December is a magical time of year, if a bit sparse of greenery and warmth, so it’s no wonder this feasting celebration takes place during this month. Yule focuses on celebrating nature and the sun. Chances are, if you’re familiar with the rather popular Christmas holiday then you’re already familiar with how to celebrate Yule and the traditions around it. However, you may notice some differences.
Ahead, we touch on the history of Yule, dive into Yule correspondences you’ll want to know, and cover how you can celebrate Yule.
What Is Yule?
Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice, is the longest night of the year and one of the lesser sabbats from the wheel of the year. It takes place on December 21 through to December 22, however, the twelve days of Yule stretch until January 1. Winter Solstice is celebrated as the time when the sun begins to return as the nights shorten and the days lengthen again.
Yule, one of the oldest winter celebrations that date back to 1475 at first mention, is recognized today by Pagans, Wiccans, and witches. It has Germanic pagan roots
History of Yule
Yule has a rich and intriguing history. Its evolution is certainly interesting to trace from the ancient Norse people who first celebrated it using the name jol.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt and Yule are often aligned historically, with sacrifices being left for the gods (generally Odin) to prevent people from being taken from their homes during the night. The Wild Hunt that pre-Christian Germanic pagans were shielding against was a group of dead traveling through the skies during Yule and taking along souls and stragglers.
This collection of the dead allowed the people to mentally move on from those that had passed. And as payment for taking their deceased’s souls, they would leave gifts.
Did we mention Odin’s stead during these hunts was an eight-legged horse who went by the name Sleipnir? (Not quite the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer we know and love, that’s for sure.)
Odin was often heavily associated with Yule in general with many dedicating feasts and other traditions to him.
The Roots of Christmas
Yuletide, to some, is synonymous with Christmas. In fact, you’ll recognize many Yule traditions seem to be copies of Christmas traditions. The opposite is true, however. As Christianity spread and evangelicals tried to convert pagans, they began incorporating the beloved Yule traditions into Christmastime celebrations. This aided in the acceptance of Christianity. Everything from Christmas trees to mistletoe was pulled from Yule to lure new followers into Christianity.
While Christmas, in many ways, was born from Yule, that doesn’t mean those who celebrate Christmas can’t also celebrate Yule. Yule is a time to reflect and give thanks to nature—it can be enjoyed and celebrated by anyone who wishes to recognize it.
You can delve pretty deep into the different associations of Yule but we’re going to touch on just the most poignant ones. These are ones you’ll likely already be slightly familiar with and a few you won’t.
Yule’s color correspondences are gold, green, red, silver, and white. You might incorporate these colors with decorations and candles.
Crystals associated with Yule include bloodstones, clear quartz, garnets, and rubies. You can include these crystals on your altar or throughout your home as decoration.
Gods and Goddesses
There are also gods and goddesses associated with Yule. People will leave offerings, include statues on their altars, say prayers, or celebrate in honor of these deities. Some of the ones associated with Yule are Aphrodite, Demeter, Odin, Cronus, Helios, Saturn, Sol, and Apollo.
Herbs and Plants
Evergreens, cinnamon, juniper, mistletoe, rosemary, and pinecones are all herbs and plants associated with Yule. You’ll see many of these herb correspondences interwoven throughout typical winter holiday decor.
The incense that correspondents with Yule are clove, frankincense, juniper, pine, cedar, and cinnamon. You should burn these throughout the twelve days of celebration that stretch from December 21 to January 1. (Just remember to never leave lit incense unattended!)
The food you’ll find traditionally included in a Yule feast includes spiced and roasted meats, dried fruits, roasted apples, and gingerbread. Warm drinks are also a central part of the consumable Yule correspondences with wassail, mulled wine, and apple cider all being quite common as traditional drinks.
Bear, deer, reindeer, squirrels, and ravens are all animals associated with Yule. Deer and reindeer hold the association due to their antlers growing, shedding, and growing back. They are also associated with the Wild Hunt and thus Yule by proxy. Ravens correspond with Yule because of their status as messengers for the gods. Squirrels stock up for the winter but are still balanced in their work ethic to have time to be playful. Finally, bears have ties to Celtic mythology and were called upon for protection and guidance.
