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(21st December)

YULE/WINTER SOLSTICE is one of the eight annual holidays, referred to as 'Sabbats', which are observed as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. There are four Greater Sabbats: Samhain (31st October), Imbolc (2nd February), Beltane (1st May) and Lughnasadh/Lammas (1st August); and four Lesser Sabbats: Yule/Winter Solstice (21st December), Ostara/Spring Equinox (20th March), Litha/Summer Solstice (21st June) and Mabon/Autumn Equinox (22nd September). Solstices occur when the Sun enters Capricorn and Cancer; Equinoxes when the Sun enters Aries and Libra.

YULE is a festival that symbolises hope, joy and renewal. It heralds the ending of long, dark Winter nights and short days and brings the promise of a new Spring to come. The Winter Solstice is a celebration of the rebirth of the Sun after the longest night and shortest day. At YULE, the Goddess brings forth her Son, the Young God, the 'bright child of promise' to light our darkness and to chase away the shadows of Winter. In olden days, fires were lit at Mid Winter to mark the turning point of the Sun. The Yule Log commemorates this, and due to the bad weather at this time of year was burnt indoors - its parallel (the Mid Summer bonfire) was burnt outdoors. The Yule Log was traditionally cut from oak and kindled from a fragment of the Yule Log saved from the year before. Remains of the log were always kept as protection for the home from lightning and fire. Nowadays, most people will only be aware of the chocolate variety!


Robin in Winter Song

The hanging of YULETIDE greenery comes from the Pagan custom of decorating the house at Mid Winter to symbolise eternal life; and although banned by the early church due to its Pagan connotations, happily, decorating the house with wreaths and garlands lives on to this current day! Holly, Ivy, Laurel and Mistletoe are all synonymous with YULE - although the humble Mistletoe is still banned in churches (except at a special service in York Minster). This ban is because the plant was sacred to both Celtic Druids and Teutonic Norse peoples; its waxy-white berries resembling drops of semen were regarded as a powerful and potent symbol of fertility. The charming custom of 'kissing under the Mistletoe' is a very tame reminder of the erotic symbolism originally associated with this plant. Pliny (the Roman) recorded that Druids ritually cut down the Mistletoe from an Oak tree on the 6th night of the new Moon with a gold sickle. Springs of the plant were laid on the altar at Winter Solstice as a gift from the Gods. This may be the origin of the York Minster service where this custom is copied. Holly and Ivy are other examples of YULETIDE greenery with a strong Pagan past; the red berries of the Holly symbolise the blood sacrifices carried out to fertilise the land, while its prickly leaves remind us that it is a 'male' plant sacred to the Horned God and 'Old Father Christmas'. Ivy was regarded as 'female' and another symbol of fertility.


Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon by Henri Paul Motte c1890

Although the Christmas tree as we know it was allegedly introduced into this country by Prince Albert in 1841, decorated trees were a prominent feature both of the Saturnalia and ancient North European Mid Winter rites, where a tree was brought inside and represented a miniature Yggsdrasil (The World Tree), whose roots lie deep in Earth, its branches adorned with the Sun, Moon and Stars. It is recorded that Saint Boniface (the early Christian monk) ordered all sacred Oaks worshipped by the Germans to be cut down. This caused such uproar that he was forced to replace them with fir trees; which in time became the 'traditional' Christmas tree. Candles were burned on the tree to represent the light of the Sun, and coloured spheres to represent the 7 classical planets (or 9 worlds in Norse mythology). In later times, the 'Witch Ball' (with its reflective surface 'to ward off the evil eye') evolved into the shiny Christmas baubles we know today. Small gifts tied to branches are symbols of prosperity and fertility; while draped tinsel represents the World Serpent encircling Midgard (Middle Earth); the fairy atop the tree is the image of the Sun Goddess, or when topped by a star, a representation of the North (Pole Star) around which the universe is said to revolve. The Christmas tree replaced the English custom of the 'Kissing Bough', a double loop or spherical framework of evergreens, ribbons, apples and candles - a Pagan representation of the light of the Sun and promise of eternal life at the darkest point of the year. Another ancient YULE tradition was the 'Yule Boar'; the Corn Spirit expressed in the form of a pig (or boar) made from the corn in the last sheaf, and stood upon the table for the duration of the celebrations. Part of the bread boar was saved and sown with seed corn in the Spring - thus returning the Corn Spirit to the the land and into the new crops.

It is also a tradition at YULE that greenery should be taken down and burnt by the twelfth night; or hauntings by sprites and goblins would be threatened! The exception being the Mistletoe, which may be kept until it is replaced anew at the next YULE. Mid Winter is also the time for the traditional Mummers Plays, where the Dark Knight battles the White Knight for supremacy (originally the Holly King battling the Oak King), or St George battles the Dragon or the Turkish Knight. In these plays, the Holly King/Dark Knight/Dragon/Turkish Knight is slain by beheading, but then rises up again unharmed. This battle represents the fight between dark and light and the subsequent victory of light over darkness. The Pagan tradition tells of a Sun King who ripened the harvest at Lammas and was sacrificed back to the land within the seed. This is the sacrifice of the active principle, as the Sun loses its power and the energy turns within. He stays underground as the Dark Lord of the Underworld (Saturn, Pluto, Hades, Lord of Death). At the Winter Solstice, he is reborn as the Lord of Light, the Sun King, the Sun God.


St George Battles the Turkish Knight

Other YULE traditions once regularly celebrated and almost lost to us from olden times are: the Lord of Misrule holding court, bringing laughter, jesting and fun to the celebrations. The Lord of Misrule was associated with the twelve days of Christmas, but was gradually filtered out of later Christian celebrations due to his supposedly lewd and obviously Pagan connections; Go-A-Wassailing - From the 5th Century, Anglo-Saxon rule in South and East Britain brought over the Scandinavian Wassail bowl or cup (usually made of carved wood). The leader of the celebrations would call 'Waes Hael' [wæs þu hæl], which was Old English (Anglo-Saxon) for 'be thou hale' or 'be in good health', and the answer was 'