How to celebrate Yule by by Renee Rendall
• Dec 15th 2023 • by GLASGLOW GIRLS CLUB • 0 Comments
Of all the witchy holidays, Yule is the one most celebrated by our culture. With many of its traditions seamlessly woven into Christmas, the signs of this sabbat are all around us. With an evergreen tree in every town square and twinkling lights framing every home and shop window, the winter solstice celebrations of our ancient ancestors have followed us into the modern world without us even realizing it.
I’m Renee, and I’m the creator of Awesome on 20 Kitchen Magick and the co-host of The Coven of Awesomeness Podcast. I also offer tarot readings, spiritual coaching, and witchcraft workshops through Sagittarian Tarot & Coaching. I’ve been studying witchcraft since 2019, and I’m thrilled to share a little bit more magic with all of you.
The wheel of the year carries us on a never ending journey of darkness and light where change is the only constant. Every six or so weeks, the wheel spins, marking the seasons and the changes in the natural world. It’s a moment for us to pause and honor Mother Earth. The wheel of the year keeps us connected to the cycles of life, death, and rebirth that are part of our existence. It invites us to experience awe and reverence for the web of life we are intricately woven into and supported by.
Yule is so deeply embedded in modern culture, thanks in no small part to well-crafted advertising, that it consumes much of our attention for weeks or even months. Of course, we know it today as Christmas, and whether you’re Christian or not, if you live in the UK, it’s part of your life in some way. But the term Yule has stayed with us through songs and traditions passed through the generations. So many of those traditions stretch back in time before Christianity and we just take them for granted.
What is Yule
Yule is the celebration of the winter solstice, and in 2023, it falls on December 22nd. It generally falls somewhere between the 20th and the 23rd. Of course, you’re welcome to celebrate it any time you like. I’ll be celebrating with a Yule Reflection Ritual on December 16th at The Loft in Cambuslang if you’d like to join.
Winter Solstice is the day when the night is longest, which means everyday after that will be a little bit lighter, and before we know it, the sun will return at last. In Glasgow, we’ll have 6 hours and 58 minutes of daylight for Yule.This is precisely why one of the biggest symbols in Yule celebration is fire and light.
We are deprived of the life-giving light of the sun, but we have the power to create our own light. It used to be bonfires, then candles. Today we cover our homes and businesses in as many lights as we can find and create elaborate, artistic (or tacky) displays. Humans will not be deterred by the lack of sun.
The evergreen tree is also a symbol of life as it remains green and vibrant when so many other trees and plants have died away. Placing evergreen boughs on your door or bringing a tree into your home invites abundance and fertility back into your life. Thank goodness we decorate our trees with electric lights today and not candles.
The Yule Log is another tradition of creating light that has stayed with us. The log carried our wishes away to the gods as it burned. Friends and family would then take ashes from the burnt log as a talisman for good fortune in the future.
Holly plays a big role in Yule traditions as well. The vibrant green leaves and red berries give us our traditional colors of red and green. The story of the holly king and the oak king is a major part of Yule celebrations in many modern pagan traditions.
What are the origins of Yule?
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in cultures around the world for centuries. The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia in honor of Father Time. It was a joyful celebration to protect the winter crops. Gift giving, especially to children, was a major part of this festival. Saturn was an old-man with a white beard. Sound like anyone we know?
Most of the ancient traditions we still see today come from Nordic, Dutch, and Germanic origins. Odin, who also resembles Santa Claus a bit. He also has ties to the Saami people and their reindeer. Nordic cultures also had a strong devotion to trees. An evergreen was a symbol of eternal life. The Yule boar comes from rites honoring Freyr. A whole roast pig was common at the feast. Later, this also shows up in pig shaped cakes or sweets.
Historically, Yule celebrations were wild and raucous. I very much appreciate how the Scottish seem to have held onto this joyful feeling much better than in my home country of America. There, Puritanical traditions removed much of the fun from this season. I can assure you that wild parties, feast, drinking, and generally having a great time is much more in line with the way the winter solstice was celebrated thousands of years ago.
How to Celebrate Yule
Chances are, you’ve probably already got a lot of traditions around this time of year. It might be fun to do a little bit of research on some of those long standing traditions, like the Christmas tree, to learn about their ancestral roots. Then you can bring a new intention to them that allows you to connect more deeply with the cycles of nature. This is what the wheel of the year is about, after all.
If you want to add in some new celebrations specific to Yule, consider giving some attention to the sun. This day marks the return of the light, so you might want to make note of the time of the sunrise and sunset. In Glasgow, the sun will rise at 8:46 am and set at 3:44 pm. Give yourself some time to watch the sun come up and go down. Use this time to meditate on what you want to bring into your life in the coming year as the light grows stronger. If you can do this outside in nature, great. If you can do this from your window, also great. Whatever feels right to you.
I love to go for a walk to observe nature at each of the sabbats. It can also be fun to forage for some natural elements that call to you. Holly leaves, pine cones, evergreen branches, or even a cool stick might catch your eye. Bring a few things home with you to weave into a wreath and hang at your door or arrange at a Yule altar. Bringing natural elements into your home helps you connect to natural energy. Please forage responsibly and only take what you need, leaving plenty behind for the plants and animals who live there.
While our ancient ancestors may not have had oranges and citrus fruits at this time of year, our more recent ancestors definitely would have been taking advantage of these healthy and vibrant fruits. Beyond simply enjoying them as food, you can also craft with oranges. Make a pomander by piercing your orange with whole cloves or dry some orange slices to create a pretty, decorative garden. Oranges carry cleansing energy and also create happiness. It’s perfect for this season.
Create a Yule feast
I know Christmas dinner is already quite an extravaganza, so maybe the idea of planning a Yule feast just a few days before seems a bit daunting. Do what feels right to you. Maybe you want to change things up and add some Yule inspired dishes to your Christmas menu, or maybe you just want a low-key affair with a few witchy friends to celebrate the solstice. Either way, I’ve got plenty of recipe suggestions for you.
Warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger are very common at this time of year. Anything to ward off the bone-chilling cold. You can work them into mulled cider, bake them into muffins, or use them to flavor your main dish. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- Ginger-Glazed Gammon Steaks
Pork is also a great idea for the Yule table. Our Norse ancestors would celebrate winter with a Yule boar. You don’t need to go out on a hunt, but you can work in pork, even in the form of bacon, sausage or ham, into your menu as a nod to that ancient tradition.
- Pork & Apple Hot Pot
- Sausage Rolls with Ham & Cheddar
- Chicken & Ham Pie
Orange and mint are both classic Yule flavors (not together of couse). They’re also both awesome when paired with chocolate. Orange brings happiness, and mint calls in abundance and resilience. I’m always inviting in those energies, but especially on the darkest day of the year.
- Mint Chocolate Mousse
- Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
- Grasshopper Pie
And these recipes are just the beginning. If you want more ideas for your Yule feast, be sure to check out my Recipes to Celebrate Yule post for 100 awesome recipe ideas.
I hope you’re feeling inspired to celebrate Yule this year. Light every candle and turn on all the twinkly lights. Hope and life will return, and you are part of that magick cycle. If you have any questions about this sabbat, the wheel of the year, or any other witchcraft topics, leave a comment or get in touch.
I’d love to see your Yule celebration photos. Tag me on Instagram and let me know how it goes. Happy Yule and Winter Solstice, Glasglow Girls!
The Yule Reflection Ritual is on Saturday at 1:30 at the loft in Cambuslang. Tickets are available here: