Southern Hemisphere June 21st – 22nd
Northern Hemisphere December 21st – 22nd
Yule or the Winter Solstice, a time of an ancient solar ritual, the ending of an old solar year, and the beginning of a new one. While Samhain marked the threshold of winter, we now find ourselves right in the middle of this cold season. Although the Winter Solstice usually signifies the time of the darkest, coldest and shortest day of the yearly cycle, this is the day when the Sun God will be reborn of the Goddess, thus bringing us into the lighter half of the year from this day forward.
To the Celts, this is a time when the waning sun, symbolic of the dark half of the year and portrayed as the Holly King, is once again overcome by the waxing sun, the lighter half of the year. The waxing sun is symbolic of the Oak King, it is he who will once again continue to grow stronger each day until the time of the Summer Solstice, where the waning sun will again resume his place in the continuing wheel of life. These ancient beliefs have been acted out in many cultures throughout many lifetimes. A member of the tribe, village or family is symbolized as the Holly King, and he wears a wreath of holly, while the other, symbolic of the Oak King, wears a wreath of oak leaves. Some rituals call for full symbolic clothing, while others prefer the wreaths or garlands. These two men or even women in some cultures, then begin to act out a play portraying the two forces, winter and summer, a battle between two seasons, where inevitably the Oak King shall triumph over the Holly King.
THE GODDESS OF WINTER
The role of the Goddess throughout the winter season varies depending on customs and countries. Although many celebrate the God and his rebirth, the Goddess is also one who must be remembered during this time. Tired after her labour and of giving birth to the Sun God, she will now rest throughout the remaining winter season, until Imbolc where she will begin to awaken. The white blanket of snow that covers many of the lands is the veil that covers the Goddess or Mother Earth as she rests. In some cultures she is honoured alongside the Sun God with much festivity and celebration where she is known as the Sun Goddess. Fires and candles are lit in her honour along with special dishes of wintery foods. She is sometimes seen as a Goddess dressed in white or the other portrayals of an old hag, covered in darkness.
The Winter Solstice is also known as Yule. In the Northern hemispheres Yule is usually celebrated from the eve of the 25th of December until the 6th of January. This is a word that seems to of originated from the Norse word Jōl which refers to a pagan feast that lasted for twelve days. The twelve days consisted of not only feasting but of honouring the birth of the Sun God, balefires, being with loved ones, gift giving, the yule log, dancing, decorating with evergreens and much merriment. The ritual slaughtering of a boar on Yule´s eve was an ancient practice that was carried out in much of the Northern Hemisphere countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The finest boar in the herd was ceremonially brought into the great hall or village and those chosen would place their hands on the animal and would declare their oaths. These oaths were said to go to Freya, and once sworn they could not be broken. The boar was then sacrificed in her name and the feasting began. The modern revival in this would have to be the traditional winter ham, a lot more user friendly for those who do not have a boar handy to sacrifice nor choose to. Remember however if you do want to re-enact this ancient tradition, be it with a boar, pork or a packaged ham, make sure any oaths you utter will not be broken, Freya is not a Goddess to be toyed with.
THE YULE LOG
As the Winter Solstice neared people would travel out to the forests to look for a suitable log that would become "The Yule Log." This was sometimes done on the eve of the day. This custom still carries on to this day in many parts of the world. The Yule Log symbolizes what we need most at this time, the light. This is shown in the candles when they are lit. The Yule Log is also the outside fire had at other festivals now bought inside. The logs, traditionally oak or ash are seldom used nowadays, as people turn to the more available pine. The logs are then decorated and later burnt in fires, a remaining piece is saved and this is used to start off the following years Winter Solstice fire.
Associated Names - Alban Arthan, Alban Artuan, Birth of the Sun, Festival of Sol, Jol, Jul, Midwinter, New Solar Year, Pagan Christmas, Sols Birth, Suns Birthday, Winters Rite, Yule, Yuletide.
