the right things) Thanks!
Tess Whitehurst says
Abbie, this sounds like a personal choice. I, personally, don’t imagine gods feeling disrespected by invoking other divinities or deities, but not everyone feels that way.
tara mclay says
these look great! do you have any ideas how i could celebrate when i still live at home and my family doesnt know im wiccan? thanks!
Tess Whitehurst says
Sure, Tara! You can always light a candle and/or do a meditation. Or watch the sunrise. Or send magical energy into a batch of cookies. Really anything you do with intention doesn’t have to be obviously Wiccan.