Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yule Traditions

The Sabbat of Yule is the festival that celebrates the rebirth of the sun.  Having been in decline since the summer solstice on June 21st, the sun now begins to increase in power again.  Slowly the days will get longer and banish the night's long grip on the earth.  It reminds us all that life will begin again, that everything is cyclical.

Christmas is an adaptation of the pagan festival.  The early Church Fathers found it difficult to stamp out long-held pagan beliefs so they appropriated the holidays along with their customs and gave them a new twist.  Many of the pagan traditions still survive as elements of the Christian holiday.

Decorating the home with evergreen, is used as a reminder of the return of the growing season.   Holly with berries had a dual significance, the red symbolising the resting Mother, while the dark green of the holly symbolising the Holly King who has ruled since the summer solstice.  Mistletoe is another plant used in decoration with strong pagan origins. The plant was seen as magical because it is said to grow beneath the earth and the sky and is not rooted in the ground.  Place a robin in your Yuletide decorations. The robin is one of the many birds with very strong pagan associations.

Just as Yule marks the death of the Holly King, it also marks the birth of the Oak King.  They perpetually strive for superiority, with the Holly King being victorious over the Oak King at midwinter and the Oak King winning in midsummer.  They are seen as personifications of Light and Dark, as both are needed for the growth of plants.

Many people go out to watch the sun rise on the winter solstice on December 21st. This is to welcome the Oak King.  Stand facing East and call upon the Goddess and the God to be with you.  As the sun rises, give thanks for the return of the light and warmth. Then, you could make a wish and dedicate it to the returning sun. Ask it to empower you so that you can achieve what you have asked for. If you can, look for a stone or a twig, something that catches your attention that you can keep with you as a symbol of the promise you have decided to make.

The Yule Log is not the chocolate covered Swiss roll of modern times but a real log. Onto this log, candles are placed to represent each member of your family or coven.  The candles (red, green or white) symbolise the return of the days with increasing light.  Of course, traditionally the Yule Log was kept and would be burned on the following year.  Once the ashes were cold they were gathered into powerful amulets, or scattered throughout the garden & fields to ensure fertility & bounty in the coming year.  But because so few of us live in environments that allow for open fires, the chocolate Yule Log may be more practical.  After the candles are lit and the wishes made, the log can be cut and eaten.

Light a Yule candle, preferably gold or golden orange in colour. Prepare it by dedicating it to the rising sun and the days of increasing light. This can be done by stroking the candle from the centre to the end while visualising the sun.  Ideally, the candle should be lit before sunrise on the first day of increasing light and allowed to burn out on it's own.  However, for practical reasons, a candle should never be left unattended, so you can light the candle for a few minutes and then put it out.  Do not blow out the candle; use a candle snuff for this purpose. Re-light the candle every day after the Solstice, remembering why we celebrate this festival until it is gone.

It probably is from the Roman Saturnalia, a celebration for the god of agriculture, held around the time of the winter solstice that the ancient yule traditions of the free exchange of gifts, the making and giving of small presents, and the spirit of revelry have been derived.  People feasted, drank, and danced in honor of the return of the sun, the god of light and new life.

Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.

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