Activities - There are numerous activities to be done during the winter season including balefires, catching up on studies and filling in the Book of Shadows or journal work, baking goodies, be eco-friendly and don’t waste anything, clear out gutters and set out rain buckets/tanks to save all the rain water you can, collect pinecones, cover garden beds from frosts, de-cluttering and going through items no longer needed, donate blankets and food to vets and animal shelters, decorating the home with seasonal greenery, altar and solstice tree, gift making and giving, ensure wildlife feeders are full, explore caves, feasting, firewood storing, herbal crafts, honouring the Goddess and the birth of the God, making gingerbread houses, recycle material into rag rugs, spiced wines, festive wreaths, charms and talismans, meditation, planning new ideas, reading, plan to read as many books as possible, retreats, study, take a trip or a walk out in nature, the park or a garden, telling stories around the fireside, wassailing, yule logs…and honour all life, including your own.
Animals - Winter animals include the bear, bluebirds, boar, bobcat, cats, coyote, cow, deer, dogs, dragons, eagle, elk, goat, groundhog, hares, hawk, horse, kaka parrot, kingfisher, kiore, lynx, magpies, mice, moose, mountain goat, owl, ox, panther, pig, platypus, polar bears, rams, raven, reindeer, robins, rooster, sheep, snow geese, snow leopard, squirrels, stags, stoat, swan, tuis, vultures, wolf, wood pigeons and wrens.
Colours - Gold, green, red and white.
Deities - All Fire Gods and Goddess, the Triple Goddess, all Reborn Sun Gods, the Oak and Holly Kings.
Foods - These include apples, beetroot, black pudding, brandy snaps, breads, carrot dishes, casseroles, caudel, cheeses, chicken, chocolate, chocolate logs to resemble yule logs, cranberries, dark ales, dried fruits, dumplings, egg nog, feijoas, fruit cakes, gingerbread, lemons, mince pies, mixed nuts, mulled wines, oranges, plum puddings, pomegranates, pork or boar, pretzels, prunes, sherry soaked trifles, snowballs, spiced drinks, stodgey cakes, stout and warming brews.
Herbs and Plants - All evergreens, trees with red berries, greenery and allspice, bay, bedstraw, birch, cedar, cinnamon, cloves, conifer trees, cypress, evergreens, fir trees, fly agaric mushrooms, frankincense, ginger, holly, ivy, juniper, lemon, mace, mistletoe, mixed spice, myrtle, myrrh, nutmeg, oak, orange, pine, poinsettia, red roses, rose of Jericho, rosemary, rowan, star of Bethlehem, winter savory, yarrow and yew.
Moon - The Oak Moon.
Symbols - Balefires, bells, candles, candy canes, caves, chimneys and flues, colours of gold, green, white and red, decorated solstice trees, earth, evergreens, frankincense, gingerbread, gold, holly, icicles, ivy, lights, midnight, mistletoe, myrrh, pine trees and pine cones, plum pud, rebirth, reindeer, return of the Sun, sleigh, snow, snowflakes, solstice tree, stars, sun symbols and wheels, wassail, wood-burners, wreaths, yule log.
FESTIVE ROCKY ROAD
Such a simple treat to make and yet can go horribly wrong if the ingredients are plain and boring. For a festive touch try the following recipe and of course as always you can change it to suit your own tastes.
60g cookies, roughly chopped
50g brazil nuts, roughly chopped
50g dried cranberries
50g crystallized ginger, chopped
50g small white marshmallows
30g dark raisins
200g dark chocolate 72%, a mix of dark and milk also works well
1 Tbsp golden syrup
Mix together in a large bowl the biscuits, nuts, cranberries, ginger, marshmallows and raisins and set aside. Gently melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup together in a heavy based pan. Once melted, stir well to remove any lumps and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir to combine and ensure that the chocolate coats everything. Spoon the mix into a foil lined 18x18cm tin and press down well. Refrigerate until firm then cut into squares and store in an airtight container. Makes 20 pieces.
Witchy note – Glace cherries can be added in here as well, personally I usually do not but the family feel as if they have been ripped off if I don’t! 50g will suffice. The biscuits used are a standard chocolate chip cookie that I make, you can add whatever cookie you prefer, shortbread also works well.