Tonight marks the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, the longest night of the year, and beginning of the Yule Celebration. To many people in the Northern Hemisphere, this night is significant not because it’s the Yule Celebration, but because it signals the half way point of the dark days of winter. Although it is officially the first day of the season, the daylight hours start steadily increasing during the days following Yule and the Winter Solstice.
For Pagans, Yule or the Winter Solstice has a much greater meaning. Pagans have a special reverence for nature, and celebrate nature’s cycles with certain rituals and ceremonies. The Yule celebration of old was a 12-day festival that glorified the return or rebirth of the sun god – hence the longer days. This Yule tradition involved lighting fires to not only warm and light the long dark night, but decorating the trees with orbs and stars that were reminiscent of the sun. Some cultures put candles in trees, laid out fruit and treats, and lit special Yule logs. These logs were burned to ashes, which were kept and used to fertilize farm fields in the spring time. As the Inquisitr reports, many Yule celebration factors are similar to those employed by people who celebrate Christmas.
Modern day Pagans celebrate Yule in similar ways. Many decorate their homes in the Druidic colors of red, white, and green. They light candles, burn Yule logs, gather with friends and family, and exchange gifts. One of the most famous Pagan Yule celebrations happens at the ancient ruins in Stonehenge, England. There, thousands of Pagans and Druids gather and celebrate Yule by singing, dancing, and chanting through the night in anticipation of the coming dawn and the glorious return of the sun god.
A Pagan author who writes for the Huffington Post has written about the grounding that Pagans feel at the Yule celebration of the Winter Solstice.
“In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.
In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.”
At the root of it, the Pagan celebration of Yule isn’t too very different from the way that many other religions celebrate their respective holidays during the dark cold days of winter. How does your family celebrate?