I’ve been pondering the upcoming winter solstice, so I started to research this time of year more. Naturally, I threw myself into reading all about the historical significance and ended up feeling all inspired about the solstice, Yule and Christmas.
I grew up in a Christian home, celebrating Christmas and the tradition of a roasted turkey meal on December 25. December is filled with decorating a Christmas tree, covering the house in lights, enjoying time with family & friends, going to church on Christmas Eve and lighting our advent candle at the supper table for the month of December. Of course I can’t forget to mention all the Christmas baking too. I recently put the puzzle pieces together that Yuletide (or Yule) has been celebrated longer than Christmas, with many overlapping traditions that have evolved over time. I didn’t grow up celebrating Yule, but it has me wondering more about it and it's correlation and recognition of the winter solstice; the first day of winter & darkest day of the day.
Yule is a pagan holiday originating with the Germanic people that was celebrated long before the time of Christ’s birth and Christmas. From what I can see in my own research, Christmas adopted a lot of Yule customs and in modern day life, we ended up with a mixture of the two including a decorated tree, wreaths, carols and gift giving. I know this history is much more complex than what I just stated, and I encourage you to do your own research as it’s really interesting. I’m intrigued by what I’ve learned and want to share it with you.
Yule begins on the winter solstice, December 21, and lasts for 10 days. It is about celebrating the coming of the sun (longer hours of light in the day), nature’s gifts and the change of energy. Some ways to celebrate Yule are to:
- decorate a living tree outside
- give gifts to nature (such as treats for the birds and wildlife)
- give someone a gift that is made from nature
- Make a yule wreath with natural materials
- Make decorations for your tree from natural materials
- light a candle to signify the coming of the light
- Burn a yule log; this can be a single log or you can cut a tree and burn it piece by piece over the next 10 days. You can also decorate a yule log with different pieces from nature. If you’re fortunate to have a wood stove in your home, you could turn out all the lights and only have the light from the yule log burning, and candles if desired. Some have also written a wish for the next year and placed it in with the burning log.
- Be mindful and grateful for nature’s gifts and spending time in nature
Last year before Christmas, close to the winter solstice, my sons and I decided to do a fun activity we found on Pinterest - we got messy and slathered peanut butter all over pine cones, then rolled them in bird seed to hang out on the spruce branches for our chickadees. It was a hit- for my kids and the birds. Everyone loved it and I didn’t realize this simple act of giving back to nature this time of year was an age-old tradition in Yule. This year in a new yard, we again have playful chickadees in the trees but also rabbits, deer, blue jays, muskrat and a cow moose with twin calves that all frequent through our yard. I love that my six year old son said “hey mom, we should put a treat out for the animals. Remember how we did that for the birds last winter?” So after all my research and thinking, we have made a plan to start a new-to-us tradition of celebrating nature. We will hang new peanut butter cones in the trees, burn a yule log in our wood stove as a family together and maybe eat supper by candlelight that night- there’s a lot of possibilities of ways to recognize this significant holiday.
My natural wreath I made a few weeks ago with materials from around our yard, in my mind is now called my “Yule wreath”. A beautiful way to be grateful about nature’s abundance.
As we raise our two young boys, I am so mindful of our family traditions as I am a strong believer of the importance of traditions and the impact they have on a person. They help us feel grounded and strengthen our community and family. They give meaning to our beliefs and values. I know I remember holiday traditions we celebrated when I was a young child, and I hold them in my memory all with fondness and love as I continue them now with my kids. Can you relate? I know our kids will especially remember us going out in the back country to find and cut our Christmas spruce tree.
I plan to incorporate aspects of Yule into our holiday season this year and make a point of celebrating nature on the winter solstice, right alongside our Christmas customs. In my mind, we can celebrate the birth of Jesus, a season of love & giving, and also give thanks to God for the gifts of nature and new beginnings. In our busy, modern lives I think this is a great way to connect our family with nature, live a grateful and grounded life and bring more meaningful traditions into our family for years to come.