Almost everyone celebrates something near the Winter Solstice.  We spend time with family and friends and embrace a tradition of gift giving and charity, good food and cheer.  We pause to appreciate the abundance and blessings in our lives, those self-made and those given to us by others.  We spend time reflecting on the past year and reviewing things we may want to add, subtract, or change.  And we make resolutions to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world that we may become stronger, wiser, or better ourselves in some other fashion.  While some of us thrive in the colder months, many people slow down and move inward both physically and mentally at this time of year.  Many of our activities move indoors with a focus on hearth and home. 

                Yule marks the longest night of the year and is a celebration of the return of the light.  While we still have a few long, dark months ahead of us, we rejoice in the knowledge that the days will grow longer from this point onward.  In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, the Goddess gives birth to her child / consort at Yule before retiring to the Underworld until Imbolc.  The God Child strengthens and grows with the return of the sun as the days grow longer.  Some traditions tell the tale of the Oak and Holly King.  The kings do battle at the summer and winter solstices, the victor reigning until the next melee.  The Holly King rules from Litha to Yule where he will be defeated and the Oak King takes over.  While we celebrate the rebirth of the sun and the God as we look forward to a brighter, warmer time, we also embrace this peaceful period in the cycle and acknowledge the value of a much needed rest to bolster ourselves for the coming year.

                Though the stories and some of the traditions of Yule may be modern, it stems from a much older holiday.  The Scandinavians slaughtered their cattle in December so they would not have to be fed during the cold months.  They celebrated the winter solstice with a feast of fresh meat and spirits.  They are responsible for the tradition of the Yule log which was burned in honor of the returning sun (History of Christmas).

                Some scholars have suggested that the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia was the precursor to the Christian Christmas.  It originated as a holy day to honor the agricultural god Saturn.  The day was marked with a sacrifice to Saturn in his holy temple and followed by a ceremony in which the leather bindings on his feet were removed as a symbolic act of liberation.  Everyone celebrated with a grand feast.  The social order was inverted on this day with slaves being served by their masters and children left to run the household.  Public gambling was allowed, wine flowed freely, and all work was halted.  Gift giving was a common practice with candles being the most common present, a symbol of the growing sun (Grout, James).

                Yalda (meaning birth) is the ancient Persian holiday observed by the Iranians on the winter solstice.  The Persians believed the on the longest night of the year evil forces went to battle with the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda who would be victorious by the coming morn.  Celebrants stay up late into the night, snack on “dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate” and read classic poetry and mythology (Mirrazavi, Firouzeh).

                The Hopi Indians celebrate the winter solstice as the Soyal Ceremony (meaning “Establishing Life Anew for All the World.”)  The Hopi use prayer, song, dance, and ritual to ceremonially turn “the sun back toward its summer path”.  The Kachinas (guardian spirits of the Hopi) come down from the mountain to dance with the people and are said to leave gifts for the children (Eidt, Jack).

                Many cultures, both past and present, acknowledge and celebrate the winter solstice with its promise of light and warmth.  We can look to the past when beginning our own Yule traditions by honoring the growing sun in whatever form best fits your own beliefs.  Provide a bit of warmth and cheer for those who may be feeling down at this time of year.  Share the joy of the season with friends and family or help a stranger in need.  Pick a Yule log to dry for next year, or burn a candle on your altar in honor of the Sun God or as a form of sympathetic magick.  Do an early spring cleaning to rid yourself of the old before embarking on a new year.  Burn a petition spell during the waning moon to release unwanted patterns or behaviors or burn one during the waxing moon to draw what you desire.  And above all, enjoy and embrace the winter solstice in all its quiet solitude as we move toward the abundance of spring.

                 The Muses wish you and yours a joyous and blessed winter solstice!

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Eidt, Jack. “Soyal Ceremony: Hopi Kachinas Dance at Winter Solstice”. WILDERUTOPIA.  22 December 2011.  Accessed 14 December 2016. http://www.wilderutopia.com/traditions/soyal-ceremony-hopi-kachinas-dance-at-winter-solstice/

Grout, James.  “Saturnalia”. Encyclopaedia Romana.  Accessed 14 December 2016.  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html

“History of Christmas”. History.com. A + E Networks. 2009.  Accessed 14 December 2016.  http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Mirrazavi, Firouzeh. “Celebrating Yalda Night”. Iran Review.  19, December 2015.  Accessed 14 December 2016. http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Celebrating_Yalda_2.htm