Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice, is one of the eight major festivals which most Pagans commemorate. Yule usually falls on or around 21 December. As the shortest day and longest night of the year, the festival offers an occasion for reflection, of storytelling, of celebrating friendship, and welcoming the rebirth of the God Cernunnos (or Kernunno) as represented by the return of the light. Because the annual cycle of festivals, known as the Wheel of the Year, begins on 1 November, the first festival of the year is the Winter Solstice, or Yule.
Most Pagan holidays are measured from sunset to sunset, and most of the rituals and magic (or “magick”) are conducted at night. Each of these is an opportunity to worship gods and goddesses, welcome the changes of nature, draw on spiritual powers, and practice healing magic. Many Pagans gather during Sabbats to participate in these rituals communally.
Paganism is a non-dogmatic and individual-oriented religious movement, so there are no universal requirements or expectations for specific rituals or ceremonies. Pagans are free to create their own traditions. That being said, there are many common elements in their festivals—shared themes, symbols, and practices.
Yule is one of the four “solar-based” festivals; the others are the Spring Equinox (Ostara), the Summer Solstice (Midsummer), and the Fall Equinox (Mabon). Among other things, these festivals recognize the shift in time and light. The two equinoxes are points of stability, of equality between darkness and light; the two solstices are times of transition, of shifts from light to growing darkness or darkness to growing light. These major festivals, along with the four “earth-centered” festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain) are opportunities for Pagans to recognize the essential unity between the spiritual and the physical, between the earth with its seasonal transitions and the supernatural.
Because of the overlap between many Yule traditions and the Christmas holiday, some of the Pagan rituals for Yule might be familiar to many non-Pagans. Burning a Yule log, hanging mistletoe, decorating with red and green, lighting candles, and trimming a tree, are all central parts of Pagan traditions. Certain foods are also traditional at this time of year: wassail, Yule log cakes, gingerbread, and spiced cookies. It is a time for gathering together, sharing family time, and celebrating the return of the sun’s light.
Other traditions might include fortunetelling or tarot reading for the year to come, ritual magic for ridding one’s life of any unwanted influences that may have accumulated over the past year, and storytelling about the different gods and goddesses associated with the holiday. These deities may include the Horned God, said to be reborn at this time of the year; the Mother Goddess; Oak King and the Holly King; Thor, the Norse god; Gaia, the divine Earth, and many others. Pagan spirituality encourages participants to honor those deities they find themselves most drawn to, to incorporate the traditions that best fit their sense of the divine, and to practice rituals with creativity and generosity.
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