Yule – A Season of Darkness and Bright Offerings
Thoughts of writing this YULE article has given me fits for weeks. It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Yule or the overlapping mundane Christmas season. Most especially in this time of COVID with all its health restrictions!
Traditionally, Yule and Christmas are a period loaded with family and extended family traditions. During this holiday season, it’s important to remember that not all people are surrounded by large wonderful families. The same can be said that not all witches are surrounded by loving covens in circles.
In my household, it is just my wife and myself. We celebrate Yule with a brief observance and perhaps a toast to the Holly King with a glass of fine spirit. On traditional Christmas Day, we frequently host a Christmas dinner for our extended family of witchcraft practitioners.
But alas, 2020 presents the problem of COVID protocols. Yes, yes, I know we can have a meal in a restaurant without our masks. We have all heard stories of people who have had another trustworthy family or long-time family friends for a holiday dinner. Then “surprise,” one of those people visiting was asymptomatic for COVID and infected the entire dinner party.
Think about it for a moment. There will be a great deal of temptation to go shopping, especially for the craft friends who still celebrate Christmas with their mundane friends.
Let’s be honest, being out in public in stores and malls, even with masks, is a possibility. There are always a few people out there in the crowd who are inconsiderate of the safety of others, folks who will not wear a mask.
The chance of friends coming to our home, after being contaminated somewhere else, is too much of a risk for this old witch. This year, in this time of COVID, my wife and I have decided not to invite anyone to our Yule or Christmas dinner table.
Back in the day, when I had a large house, my spouse of that era and I would put up our Yule tree on Yule Eve. The tree would have traditional bright colored ornaments and little white lights. Our altar would be decorated with holly and mistletoe. My regular altar candles would be replaced with unique Yule pillar candles, only used for the Yuletide season.
No figurines were depicting Santa Claus, reindeer, or elves were present. Many of our ornaments were handmade by us to reflect Wiccan values for the season. In those days, we frequently did have our coven over for either a full-blown dinner, if on the weekend, or if Yule was during the week on a work and school night, a simple celebration with light finger food, hors d’oeuvres, and holiday beverages.
As I stated previously, we will hold a private observance on Yule Eve this year between the two of us. Some priestess friends have talked about having group observances via Zoom, Skype, Facebook Chat, or Google Hangouts. These are all intriguing modern ways of gathering, considering the circumstances in which we currently live.
So, if you are alone for the holidays? Perhaps the only advice I can give you is to start a tradition of your own. It might be as simple as creating a memorable holiday beverage or maybe a special holiday meal you only make during the Yuletide season.
By the way, holiday beverages don’t have to be alcoholic. It can be as simple as a mug of hot chocolate of a particular kind you use only at Yule time.
When I was younger and estranged from blood family for being a “witch,” I created a tradition for myself. It began as merely whittling some wood into a Yule season figurine, and making these figurines typically did not all happen in one Yule night. Most of these sacred craft-art efforts took a little bit of time each evening from Yule through New Year’s. I did this for many years; it was tradition.
A friend of mine who wrote poetry used the occasion of Yule season to write very personal poems about the season, snow falling outside, thoughts of a visit from the Holly King.
Another friend, a musician and a bit of a composer, used the week of Yule to compose a musical piece only shared during the Yule season.
Other witches I have known make seasonal pillar candles. Think of it as the arts and crafts thing of fashioning these seasonal candles as a remembrance for persons who may have passed since the last Yule. One crone pal, every Yule would line up her collection of these pillar candles on the mantle of her fireplace. She only lit them on Yule Eve and for the week of Yule. These fine homemade beeswax candles lasted for years. This particular crone had some 20 of them—one per year spanning several decades.
Of course, some people have a solitary practice or for just a small group, like their own circle and coven, to use the Yule season for holiday cooking. There are plenty of Wicca cookbooks out there. Sometimes you’ll find them online. Sometimes you’ll find them in a bookstore, and sometimes you’ll find them in a used bookstore.
Over the years, friends have served Wiccan dishes such as Bourbon – Rosemary almonds, caraway breadsticks, cheese and pepperoni rolls, stuffed turkey burgers, and hot ginger tea. Something that I have had only once was eclectic eggplant; it was delicious.
Yule is the winter solstice! On this night, darkness triumphs but gives way to the light. But let us remember that Yule is the longest night of the year. Since Samhain, we have had to embrace the growing darkness and the ever-pervasive, deepening cold. Yule marks the beginning of the dead of winter. Yet, it is also the seasonal symbol that the days will get longer, a few minutes every day.
While Samhain is a reminder that “winter is coming” and we will face the cold dark winter, Yule is the signal to remember that the Sun King is coming back from the South. Looking ahead to Candlemas eve, we will begin preparing the hot boxes that we will use to start growing herbs and vegetables.
Yule is the reminder that a new growing season is fast approaching us. A growing season when we all can again sing and dance in the brightness of longer days.
So, what about Christmas? It is funny these days many mundane people grouse at us Wiccans and Pagans for supposedly appropriating Christmas for our rites. When, in fact, it is the other way around; it is they who have appropriated our ancient holiday traditions.
It is they who have allowed the commercial establishment to make such a sacred holiday into an enormous promotional and money-making event. Usually, with only lip service to the season’s deep spiritual meanings.
All of that aside. As a child, I was raised in the Catholic tradition, like many of you reading this article. Although I have been a witch for slightly over 40 years, from time to time, I have been known to attend a Midnight Mass at some Catholic Church somewhere.
I usually sit in the back and quietly observe the High Christmas Mass. But I am not shy about joining the singing with the seasonal hymns that I knew in my youth with whatever congregation I am visiting. Remember, we are the sum and difference of who we’ve been over life’s journey.
I’ve had more than one witch scorned me for attending a Catholic Mass on Christmas Eve. But I’m not alone. I’ve attended lots of Christmas Midnight Masses with many high priests or high priestesses. For our view is that prayers and offerings and celebrations of joy are just that.
During my Buddhist Monastery years, I was frequently a duty driver for various Tibetan high lamas visiting our area. During several Yule and Christmas seasons, one particular lama used to have me drive him around through the neighborhoods so he could enjoy all of the seasonal decorations and lit up houses. I asked him why he wanted to do this, pointing out that this was a Christian holiday. He smiled and told me that all of these lights and bright decorations were “abundant offerings of positive joy and celebration, irrespective of what tradition it was.”
These days my wife and I spend many nights during the holiday season, driving through neighborhoods and enjoying the offerings of creativity and bright lights that neighbors all over town have put love and labor into.
One last thought, it has been a rough year everywhere. Consider gifting yourself first. You deserve it. If you are starting a tradition, you might consider starting with yourself. Treating yourself to something special this holiday season might just be the thing to end the year on a high note!
Bright Blessings for this Yuletide season, from my magickal household to yours.