Yule Traditions - Old Ways, New Magic!

rituals sabbats Dec 08, 2020

How does one celebrate Yule as a modern day Pagan? It can be challenging to say the least as the sabbats are all rooted in life on the farm and working with the natural cycles as a means of both survival and celebration. While most of us may not live on farms these days, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to celebrate the traditions our ancestors held dear. We will now review some of the more modern yule celebrations and practices so that you have an idea of how to incorporate the elements of winter into your mundane lives. Let’s start with some of the elements of winter and how they can easily apply to the modern world. 


The cycle of life and death plays a critical role in Yule. We are familiar with life, action, energy and vitality but so rarely do we spend enough time contemplating the energy of death. Everything comes to a halt in winter. Trees are barren, animals are nestled in their dens and the conditions make it impossible for almost anything to grow. We tend to stay inside more as the fierce winter winds threaten our very well being. It’s no surprise dry skin, colds and numb joints are all common ailments of the winter months. This energy of allowing things to die teaches us to appreciate life more and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It also reminds us to have hope that the light will come again. Some cultures celebrate yule as honoring the process of death while others see yule as honoring the return of the light. It is during Yule that the king of the light returns to the world and we can find hope for brighter days to come. Some ways to honor death would be:


  • While sitting in front of a fire, write down things you wish to release from the year on small slips of paper with your family and friends. Take turns throwing your papers into the firing. You can say what’s on your paper if you wish. Allow the light of the fire to symbolically bring death to those things, making way for new things in the coming year. 
  • Take a retreat or holiday and completely disconnect from your everyday life. It doesn’t have to be long. It just needs to be a time where you are allowed to turn inward completely and detach from the chaos of everyday life. 
  • At night time, preferably midnight, take some time to journal about your fears, weaknesses and challenges in life. How have these things held you back and how can you bring them to the light to turn into something positive? 
  • Hold ritual during the Witching Hour or midnight. Ideal spells for this time are overcoming fears, working with your shadow energy, protection spells, banishing spells and honoring passed loved ones.


Energy of Light

Winter and therefore yule, may be a time to honor the energy of death but let us not forget, Yule is above all else a celebration of light and the return of the sun. Most modern day homes no longer feature a hearth but that doesn’t have to stop you from bringing light elements inside. Stringing Christmas lights, lighting candles, building a fire (if you do have a fireplace) and using the stove are all ways to bring light and warmth into your modern life. Consider making paper lanterns with friends and especially children or even pouring your own candles. It’s important to focus on soft lights rather than large fluorescent ones. Each flicker of light represents finding light in the darkness, not driving darkness away. Each flicker of light is a spark of hope and is symbolic for sun growing in size as the wheel turns from through winter and into spring. 


Giving Gifts

Christmas has become a multi-billion dollar industry but the concept of giving gifts has a long and rich tradition during yule. The first known gifts of yule were offerings to the Gods in hopes of gaining favor for a strong growing season come spring. These were often gifts of various foods which at the time, food was in very short supply during the winter months. Eventually, the concept of giving gifts became more of what we know today. Gifts were given to children as a reward for dutifully completing their chores throughout the year. Talismans and amulets were giving to young adults going off to make their own way, young ladies getting married and young men going off to war. And of course, the infamous lump of coal went to children who gave their parents grief. Today gifts are given out of obligation to the holidays but one can better honor Yule by giving handmade, or thoughtful gifts. Instead of buying buckets of gifts for your family, try teaching the young generation about giving to others. Have your family each pick out a gift they might like to have then take them to be donated. Volunteer at a shelter or to sing holiday songs to the elderly. Yule is about sharing what you have with your community so that everyone makes it through the harsh times.


Additional Yule Traditions

  • Do a winter cleansing by quickly tidying up and smudging the house to remove any negative energy. 
  • Decorate a yule tree. Be sure to include lots of lights and bells (bells drive away demons)
  • Make wreaths using evergreens, cones and berries. 
  • Back gingerbread or sugar cookies (recipe included) and given to your neighbors, family and friends. 
  • Go Caroling (virtual in the year of Covid)
  • Decorate with reds, green, yellows or golds and whites.  Red represents the waning Holly King. Green represents the waxing Oak King. White represents the purity and hope of new Light. Silver represents the Moon. Gold represents the Sun/Son.*
  • Cut down and harvest your own Yule Tree. 
  • OR, purchase smaller Christmas trees that are still in planters and plant them around your home. Leaving trees in pots that can be brought indoors year after year is a much more eco-friendly option and you can keep a constant connection with your tree through the year as you care for it. 
  • Meditate during sunrise or sundown. Focus on elements of transition and honoring the life/death/rebirth cycle. 
  • Acknowledge how yule is celebrated in other religions and cultures including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the astrological time of the winter solstice and so on. Yule is about acceptance and community of others. 


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