You can use the corresponding animals with small statues for your Yule altar, as ornaments on your Yule tree, or as other forms of decor throughout your home.
Cinnamon is a common oil used during Yule given that cinnamon sticks are often associated with Yuletide. Pine and wintergreen oils also correspond with Yule. The last oil you’ll want to know about and potentially incorporate into your festivities is orange oil. Oranges represent the sun in many Yule decorations and as the sun is such an important part of this celebration it only makes sense that orange would be included in the oil lineup.
16 Ways to Celebrate Yule
There are simply so many ways you can choose to celebrate with Yule individually or with your family and friends. We’ve included some of the more common ways but this is by no means a comprehensive list.
1. Set Up a Yule Altar
Setting up a Yule altar is something you can do on the day of Yule to celebrate. You’ll definitely want to check in advance that you have all the tools you’ll need to set up the altar as you see fit, that way you aren’t scrambling the day of. A Yule altar can be a beautiful piece in your home to celebrate this sabbat or it can be a simple, inconspicuous altar just for you to enjoy.
2. Craft an Evergreen Wreath
Crafting an evergreen wreath is a rewarding and involved Yule activity. You can go the extreme route and start with the branches you bind with twine yourself or buy a live evergreen wreath to decorate. Decorations for your evergreen wreath might include holly berries, orange slices, pinecones, or star anise.
Creating a new evergreen wreath year after year can be pricey if you don’t have a natural way to source the material for free. And, unlike Yule trees, you can’t keep a Yule wreath alive for years at a time. If completing a new evergreen wreath every year isn’t within your budget, you could use a fake wreath to use year after year.
An evergreen wreath is just one of the many Yule decorations you can build and display in your home.
3. Decorate Then Light a Yule Log
You’ll need to start by acquiring an oak log, although any log can do in a pinch. Decorate your yule log however you’d like. Many use ribbons, holly leaves, and berries, among other typical Yule decor to create their Yule log. This can be displayed as a centerpiece or placed in your hearth leading up to Yule. You can also start a bonfire outside with your Yule log which is what we do as we don’t have a fireplace.
What follows will depend on how you want to say goodbye to the current year and welcome in the coming one. You may want to toss in a holly sprig or gratitude written on paper to send off the current year. Then follow it with a hope for the new year written on a scrap of paper or an oak twig tossed into the flames as you welcome in the coming year. Others may write their wishes and home on paper and roll the scraps before tucking them into the log prior to burning.
No matter how you go about burning your Yule log, what is traditional across the board is saving a remnant from the fire to use as a start for burning the next year’s Yule log.
4. Light Candles
Yule sets into motion the return of the sun and to celebrate this rebirth those who celebrate Yule will burn candles through the night. Go with a yellow, gold, or white candle to represent the sun. Something I like to do, that’s definitely optional, is to select one or two additional candles whose color corresponds with your intentions for the new year. Alternatively, you can have each of your household members select a candle color to burn and form a circle of candles.
5. Host a Yule Feast
Want an excuse to dive into delicious dishes? Yule feasts have been historically held to celebrate the return of the light. These feasts would traditionally include spiced meats, fruits, ciders, and ales. This is the perfect time to bring the family together for a hearty meal with plenty of delicious dessert options and lots of warm drinks.
6. Decorate a Yule Tree
Decorating a Yule tree is another popular way to celebrate Yule and one you are undoubtedly familiar with if you have celebrated Christmas before. Your Yule tree can be an evergreen you’ve selected for a single season to be in your home or one that is in a container to be moved outside after winter passes. You can also decorate an evergreen in your yard and use it year after year. (This is our ideal situation but, alas, all we have are citrus trees.)
Decorating your Yule tree with orange slices, straw goats, holly, and other items that represent yule. You can always add balls that are gold, red, and other colors that symbolize Yule.
After Yule, the tree can be burned or planted outside. Just try to save a sprig from the Yule tree to be burned with the Yule log the next year.
7. Reflect on Your Year
Yule is a time to reflect as we prepare for the new year and begin to shed long and difficult nights. Turning to the new year and the return of the sun, we can think back on our year with gratitude. This is a great time to meditate on your year and what you envision for the upcoming year.
