Yule is probably my favorite sabbat. Unlike Beltane and Samhain there are never a whole lot of expectations for it, and it can be celebrated in a number of ways. As a ritual writer it offers a whole lot of different tropes that can be exploited. Some of my favorites include: Wassailing, The Lord of Misrule, The Oak King/Holly King, and Secret Befana (Like Secret Santa, but with a Christmas Witch). I’m not particularly invested in two of the other most common tropes: The Return of the Light, and the Solstice Vigil, but both of these are popular with a lot of my friends and I see the appeal. (I’ve always thought that Imbolc was a much better choice for the “return of the light” sabbat, but that’s just me.)
Christmas Witches, alcoholic apple drinks, and Oak Kings don’t share a whole lot of similarities on the outside, but a closer look reveals something else. Nearly all of our most cherished Yuletide traditions share one thing: the idea of hope. Misrule and wassailing were about the hope that one day an inequitable economic system might someday be overturned. Santa Claus and Befana are about hoped for presents, and vigils and Oak Kings all harken back to the return of the light, and the hopeful promise of longer and warmer days up ahead. Even the Christian version of Christmas puts hope as its centerpiece with Jesus offering hope for a better tomorrow (or at least afterlife).
That hope is the major focus of a Midwinter holiday is not surprising. The days are short and often cold, and death* encircles the natural world this time of year. I’m not convinced that all of ancient pagandom looked to the Winter Solstice and saw in it the rebirth of the light, but I am sure that the early Winter holidays were something that people looked forward to because it provided them with a bit of inner light. In addition to the Yule tropes dealing with hope, the secular New Year also offers the same gift. We always like to think that this next year is going to be better than the last and that maybe, somehow, things will improve in the New Year.
Hope is not always about wishing for a major change in the status quo. It’s often just about clinging to the small pleasures in life. I’m hopeful that my wife and I will continue building our awesome life together, and that our covens will continue to be strong and full of magick. There are days when finding (or remembering) those small silver linings are challenging, but I hold onto the warmth those things provide because they make my life worth living.
This Friday night when my coven meets to celebrate my favorite sabbat I’ll be thinking of hope and how it sustains me. I’ll gaze into the Yuletide lights and think of sunshine, empathy for others, and that even in the darkest night, there is always a glimmer of light. That light is the hope that fuels us all.
*As a Californian though, I’ll fess up to having oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, and kumquats all growing on the trees in my backyard. But if it makes you feel better, the cherry tree is most certainly bare.