Ritual & Ceremony
Welcoming a Winter Wonderland
Whether it’s “Jack Frost nipping at your nose, or yuletide carols being sung by a choir”, there is no doubt that this time of year is nothing short of magical. Celebrations have taken on several different names and styles; however they all have one thing in common, they align with the Winter Solstice.
Also known as the beginning of Winter Solstice, Yule recognizes the shortest day of the year, when the sun has reached its most southern point in the sky, noon at the Tropic of Capricorn, before making his ascension to the light half of the year where at noon at the Summer Solstice the Sun reaches the most northern point at the Tropic of Cancer. These Tropics are the two lines that run parallel to the equator, where the sun is highest at noon in autumn and spring.
This station of the year is also known as the “Yoke” of the year, or a balancing point where the sunlight crosses the lowest point, the power of the sun is reborn, and our days in the Northern Hemisphere begin to lengthen.
Yule represents the eternal cycle of life and death and the battle between light and dark; hope for the coming of light during the darkest time of the year.
Yule, by whichever name, is recognized by many civilizations across time, space, and nature.
“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?”
Many deities are celebrated and honored during this time across numerous myths, legends, and histories; all symbolizing rebirth and eternal life.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia beginning on the 17th of December and culminating on the Winter Solstice. This celebration honored Saturn, the God of Agriculture. As farmers, and tenders to land and animal, knowing the seasonal shifts was important to recognize and celebrate.
Peoples across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice under different names, from Saturnalia, to Hanukkah, St. Lucia, Inti Raymi, Dong Zhi, and Toji; to name a few. The traditions and stories vary, but all recognize the importance of this point in the year, where we are met with the darkest night, and also celebrate the coming of the sun; longer and warmer days ahead.
Even still there are many ancient monuments that have been built and continue to be celebrated in order to honor the sun’s path from Summer Solstice to Winter Solstice. In no particular order, and perhaps some destinations to add to your travel list: Stonehenge, England; Chichen Itza, Mexico; Machu Picchu, Peru; Newgrange, Ireland; Maeshowe, Scotland; Jantar Mantar, India; Temple of Karnak, Egypt; Mnajdra Temple, Malta; and even here in the United States at Chaco Canyon, Arizona.
However important these traditions, celebrations, and sites of ancient civilization are, one does not have to travel to enjoy the magic of Winter.
“Gone away is the bluebird…”
Sky-watchers, a name used to describe many people of ancient civilizations, many mentioned above. These civilizations did not have the technology that runs rampant today, and many of them were farmers.
Agriculturally, being a sky-watcher was the most important factor of the job. The growth of crops and the tending to livestock relied heavily on what was happening in nature. An awareness of seasonal shifts and their effect was quite literally a life-or-death situation.
A quick trip to the market wasn’t a luxury that ancient people had and often they had to decide which animals would make it through the winter and which would not. Those that had to be slaughtered were used for food and furs.
Yule follows three harvests – Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain – and if the bounty was fruitful, families and communities would make it through the harsh winter months ahead. Thus they were able to feast at Yule to continue the merriment of bounty and abundance of the previous season.
Winter Solstice marks the end of the old year and beginning of the new and is considered a holy feast season. Popular food and drink items like yule log cake, gingerbread, fruits, berries, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, and spiced cider were all part of the feasting and merriment.
Aspirations for the farming year to come also run high during Yule; for example sparks from the yule fire were considered to be a representation of a new farm animal to be born in the spring
Of course, food was and still is only a small part of celebration. We look to nature and her beauty and bounty during winter as we face continued darkness and coldness until spring.
“A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight.”
As the days leading up to and following Winter Solstice remain cold and the darkness seems to hover, we look to nature for reminders of life; the eternal life cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Even in nature we see hope for renewal, rebirth, of a life-after-death promise.
Natural elements include a yule log, yule tree, evergreen, mistletoe, holly, cedar, oak, laurel, bayberry, blessed thistle, frankincense, pine, sage, yellow cedar and so much more.
