Winter Solstice, the return of the sun, was truly a cause for celebration among our ancestors. Yule begins on Mother Night. At the Yule the Goddess shows her Life-in-Death aspect. In this season she is the White Lady Queen of the cold darkness yet this is her moment of giving birth to the child of promise who brings back light and warmth to her kingdom.
- Yule herbs: Holly, Mistletoe, Rosemary, Oak, Pine Cones
- Yule colors: Red, White, and Green, Gold
- Yule offerings: Cream, beer, and bread, Cakes, Cider
- Yule is a time to honor Hades/Pluto, Odin,Frigg/Frigga, Skadhi, Thrym, Uller, Crone,Auriel/Uriel, Hag, Nyx/Nox.
Most Christmas traditions are rooted deep in ancient Yule rituals, many coming from the Vikings. During the Winter Solstice the Vikings honored their Asa Gods with religious rituals and feasting. A wild boar was sacrificed to Frey, the God of fertility and farming, to assure a good growing season in the coming year. They then feasted on the boar and this is the origin of today’s Christmas ham. During the twelve day festival a giant Sun wheel was set on fire and rolled down a hill to entice the sun to return. This could possibly be the source of the Christmas wreath.
Another ancient tradition is the Yule log, a large oak log decorated with sprigs of fir, holly or yew. This was carved with runes asking the Gods to protect them from misfortune. To make your own Yule log use a piece of apple, birch or oak. Begin by drilling holes for the three candles of the Triple Goddess; red to symbolize the bloodshed of birth, white for the innocence of new life and green symbolizing the growth process. Be sure to trim the bottom of the log to steady it. Decorate with greens, wild rose hips and winter berries. To insure good fortune and prosperity anoint with a sprinkle of apple cider and dust with corn meal before lighting the candles. Be sure to return the wood chips and sawdust to the sleeping earth. A piece of the log should be saved to protect the home during the coming year and to light next year’s fire.
The Yule tree was often adorned with symbols representing the sun, moon and stars. These, along with pieces of food, small statues of the Gods and carved runes were used to entice the tree spirits to come back in the spring. Gifts were also hung on the tree as offerings to the Gods.
Our pagan ancestors would dress someone to represent Old Man Winter, wrapped in a hooded fur coat with a long white beard. It is believed that he represented Odin and he traveled on Sleiphir, Odin’s great white horse. Old Man Winter was welcomed into homes and invited to join the festivities. When the Vikings conquered Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries, he was introduced there and became Father Christmas.
Ancient myths surround the mistletoe. It was believed to resurrect the dead. This was based on the legend about the resurrection of Balder, God of Light and Goodness, who was killed by a mistletoe arrow but resurrected when the tears of his mother Frigga turned the red mistletoe berries white. Mistletoe was considered magical and thought to have great healing powers.
The Yule Goat is one of the oldest Christmas symbols. Its origin is the legend of the protective, good natured Thunder God Thor who rode in the sky in a wagon pulled by two magical goats. They would visit the homes and bring happiness and protection at this very special time of the year. An old custom was for young people to dress up in goat skins and go from house to house to sing and perform simple plays. They were rewarded with food and drink.
What Yule celebration would be complete without a steaming cup Wassail to warm the chill of night while encircling the bonfires? ‘Waes Hale’, good health! This spicy holiday drink is more of an event than mere refreshment. An important ritual for the benefit of the apple harvest as well as the health of the local economy this tradition is still practiced in many areas. Gathering in the apple orchard on the ‘twelfth night’ townsfolk would drink large amounts of wassail with great mirth, merriment and dancing around the bonfires in order to honor the orchard and ensure good yields.
Here is one recipe for wassail:
Heat a large container of ale or beer, about 3 or 4 pints. Add:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup mixed spice (cinnamon sticks and whole cloves are also excellent)
2 or 3 small sweet apples, cut up
1 1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 1/4 cup orange juice
the juice of 2 lemons
Place over a slow flame; then, before it begins to boil, take off the heat and whip up some cream. Let this float on top of the brew like foam.
