Yule (“YUL”) is celebrated on December 21-22, during the Winter Solstice. “Yule” is derived from jól, an Old Norse word meaning “wheel”. The Irish Reconstructionist name of this festival is Meán Geimhreadh (“Middle of Winter”, “Midwinter”). This Minor Sabbat marks the middle of the Celtic Winter, but is actually the astronomical beginning of winter manifested by the longest night and shortest day of the year. This is a time for acknowledging the return of the waxing sun. Light and life can be seen to be returning and conquering death.
The Norsemen had a twelve-night-long feasting celebration named Zwölften (which means “The Twelve”) to honor the sun goddess Sunna, starting on December 20. The Twelve Days of Yule included the burning of a Yule log and Oath-taking of importance. Death, rebirth and immortality are associated with this Solstice as Yule is the longest night of the year, and a time for honoring the Ancestors. The Norsemen celebrated Baldur, who returned from the dead after being killed by an arrow made of mistletoe wood during Midsummer. The figure of Santa Claus is inspired by the Norse god Odin who led the Wilde Jagd, a ghostly Wild Hunt procession through the sky, astride his eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. The Celts gathered together to feast over the bounty of the harvest of the year and honored the Irish god of the sun, Lugh. The Gaulish midwinter feast of Devoriuros was a celebration about the renewal promised by the returning of light dedicated to the goddess Matrona and her son Maponos. The Christmas tree tradition comes from the Druids, which venerated evergreen trees as manifestations of deity because they do not “die” during winter.
During this High Day, I always dress a small plastic of an evergreen tree with lights, decorations and garlands as based on the modern Pagan custom venerating the spirit of the tree, and what it represent. Many thinks, like me, that it is far better to honor a living tree outdoors instead of cutting a tree down, causing environmental damage, or to decorating a plastic tree inside. Yule is also celebrated with gatherings that often involve feastings and gift giving, which I do while visiting my out of town family around this time of the year.
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