Take time to journal and write out your goals and wishes for the new year. You can even write down your wishes for the upcoming year on slips of paper and slip them into your Yule log before you burn it.
8. Make a Wassail or Apple Cider
Wassail is a traditional Yule drink, as is apple cider. Learning to make wassail can be a fun Yule activity. This warm alcoholic beverage will keep you toasty on the longest night of the year. Apple cider is another non-alcoholic drink that can be enjoyed warmly on this cold night.
9. Give Thoughtful Gifts Rooted in Nature
Yule is an excellent time to give a thoughtful gift that is natural or handmade. Unlike its commercialized sister, Yule gifts should be rooted in nature and should be eco-friendly. Good Yule gifts include handmade soaps, teas, and ornaments.
10. Make Your Own Nisse or Tomte
Nisses or tomtes are gnome-like creatures with white beards and red caps. In many ways, they resemble elves. The mythos behind these tiny jolly creatures was that they lived in homes and would provide help and protection if treated well. However, if they weren’t treated well they would cause problems and act out.
With a bit of hot glue and some felt, faux fur, and rice you can create a cute little tomte for your shelf.
Tomte has some crossover with the Yule goat and their mythos. There’s plenty of intriguing history behind the mythology of nisse or tomte and straw or Yule goats. We cover more of this in our guide to the yule goat.
11. Make Treats for Your Pets and Wildlife
Thanking the nature around you by creating healthy and wildlife-safe treats for your local wild animals is a lovely way to spread Yuletide cheer. You can also make treats for your own pets as part of Yule because why not show appreciation for the furry creatures in your home who bring you joy?
The most important part of this is to do a hefty amount of research and ensure you aren’t using ingredients that could be harmful to the pets or wildlife you’re creating treats for.
12. Bake a Yule Log Cake
For those who like to bake (or those who don’t mind putting in the work to satisfy their sweet tooth) baking a Yule log cake can be a fun, traditional way to celebrate Yule. A Yule log cake, or Bûche de Noël as it is sometimes called, is based on the actual Yule log (Just without the burning, we hope!). These cakes are made with chocolate sponge cake and rolled with mascarpone whipped cream then covered with chocolate ganache. You can decorate it with sprigs of rosemary and berries for an extra festive look.
13. Write Out Your Intentions for the New Year
Just as Yule is an excellent time to reflect on the year that is past, it’s a good time to look to the future thoughtfully and consider what you would like to accomplish. Set your intentions for the new year and add them to a journal.
14. Share a Kiss Under the Mistletoe
For tradition’s sake and another reason to kiss the one you love, hang mistletoe and have a smooch beneath it. Mistletoe is linked to fertility and protection.
15. Perform a Cleansing Ritual
Out with the old and in with the new, Yule is certainly a time to kiss goodbye to the current year and turn to the one that’s upcoming. An excellent way to do this is with a cleansing ritual. This can be smudging your home, burning incense, or any other manner of cleansing you prefer to do.
16. Go for a Nature Walk
Yule is a time to thank and appreciate nature and our beautiful world. Take time on Yule or the days that follow to go for a walk outside. You could venture out to a nature trail in your area if the weather is right and enjoy all that Mother Nature has provided us with.
FAQs for Celebrating Yule
If you’re new to celebrating Yule you’ll likely find yourself asking plenty of questions about the specifics of this sabbat. We’re here to answer some of the most common questions surrounding this winter celebration.
Do you say, ‘Happy Yule?’
You can absolutely say ‘Happy Yule’. ‘Happy Solstice’ or ‘Blessed Yule’ are other ways you can verbally wish someone warm wishes on this holiday.
Can Christians celebrate Yule?
Yes, Christians can celebrate Yule. Anyone can celebrate Yule even though pagans, Wiccans, and witches are the individuals most likely to celebrate this holiday. Plus, there are Christian witches which naturally lends to some Christians celebrating Yule.
What religion is Yule?
Yule is connected to Paganism and is most commonly celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans, and witches. Today, most Pagans will celebrate Yule on the day of the winter solstice but historically the holiday was also celebrated as a two-month affair, 12 day stretch of celebrating, or as a three-day feast.