The sights and sounds of the festive season are everywhere and the world is just that much more “magical”. Twinkling lights, time with loved ones, delicious baked goods, and greenery everywhere bring back the childhood joys of the season each and every year. For modern Pagans, Yule is the twelve day period that begins with the winter solstice and represents the longest nights of the year. It is a time of relaxation, rest, food, and drink. Many witches use this time to perform magic around protection or banishment for the coming year and do spellwork with a mind toward abundance and prosperity. For many it blends into a dual celebration of Christmas and straight into the new year. 

While we all know that the 25th of December is the Christian and secular celebration of Christmas, this holiday too has its roots in the pagan celebrations and witchcraft celebration of Yule. Even today, many of the traditions, decorations, and foods associated with Christmas have one foot firmly planted in pagan traditions. 

 

Yule and the Twelve Days of Christmas

 

The name of the holiday itself, Yule, comes from the Germanic pagan tradition and was associated with the Wild Hunt. The period began on the night of the winter solstice and continued for twelve days. Depending on the folklore of the region, the Wild Hunt was a procession of spectral huntsmen, most often led by Odin (sometimes referred to as Wodan). The members of the hunting party vary by region as well, but are often a familiar cast of characters of elves, fairies, or ghostly spirits. This twelve day period was accompanied by nights of feasting, drinking, and celebration. While there are most certainly not five golden rings, or maids a-milking involved in this festival until much later Christian variations, the twelve days of Christmas most certainly come from the traditional Yule period. 

As a modern human, it can be nearly impossible to take a full twelve days to honor the Yule season, but as witchcraft practitioners, we can be more intentional about carving even a little bit of time for rest and relaxation during this period (the festivities and food tend to take care of themselves this time of year). 

O Tannenbaum, The Holly and the Ivy, and Yule Logs

 

The tradition of bringing in a tree or greenery during this time of year also connects back to pagan customs throughout Europe. Considered a symbol of everlasting life and the promise of spring’s return, evergreens like holly, ivy, mistletoe and pine were brought indoors throughout the season. In the Germanic and Norse traditions, holly was thought to protect homes from lightning strikes and its combination with ivy symbolized fertility. Similarly, mistletoe was linked to fertility as well, hence the tradition of kissing beneath it. In the Celtic tradition, fairies were thought to live in evergreens and bringing the plants indoors in the winter to offer them shelter was thought to bring their blessings. 

Ancient peoples likely did not have homes large enough to bring in a full tree for the season, but the custom likely comes from both bringing evergreens into the home as a symbol of new or returning life and the Yule Log. The Yule Log was either a large log or entire tree that would be burned in the hearth through the twelve days of Yule to bring light into the home during the darkest nights. 

While no one expects you to fell a tree and burn it for twelve days straight in your fireplace (if you even have one!), but bringing in a pine tree, more greenery, or even a fake tree can help you connect with this spirit of this time of year. Additionally, the lunar traditions around the selection and cutting down of holiday trees may be a way for you to infuse the season with a subtle witchy flare. If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace or pit, you could perform a Yule Log ritual by charging a log with your intentions and burning it throughout the Yule season. If that doesn’t speak to you, try this witchy hack from a previous Yule vlog and write things you would like to release down on bay leaves, insert them into pinecones, and add those to your fire. Should you be lacking in a fireplace, you could do a little crafting and make a log the centerpiece for your table or mantle and surround it with candles. 

Decorations

 

For many novice or broom-closetted witches, Yule can be a particularly easy holiday to celebrate under the radar, because unlike other sabbats, the decorations are indistinguishable from Christmas decorations. In fact, with the exception of nativity scenes and crosses, most Christmas decorations come from pagan symbols of the season. 

Traditional Christmas tree decorations like multi-colored orbs, tinsel, beaded garlands, animals, and mushrooms all link back to pagan symbols of fertility, abundance, and prosperity. Whether they represented returning life, foods that would sustain us through the winter months like nuts, mushrooms, or cranberries, or the light in the darkness, these decorations are a subtle connection between modern Christmas and its pagan roots.

The colors of Christmas, red and green, or white, blue, silver, and gold also come from pagan traditions and have simply folded their way into modern Christmas celebrations. In Europe the red and green combination is thought to come from the Celtic tradition of bringing holly (green with red berries) indoors during the season. It is said that the Celts thought holly was meant to keep the earth beautiful during the barren dead of winter. In North and Central America, the poinsettia plant can be sighted as the origin of the association of red and green with Christmas. 

White, blue, silver, and gold as a color combination also comes from the natural world and the symbolism of the holiday. As Yule is a holiday that celebrates the returning of the light after the longest night of the year, it is no surprise to find blue, in particular midnight blue, among holiday decor. Symbolizing the darkness of the night, blue is often combined with lighter blues, white, and silver, to symbolize the slow return of the light to the natural world. And finally, gold represents the sun returning to its full strength and showering its blessings on the earth to bring back the abundance of the spring, summer, and harvest seasons. 

So go ahead, deck your halls with boughs of holly, kiss under the mistletoe, and burn a suspiciously large log in your fireplace this year. Whether you do it with witchy friends, or the most conservative of relatives, you can welcome back the light and have a little more magick in your holiday season!

For even more about the history and traditions of Yule, be sure to check out the Yule videos on my YouTube channel and comment with your favourite tradition or any seasonal folklore from wherever you are in the world.

 

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