Put in a suitably large bowl (the more ornate the better)
Now go out to a tree or trees with a few friends (these don’t have to be apple trees, since all can benefit from a well-intentioned blessing, but it is traditional to wassail fruit-bearing trees). Wet the roots liberally with the brew. Pass the rest around and when everyone is thoroughly warmed up sing a wassailing song, for example:
Here’s to thee, old apple tree.
Whence thou may’st bud and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples now.
Hats full, caps full, bushel, bushel sacks full, and my pockets full too!
Lift your glasses to the tree and shout “Wassail!” as loud as you can.
apples – love, health, peace
pineapple – healing, money, protection & love lemons – love, happiness & purification
cinnamon – love, psychic awareness & money
sugar – love
A simple Wiccan ritual:
The celebration begins before dawn to culminate into the sun’s birth with a toast of apple juice or wine made to the holly king
Winter day of longest night
Step aside now for the light
Thank you for the things you’ve brought
That only darkness could have wrought
Then name the gifts of darkness such as regeneration, peace, dreams, organization, quietude, etc.
Use a white altar cloth and decorate with evergreens, poinsettias, rosemary, holly, mistletoe and ivy. To insure good luck and prosperity anoint a bayberry candle with oil and roll it in dried chamomile. Burn Yule incense (a mixture of chamomile, ginger, pine and sage). Meditate in the darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting the candle and singing chants and carols.
End the ritual at dawn with a toast of orange juice or mimosa to the sun!
O Newborn Sun of love and light
Rise quickly now, rise high and bright
Gain power in the sky above
I grant to you my support and love
This is an especially magical time when divination of the events of the coming year is also a prominent feature. Rune or Tarot readings can be especially significant at this time as can dreams or visions seen in meditation. Winter Solstice is also an excellent time for banishing rituals to eliminate disease, bad habits and addictions.
While we all enjoy exchanging gifts and feasting with our friends and family at this time of year perhaps we should extend this beautiful custom to include the other living creatures who share this earth with us. Put up bird feeders and keep them stocked with seed. You can make decorative wild bird treats by rolling pinecones in peanut butter and bird seed. This is also a wonderful time to donate funds, time or items to environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace.
One of the most traditional dishes at this time of the year is gingerbread. My kids and I absolutely love the rich taste of the ginger and molasses. So this past weekend we decided to make some gingerbread.
We had originally planned on making a gingerbread house, but we have had to many failures at that project. So we settled on making shapes instead. Following is the recipe that we used. Hope that you all enjoy as much as we have.
3 cups flour
1 1/1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
Sift the dry ingredients together in medium mixing bowl
Beat butter and sugar together in large bowl with electric mixer
Add molasses and egg and beat well
Gradually beat in flour mixture
Press dough into thick flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap
Refrigerate for four hours or overnight
Roll dough to 1/4 thickness on lightly floured surface
Cut into shapes
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 300 degrees
Cool on baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes
Remove wire racks and cool completely
Yule Ham with a bit of Rum
Ham is the most traditional dish for this holiday season. And while a ham is easy to cook, the glaze for it is sometimes tougher to make. Here is a recipe that I have used on several occasions to fantastic reviews.
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbsp mustard
2 to 3 Tbsp Dark Rum
In a medium size saucepan whisk together and heat to just before boiling these ingredients. Pour over a fully cooked ham and bake for ten to fifteen minutes more. Now don’t worry about the alcoholic content the cooking should cook out the alcohol. If you are still antsy then you can let the glaze simmer for about five minutes.
Yule Duck on the Grill
This brings me to the other animal that I choose to cook at this season. The duck. While tasty it is very greasy. You can boil it the same way as the ham to get rid of the grease, just be sure not to use the water from boiling the ham.
The last duck I cooked was on the BBQ grill. I arranged coals around a drip pan in the center of the grill. And after dipping the duck in boiling water, I dried it off and placed in on the grill on a low heat and let it slowly cook. I didn’t add anything else to the duck, but I enjoy the taste of the duck alone without any additions.
But you can make an orange glaze for the duck. Here is a recipe from recipecircus.com.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp brandy
Combine orange juice, marmalade, honey, sugar and brandy in small saucepan and simmer over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spoon glaze over ducks and return to oven for 10 to 15 minutes longer.
Watch to prevent scorching. Remove duck to platter and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.