Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy Winter Solstice!

First off I'm going to just put it out there and say that I realize that this post is very tardy. Sadly between fighting off a cold and getting swept up in both the Yule festivities as well as Christmas events left me with little time to type this up. Excuses aside, just like in all the other Sabbat-based posts, we're going to cover some important information in regards to Yule which fell on December 21st this year.

Of course, don't forget to check out my other blog posts regarding Pagan Holidays here.

Now onto the fun stuff!

Celebrations of the Winter Solstice

The Earth has gone dormant by this point. Winter has finally come and the days are noticeably shorter while night reigns supreme. Yet, the Winter Solstice was a beacon of light in these bleak times. Despite being the longest night of the year, as it's counterpart Litha is the longest solar day of the year, it stood as a promise that when the sun rose the next day, so too the length of our days would increase bringing spring along with it.
Northern Germanic and Scandinavian people would hold celebrations, giving offerings (and sacrifices) to the Gods to appeal for fertile lands come spring. Afterwards, large feasts were held in honor of the Gods and to the good luck come next year. These celebrations were known as Jul or Jol but we know it better as Yule. 


Yule wasn't the only pagan celebration around this time of the year,  Saturnalia is an ancient Roman holiday of fertility and like Yule, sacrifices to appeal to a good field come the new spring. Hogmanay, a Scottish celebration, is a celebration of the last day of the year where neighbors and friends exchange gifts and attempt to be the first to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbors house in order to invoke good luck. At the beginning of December, you also have Krampusnacht, in which Santa's counterpart, Krampus, roams the streets searching for bad children to eat up. This was switched for Santa presenting coal to bad children in other places instead but there are many who still celebrate Krampusnacht today.

Modern-Day Traditions and Their Origins

Yule has many traditions that we inadvertently celebrate when we celebrate Christmas. When the conversion to Christianity began, many kings and leaders had troubles having their followers convert as well when it came to their pagan celebrations. So to remedy that, important Christian holidays suddenly fell on days in which were originally pagan holidays to help ease them into Christianity.  Of course, our ancestors still held onto traditions, even if the conversion did ultimately happen and they were carried on until modern times. A good example would be that one of Yule's many traditions is a celebration for twelve days up to the Winter Solstice, which as a result the twelve days of Christmas evolved from that. Of course, the meaning behind the idea has changed since, but you get the picture.

Another tradition that we may or may not know about is the burning of the Yule log. The purpose of the burning was to represent warmer times were coming and the ashes could be used to spread on door thresholds and window sills to invite good luck into the house. Today some decorate their log and just use it as a decorative piece for the season or some will bake an edible yule log to represent it, but either way, the tradition is carried on to some degree.

And of course, who could forget the Christmas tree? Little about a Christmas tree actually resonates as 'Christian' being that nearly every aspect of it is Pagan in origin. In fact, the tree wasn't really a thing until about the 17th century but the idea was inspired by those who would bring in branches of greenery to decorate their homes in mid-winter, this practice is also where we get wreaths from. The Romans would do this as well as decorate evergreens with the sigils of the God Baccus because, for them, this was a time of feasting, partying and general adult fun.

Santa Clause is another interesting tradition that we carry. Of course, the origin of the man in the red suit is pretty broad. There was St. Nicolas who made small toys for children while he was alive, even saving a family from the poor house by providing dowries for the daughters of a merchant who couldn't pay it. There's also Odin, who would ride through the sky and lead a great hunt during winter ( The Wild Hunt) on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir. Children were encouraged to leave carrots and straw in their boots for Odin's horse and in turn when they woke, there would be toys and gifts for them. These are more of the more well-known origins of Santa Clause.

Ways to Celebrate the Season!
So now that we've got the origins of some of these traditions down, let's look at some ways to celebrate that's both easy and fun to do by yourself or with your family.

1. Watching the Sunrise.

With the Winter Solstice being the longest night of the year, a practice shared by antiquity and by modern society is to watch the sunrise, breathing through the darkness and heralding a new spring on the way. Traditionally, there would be a celebration that would last all night and then everyone would watch the sunrise, however, I know with little ones that can be difficult to do, so instead many people just opt for waking up right before sunrise to see it come up.

2. Decorating your Altar.

What's a Sabbat without decorating your altar up a bit? In this time, evergreen boughs, mistletoe, and apples are a great choice for decorations. It also would be a good idea to use candles in this instance, granted when do I ever suggest you don't? However! One candle should be a representation of the Sun, and lighting it just before daybreak would be a great symbolism.

3. Toss wishes in the fire.

If you have a fireplace, that will make life a little easier but if you don't a small bonfire outside should do. Grab pieces of paper and write down your wishes for the new year ( goals work too!). Once you're already with your papers, toss them into the fire and watch your intentions get absorbed by the universe. Maybe some of your wishes will come true!

Fun Fact: Other cultures perform a similar practice. The Japanese, for example, will tie their wishes to bamboo branches come the new year in hopes that the come true. Kinda neat!

4. Have a huge feast!

Ok maybe not huge but what's a holiday without a good meal shared with family and friends? It certainly was the best way for our ancestors to celebrate, and eating a delicious meal is certainly not going out of style anytime soon!

5. Stockings and Presents

I know this year I celebrated Yule with my fiance, we exchanged gifts and gave the cats their presents all on Yule and then later celebrated Christmas exchanges with the rest of the family. This is a time for Odin (Or Santa) to fill those stockings and gifts to be opened. Some may do this on Winter Solstice or they'll wait till the next day for presents similar to Christmas Eve to Christmas day.

6. Decorate your home!

If you have a tree, decorate the tree. If you have wreaths and lights, set them up. Pinecones, mistletoe, and holly are all traditional and well known decorative elements to really bring the season together. Of course, if you have some cute snowmen or elves that are dying to be apart of your decorating plans then you should utilize them too. While it's fun to keep it similar to the old days, we live in different times and sometimes you can't help but add a few things and that's just fine. Remember, this is your house, and you should have fun with it.

These are just some basic ideas for celebrating the season and I sincerely hope that you've found this to be a helpful aid in prepping for next year's Yule. Leave a comment below on some of the traditions that you practice with your family (or yourself!) at Yule. It would be fun to read what some of you have to say.

With that, I'm signing off. I hope you've all had a Blessed Yule and a wonderful New Year! Bright Blessings.