Activities for the Winter Solstice
The season of Yule and the Winter Solstice are fast approaching. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days are increasingly shorter and the nights increasingly longer. In just under a week, we will be at the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice and the Yuletide season.
Whether you have celebrated this Wheel of the Year holiday in the past or are brand new to it, we’ll discuss a bit about what Yule is, its correspondences and some ways to celebrate this year.
What is the Winter Solstice and Yule?
Many, though not all, pagans and witches celebrate the Wheel of the Year holiday of Yule. Occurring on the day of the Winter Solstice on December 21st which is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Up until this point the days are getting shorter and the nights longer with the shift at Yule/Solstice turning to steadily growing longer days and shorter nights again.
Yule is often a time of celebrating the returning of the light. Many other cultures and religions also celebrate this theme of light during this time including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even Christma. Candles, fires, and twinkling lights are commonly seen in people’s holiday decor during this season.
Yule is also tied to the modern Wiccan lore of the Oak and Holly Kings duking it out again (this also occurs at the Summer Solstice) with the Oak King winning this time to control the light half of the year. Other Wiccan lore relates to the Great Goddess being pregnant with the new God and giving birth to him at the Solstice. Both tales relate heavily to the returning of the light and rebirth.
Solstice vs. Yule vs. Christmas
While many use the Winter Solstice and Yule interchangeably, there are some differences between the two. The Solstice relates specifically to the astrological event of the shifting of the Earth’s rotation. It is celebrated in various ways across cultures.
Yule is more Germanic in origin and is usually said to happen starting at the Solstice and running through to New Year’s Day or Hogmanay. Many of the traditions we associate with the season of Yule and Christmas have origins in the old Norse traditions of Yule. These traditions were adopted and continued by the people converting to Christianity.
There is often a hot debate in some pagan communities every year around this time as to whether Christians stole Yule. As already mentioned, the traditions people often celebrate at Christmas do have a good deal of Pagan origins due primarily to those converting and keeping their pagan traditions alive afterwards. Christmas specifically is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus by Mary and is celebrated on December 25th (which was the ancient Roman date for the Solstice). Much of modern Christmas is religious in origin with many secular traditions added on.
There are a number of related holidays during this season of the year. Some are celebrated on or near the same day with alternative names. Others are less closely related, springing from other religious practices.
Some alternative names for Yule and the Solstice are Alban Aretha, Midwinter, December solstice, Winter Lights, Yuletide, Longest Night
Other religious holidays during this time are Brumalia, St. Barbara’s Day, Advent, Chanukah/Hanukkah, St. Nicholas’ Day, Bodhi Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucia’s Day, Saturnalia, Christmas, Mother’s Night, Twelvetide (Twelve Days of Christmas), Twelfth Night, Epiphany
Secular holidays include the following Krampusnacht, Feast of Fools, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Watch Night, Hogmanay and “First Footing”, New Year’s Eve and Day
Beginnings, birth, challenge, compassion, cycles, endings, eternity, gratitude, insight, rebirth, restoration, sacrifice, search for meaning, silence, sleep, wisdom, goal setting
Hope after darkness, lights to bring back the Sun, Rebirth of the Sun
Aphrodite, Brigid, Demeter, Fortuna, Gaia, Hel, Holle, Ishtar, Isis, Baba Yaga, Bona Dea, Cailleach, Holda, Skadi
Apollo, Attis, Balder, Bacchus, Cronus, Dionysus, the Green Man, Helios, Lugh, the Oak King, Odin, Ra, Saturn, Sol, Hodhr
Archetypes of the Holy Mother, the Crone, Father Time, the Green Knight, the King
Magickal Beings of Krampus, elves, Gawain the Green Knight, the Green Man, the Holly King, Santa Claus
Bears, deers, owls, phoenix, reindeers, snow geese, squirrels, stags, wrens, ravens and crows, cows and oxen, reindeer (particularly flying), horses, pigs, animals that change and camouflage in the winter
Symbols and Colors
Cauldron, darkness, evergreens/greenery, light, mother and child, trees, wreaths, yule log, wheel of the year (eight-spoked wheel)
Gold, green, red, white
Food and Drink
Cinnamon cakes and cookies; dried fruits; gingerbread; roasted meats; spiced meats; roasted apples; Buche de Noel; citrus; fruit cake; homemade baked goods; scalloped, mashed, roasted or au gratin root vegetables
Apple cider (spiced), egg nog, mulled wine, warm and warming drinks, wassail, hot buttered rum, hot chocolate, tea
Plants, Herbs, Incenses, Scents, etc.
