The Winter Solstice for Pagans
December 25th is traditionally known as Christmas. It is a period of time for gift-giving and for many, it’s also recognition of the birth of Christ Jesus. For believers of the old ways (Shamans, Witches, Wiccans, Pagans, etc) this day is celebrated sometime between the 20th and 22nd of December, usually on the night of the Solstice. For many, they celebrate for all three days.
Yule is the old name for the Winter Solstice. This is the shortest day of the year and thus it’s also the longest night. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is usually the coldest and darkest time of the year.
What is Yule?
Yule is considered the turning point of the Wheel of the Year. Yule is also called the Winter Solstice.
Yule is the time of the year when the sun appears to be dying. It is also when the fear that winter may last forever crops up. To counter this, the followers of the old way prepare for the rebirth of the sun.
The tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into the home and decorating it with lights and ornaments is common. It serves as a reminder that despite it being winter, life still continues. Along with this, candles are sometimes light.
Every culture has its own traditions. In the old way, the tradition is to stay awake until dawn. In celebration, songs and rituals are performed through the night. They honor the goddess and thank her for giving birth to the sun.
The God and Goddess of Yule
The Dark Mother and the young god are the deities most often invoked during Yule.
It’s important to understand that in pagan traditions, the Dark Mother is not seen as evil. The Dark Mother is known as the goddess who gives birth to light. She is also called Mother Night or Mother Winter. She is a gift giver and a teacher of life lessons. She has an abundance of love for children and gives gifts to them even if they don’t deserve them. She can determine our destiny and help us to create reality.
The young god is also important. Before the old god is born again as the young god, he has an important role to play. He delivers the gifts of Dark Mother. An example of this god seen in symbolism would be Santa Claus.
By the end of the night, the old god goes to the Dark Mother’s arms so that he may sleep. As he sleeps, he is reborn through her as the sun. He brings new hopes and dreams for the year ahead. He teaches us the importance of rest and having faith in the changes to come.
Altars and Traditions of Yule
There are many Yule traditions other than the ones already mentioned. Exploring them all would take a long time. Here we look at the most common ones.
Altars at this time often represent aspects of the dark mother or young god. An example would be to have a mother goddess image giving birth to a son god with many other people and animals looking on. If this sounds like the manager scene of Christians, it very well could be!
The night before the Winter Solstice celebrations start it’s usually considered important to clean the house. This includes physically cleaning the home from top to bottom as well as symbolically cleansing the soul. It’s important to reflect upon the last year and to eliminate from the conscious and subconscious dark deeds of the past and any “dust” that remains from the past.
Gingerbread houses are a popular tradition. The idea is to build a house that represents the home of Mother Winter. As the house is being built one can think of the many gifts the Mother has given to them throughout the year.
Elves and fairies are also popular. The notion of the secret Santa can also be a secret elf or a secret fairy. The idea is the same. For ten days prior to the Solstice, people randomly choose a name and are responsible for secretly giving a small gift to their name each day. On the day of the Solstice, a bigger gift is given.
Wreaths, especially those made of holly, are very symbolic as they serve as an invitation of hospitality to Mother Winter. Most are hung on the front door, though they may be hung anywhere in the home.
The Story of Visiting Mother Winter
One of the cautionary stories told around this time is about siblings that visit the goddess. In the version of the story told by Starhawk, two sisters visit Mother Winter.
The first of the sisters is a kind, loving, and hard-working young lady. Mother Winter is impressed with her character and decides to reward her. She is turned beautiful. She is also gifted with silver, gold, and precious gems.
The other sister is a lazy and mean person. She’s a spoiled brat. Mother Winter is not happy with her and decides to punish her. The goddess casts a spell to make her appear ugly. That way, others can see how ugly she is both inside and out and laugh at her.
The lesson of the story is simple. Hard work, kindness, and good deeds always pay off. This story is a reminder to children that there are consequences for all behaviors, both good and bad. This is similar to the idea of karma and a great way to teach the concept.