Yule – The Winter Solstice
This year, 2020, has been one like no other in recent years. Only a few of our older citizens who lived through the horrors of the Second World War have experienced anything like the current world crisis. Like many people, I will be pleased to see the back of 2020, although it will be a year remembered for a very long time.
My blog for December is about the Winter Celebration of Yule, the Winter Solstice. This takes place in the Northern Hemisphere around the 21st or 22nd December. This year it is on Monday 21st December and the actual Solstice takes place at 10.am GMT.
This is the season of Yule. It’s a season to spend time with family and friends of all spiritual paths, putting aside our differences. It’s the time when we mark the longest night of the year, followed by the sun’s gradual journey back towards the earth. For many people, it’s a season of giving, and of hope. Take some time during this season and think about the blessings you have in your life. Reach out to someone you love – or even to a stranger – and do something to make their life a little more joyful. This is, of course, even more significant in view of the events and restrictions of 2020.
For our Southern hemisphere members however, it’s time to celebrate Litha, the Summer Solstice. This longest day of the year is a time of the power and energy of the sun. Get outdoors and take advantage of it, and bask in the warmth and light. We’ll be thinking of you up here in the cold North!
Can you handle your family at the holidays? The festivities are likely to be very different this year and as I write this blog here in the UK, we do not know yet if we will be able to get together with family and loved ones. I usually celebrate Yule with my group of close girl friends and due to all the restrictions this year, we have not had any of our get-togethers since February. However, nothing says ‘celebration’ quite like being together with the people you love, even if it is in heart and mind only.
Yule celebrates the return of the sun and many cultures have winter festivals that are in fact celebrations of light. In addition to Christmas, there’s Hanukkah with its brightly lit menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and many other holidays in addition to Yule.
Need some inspiration to decorate your tree or with your magical work? Let’s look at some of the colours associated with this time of year.
Red is the colour of poinsettias, of holly berries, and even Santa Claus’/Father Christmas’ suit. In modern Pagan magical practice, red is often associated with passion and sexuality. However, for some people, red indicates prosperity. In China, for example, it is connected with good fortune; by painting your front door red, you’re practically guaranteed to have luck enter your home. In some Asian countries, red is the colour of a bridal gown, unlike the white that’s traditionally worn in many parts of the western world.
What about religious symbolism? In Christianity, red is often associated with the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s a story about in the Greek Orthodox religion that after Christ’s death on the cross, Mary Magdalene went to the emperor of Rome, and told him of Jesus’ resurrection. The emperor’s response was along the lines of “Oh, yeah, right, and those eggs over there are red, too.” Suddenly, the bowl of eggs turned red, and Mary Magdalene joyfully began preaching Christianity to the emperor. In Greece, Easter is celebrated with painting eggs with red paint. In addition to Jesus, red is often associated with some of the martyred saints in Catholicism. Interestingly, because of its connection with lust and sex and passion, some Christian groups see red as a colour of sin and damnation.
You incorporate the colour red into your magical workings at Yule by decking your halls with red ribbons and bows, hang garlands of holly with its bright red berries, or position a few pretty poinsettias in a window (keep them out of a draft though) to invite prosperity and good fortune into your home. Tie red bows on your tree, or hang red lights around to bring a little bit of fiery passion into your life during the chilly months.
Green has been associated with the Yule season for many years, by many different cultures. This is a bit of a paradox, because typically, green is seen as a colour of spring and new growth by people who live in areas that experience seasonal changes. However, the winter season has its own share of greenery.
There’s a wonderful legend of the winter solstice, about why evergreen trees remain green when everything else has died. The story goes that the sun decided to take a break from warming the earth, and so he went on a bit of a hiatus. Before he left, he told all the trees and plants not to worry, because he’d be back soon, when he felt rejuvenated. After the sun had been gone a while, the earth began to get chilly, and many of the trees wailed and moaned in fear that the sun would never return, crying that he had abandoned the earth. Some of them got so upset that they dropped their leaves on the ground. However, far up in the hills, above the snow line, the fir and the pine and the holly could see that the sun was indeed still out there, although he was far away.
They tried to reassure the other trees, who mostly just cried a lot and dropped more leaves. Eventually, the sun began to make his way back and the earth grew warmer. When he finally returned, he looked around and saw all the bare trees. The sun was disappointed at the lack of faith that the trees had shown, and reminded them that he had kept his promise to return. As a reward for believing in him, the sun told the fir, the pine and the holly that they would be permitted to keep their green needles and leaves all year long. All the other trees still shed their leaves though each autumn, as a reminder to them that the sun will be back again after the solstice.
During the Roman festival of Saturnalia (in early January), citizens decorated by hanging green branches in their homes. The ancient Egyptians used green date palm leaves and rushes in much the same way during the festival of Ra, the sun god — which certainly seems like a good case for decorating during the winter solstice!
Use green in magical workings related to prosperity and abundance — after all, it’s the colour of money. You can hang evergreen boughs and holly branches around your house, or decorate a tree with green ribbons, to bring money into your home. As the tale of the sun and the trees shows, green is also the colour of rebirth and renewal. If you’re thinking of conceiving a child or beginning new endeavors at Yule, hang greenery in your home — especially over your bed.
If you live in an area that experiences seasonal change, chances are good you associate white with snow during the Yule season. And why not? The white stuff is everywhere during the chilly winter months!
White is the colour of wedding dresses in many Western counties, but interestingly, in some parts of Asia it is associated with death and grieving. During the Elizabethan era, only the nobility in Britain was permitted to wear the colour white — this is because it was far more expensive to produce white cloth, and only people who could afford servants to keep it clean were entitled to wear it. The white flower known as Edelweiss was a symbol of bravery and perseverance — it grows on high slopes above the tree line, so only a truly dedicated person could go pick an Edelweiss blossom.
Often, white is associated with goodness and light, while its opposite, black, is considered a colour of “evil” and badness. In Vodoun, and some other diasporic religions, many of the spirits, or loa, are represented by the colour white. White also associated with purity and truth in many Pagan magical practices. If you do any work with chakras, the crown chakra at the head is connected with the colour white.
If you’re using white in your magical workings at Yule, consider incorporating it into rituals that focus on purification, or your own spiritual development. Hang white snowflakes and stars around your home as a way of keeping the spiritual environment clean. Add plump white pillows filled with herbs to your couch, to create a quiet, sacred space for your meditation.
Gold is often associated with the season of Yule because it was one of the gifts brought by the Magi when they went to visit the newborn Jesus. Along with frankincense and myrrh, gold was a prized possession even then. It’s a colour of prosperity and wealth. In Hinduism, gold is often a colour connected with deity, in fact, you’ll find that many statues of Hindu gods are painted gold.
In Judaism, gold has some significance as well. The first Menorah was crafted from a single lump of gold by a craftsman named Bezalel. He was the same artist who built the Ark of the Covenant, which was also covered in gold.
Since winter solstice is the season of the sun, gold is often associated with solar power and energy. If your tradition honours the return of the sun, why not hang some gold suns around your house as a tribute? Use a gold candle to represent the sun during your Yule rituals.
Hang gold ribbons around your home to invite prosperity and wealth in for the coming year. Gold also offers a sense of revitalization — you just can’t help but feel good about things when you’re surrounded by the colour gold. Use gold wires to create shapes for ornaments to hang on your holiday tree, such as pentacles, spirals, and other symbols. Decorate with these, and bring the power of the Divine into your home for Yule.
However you celebrate this season and whichever of these sabbats you may be observing, I wish all of you a magical and blessed celebration!