Plants and Herbs - Bay laurel, blessed thistle, chamomile, cinnamon, evergreen trees, holly, ivy, juniper, mistletoe, oak leaves, pine, pinecones, poinsettias, rosemary, sage, wintergreen, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, peppermint, saffron, fir, spruce, Christmas rose
Incenses - cedar, cinnamon, clove, frankincense, juniper, myrrh, orange, pine
Oils - cinnamon, ginger, orange, pine, wintergreen
Bloodstone, clear quartz, diamond, emerald, garnet, ruby, onyx, tanzanite, turquoise, zircon
Magic and Spellwork Focuses
Communal celebration, contemplation and looking inward, deep ritual, divination and scrying, evaluation, feasting, healing work, hibernation, journaling, meditation, reflection, study, taking stock, tool crafting, vigil and personal retreat
Spells for happiness, hope, love, peace, strength, world healing, world peace
Decorating, making and giving gifts, baking soul cakes, attending live performances and concerts, game playing, caroling, bonfires and fire circles, storytelling, ringing of bells
Acts of service like giving to the less fortunate, feeding birds and wildlife, furnishing warm clothing for those in need, sending packages to military personnel overseas, working in food banks and soup kitchens
Ways to Celebrate
Set up Your Yuletide Altar
One of the easiest ways to begin your Yule celebrations is to set up your altar for the season. With Christmas being such a mainstream holiday and with much crossover with decorations, you can find plenty of decor to add to your altar. Review the list of correspondences above to add representations for the Yuletide season. Add as many candles or lights as you are comfortable adding.
I dress my altar in a bright red scarf and use green, red, and white taper candles. I have a small plastic "Christmas" tree that I have had since college that I set up on my space each year. In the past I have had lights to string around the tree too and the altar space.
Photo by Ksenia Yakovleva on Unsplash
De-clutter Your Space and Perform a Cleansing Ritual
This holiday is also a good one to spend on de-cluttering and cleaning up your space. This can be to prepare for a gathering or for a more spiritual context to let go of things from the past year. Get some cleansing herbs and tools and clear your space of any stagnant energy to make room for the rebirth that this time of year promises.
Get some Cleansing Supplies HERE
Stay up for a Vigil
Another great way to celebrate, particular as a solitary practitioner, it so hold a vigil. This would entail staying up all night through the longest night of the year to observe the dawn of the next day. You can spend the time in meditation or journaling. Maybe it would be a good time to work on goal setting for the next year. Or you can watch movies until the dawn. Some vigil practices might involve specific rituals are different points in the long night. You can also spend time crafting tools for your witchcraft practice as well
If you want to to stay up with others, it may be easier to keep each other awake.
Many traditions, pagan and otherwise, celebrate this season with gift giving. Take some time to come up with thoughtful gifts for the people you are giving to this year. You may even want to make gifts for your people if you are inclined and have the time.
You can also spend time in acts of charitable service as a form of gift giving this season. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or humane society. Donate coats or toys for kids. It is a season of giving this time of year, so consider giving in other ways than just to your immediate circle.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Have a Feast
Finally, most holidays work well with feasting to celebrate. Find a selection of holiday foods that you enjoy and have a pitch in with friends, family, or your coven. Have drinks that warm you from the inside. Have fun and party!
Yule is a fun festival of light, joy, giving, and rebirth. The longest night shifts to gradually longer days and we welcome the light and return of hope to make it through the winter months. It is a busy time of celebration throughout many religions and cultures. Take some time this year to spread the joy and celebrate this Midwinter holiday.
Let us know how you plan on celebrating!