Historically, the yule log was an entire tree that was meant to burn for the 12-days of Yule. A part of the tree/log was saved for the next year to light the new log with the remains of the old. It was believed that a continual hearth fire prevents evil spirits from entering the home.
Yule trees, or what are widely known today as Christmas trees, were brought into the home to help protect the wood spirits during the cold winter months, and often the trees were decorated with food (berries, popcorn) hanging from the tree to offer nourishment for the spirit.
Seasonal celebrations embody the full spectrum of nature and meaning, and Yule is no exception. The Yule tree or yule log is considered the tree of life, as it is typically an evergreen; an everlasting species. Wreaths used as decoration during winter represent the wheel of year, and the continual cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Holly is a natural element that presents life energy and hope for the coming year. The red berries represent potency, and the ability to survive during winter months. A holiday favorite for many, the Mistletoe energetically represents the healer or protector. This plant that never touches Earth, is known to live between heaven and earth, between light and dark, life and death.
Any celebration would not be complete with colorful decorations. There are many seasonal colors that are familiar during winter: gold that represents the sun, silver that symbolizes the moon’s energy, red for the potency of life; red berries that fruit in winter, green to represent everlife and the evergreen trees, and finally white for purity.
“Face unafraid the plans that we’ve made…”
Aside from the agricultural and historical aspects of the season, Yule invites a time of inner reflection and introspection; typically on our own mortality, that of our close-knit familial ties, and the natural world around us. A perfect moment in time to recognize our inherent connection to this eternal life cycle.
We are more likely to be home caring for our small communities, and can thus focus on our own enlightenment and movement forward into the light. During winter, more time is spent with close-knit communities (like family) and to reflect on the past year, choosing what energy to shed from the past year and what to bring into being in the new year to come.
This notch in the wheel of the year is recognized as a portal of profound spirituality; the cyclical nature of life, and birth-death-rebirth. Something in us, a part of us dies, and something new is born (again).
Nature’s power and our own souls are renewed at Yule. It serves as a time to release the old and to step into the new, become reborn, to forgive past transgressions and step into a new power. Now is the time to dream big!
Whether your celebration and introspection is individual or collective, you will find traditions for both.
“Conspire as we dream by the fire…”
Yule is a 12-day feasting celebration and is known as a season of enlightenment, sought and uncovered during the shadow period of earth’s Northern Hemisphere and invites a human “hibernation” through introspection and close familial connections and gatherings.
Many traditions include lighting bonfires, and candles, feasts, gift-giving, protection of family and close community ties. As well there are ritual practices for family and self-care, winter feasts, altar to honor winter, or spend the entirety of the winter solstice engaged in activity from sunrise to sunset to get the full (short day) in!
All traditions tend to emphasize our innate connection and need for the seasonal shifts, and how we are aligned to those shifts even without our awareness.
Connecting to these celebrations, the notches of nature, ensures that we are in-tune with the eternal life cycle, birth-death-rebirth.
Looking to experience a Yule Celebration with community? Consider joining Creative Nature at Persimmon Herb School on Dec 18, 2021.
“Walking in a Winter Wonderland”
Workshop: Enlightened Yule
Yule blessings each year lend to a period of enlightenment when our surroundings seem bleak and dark with short days and longer nights. Winter Solstice, or Yule, is the shortest day of the year. We begin to welcome longer, and warmer days ahead as we continue to embrace this hibernation and time of introspection.
Yule is a jubilee of enlightenment that lends itself to the rebirth of the spark of life, and the next cycle on the horizon. The light is reborn in Mother Earth’s womb of darkness.
This workshop intends to lead you to connect to your natural cycles in alignment with nature. Participants should expect to have time for journal-writing and reflection while learning more about the history and transformation of Yule celebrations into modern times. The workshop includes a creative activity working with natural elements to tickle our seasonal senses; a gentle, seated movement practice; and meditation. Yule is a great time to reflect and plan for what’s to come in our rituals, traditions, and routines as we welcome the warmth and light of longer days ahead.
Join Creative Nature on Saturday, 18 December 2021 4-6pm
@PersimmonHerbSchool 6215 East Raymond Street, Indianapolis, IN 46203