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Introduction

“Green groweth the holly, so doth the ivy. Though winter blasts blow never so high, green groweth the holly. As the holly groweth green and never changeth hue, So I am, ever hath been, unto my lady true. As the holly groweth green with ivy all alone When flowers cannot be seen and greenwood leaves be gone.”

King Henry VIII of England

Green Groweth the Holly

Yule and the Winter Solstice celebrations date back to around 3200-3000 B.C. which means it is almost 5,000 years old. Yule comes from a Scandinavian word for “wheel” and solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium which translates to “sun stopped”.  At the Winter Solstice and Yule, the night is the longest with a peak of darkness, and generally occurs on December 20, 21, or 22 depending on the year. The solstice begins when the sun is in one degree Capricorn.

During this time the sun ceases to decline for a couple of days and returns to the same spot to rise again. The darkness in between is at its peak while the sun is in a type of purgatory.  The sun then rises signifying a return to the light with a new hope. The mythos behind this explains that the Goddess gives birth to the Sun God and he continues to grow as the days become longer and all things once in darkness come to the light. Because of this, rituals for Yule and solstice center around rebirth and renewal.

It is customary to burn a Yule log which represents a household version of a larger Yule bonfire. The log is typically made of oak and is burned to provide light in the darkness and warmth in the cold winter. Burned in sympathetic magick, it’s also used to encourage the Sun God to bring back the sun. The yule log is decorated with holly, ivy, and ribbons and then blessed. A piece of the remains of the log is to be saved to start next year’s log and continue the cycle. A fully-burned log represents bad luck for the year to come.

Christmas, observed by Christians, gets its roots from Yule and Pagan tradition. From The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton: “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day – Scriptor Syrus, fourth century A.D.”

Yule Mythology

“When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees – a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still.”

Kveldulf Hagen Gundarsson

Mountain Thunder, Issue 7, Winter 1992

At the Winter Solstice the Oak King and the Holly King engage in a battle to gain favor with the White Lady. The Oak King defeats the Holly King, giving him favor until Midsummer. While the Oak King reigns, the Holly King is replenishing his energy and caring for his wounds so that at the Summer Solstice, the Holly King defeats the Oak King to reverse favor.

The Oak and Holly Kings represent the light and dark of the year and are believed to originate form different aspects of the Horned God, Cernunnos. The stories of Santa Claus are based on the Holly King and wears red with a branch of holly in his hair while the reindeer represent the King’s 8 stags. The Oak King is often shown as The Green man. Although the two Kings represent different aspects, they are two halves of a whole and represent one.

The change of seasons is represented by the White Lady. When she is in her summer form she is giving birth and renewing life, during the winter she is pregnant with potential and relies on hunting and gathering to thrive during the cold, dark months. Because of this, the feminine is often seen as more present during the summer rebirth, while the male is more present in the winter for hunting and gathering. The White Lady gives birth to the new sun which brings back the warmth and light to the people.

The Norse god, Odin, is said to have influenced the modern Santa Claus as well. He was known for being a “gift-giver” during Yule celebrations and rode the sky with an eight-legged stag. New Year’s resolutions also come from the Yule and Winter Solstice mythos. When you make a resolution you are giving yourself a rebirth and starting new once the sun returns.

Celebrating Yule

“Here we come a-wassailing, Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering, So fair to be seen.”

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott

Oxford Book of Carols #15

Establishing Yule traditions can be a bit complicated as it varies depending on tradition or practice. If you have not already established a yearly Yule tradition, we’ve compiled some for you to get you started! We’ll be adding more ideas, recipes, and crafts here throughout the month of December.

Yule Altar Yule Activities Yule Feast
  • Decorate your altar or create a circle with winter nuts, pinecones, ashwood, holly, ivy, or evergreen.
  • Light dark green or bright red candles.
  • Burn cinnamon, pine, or bayberry.
  • Statues of the White Lady, Oak King, and Holly King.
  • Drawings/Art of the Green Man or other elements from the myths.
  • Add Yule carols or rituals to your book of shadows.
  • Act out the battle of the Oak & Holly Kings with puppets or a play.
  • Decorate/Bless Yule log with cinnamon, holly, evergreen, ivy, and ribbons.
  • Burn the Yule log and sing carols.
  • Make a wreath of evergreens to hang on the door
  • Chicken, Turkey or Ham
  • Wassail
  • Wine
  • Winter Nuts & Fruits
  • Fruitcake
  • Plum Pudding

Recipes

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 pinch ground ginger
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

In a slow-cooker or a large pot over low heat, combine apple cider, orange juice and lemon juice. Season with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. If using a slow cooker, allow to simmer all day. Serve hot.

Recipe courtesy of AllRecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 12 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup candied mixed fruit peel, chopped

Well grease a pudding mold. In a large saucepan combine butter, sugar, milk, dates, raisins, currants, mixed fruit peel and zest of the orange; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Sift in the flour, cinnamon and salt; mix gently until blended. Pour into prepared pudding mold. Cover with a double layer of greased wax paper and steam for 2 hours.

Recipe courtesy of AllRecipes.com

Projects

  • Collect pinecones from around the yard and tie a string and hook through the top. Cover some areas with glue and sprinkle silver glitter to add a icy effect.
  • Fill empty glass ornaments with bay leaves, holly, tinsel, and ribbons. Add cinnamon or bay leaves to add to the overall scent of the evergreen tree.
  • Paint acorns gold or silver for cute little bell ornaments. Remove the tops from the base, paint both. Then make a hole in the acorn top to string the ornament before gluing cap back on the base.
  • String popcorn and berries on string for a cute and seasonal garland.
  • Use small pieces of wood and decorate them as a yule log with holly, leaves, and ribbons.
  • Add cinnamon, pine, and bay to a satchel to hang around the tree for a beautiful Yule scent.

Bibliography

  • Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. A Witches’ Bible: the Complete Witches’ Handbook. Phoenix, 1996.
  • Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: a History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • RavenWolf, Silver. “Part 1.” Solitary Witch: the Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation, Llewellyn Publications, 2009, pp. 78–79.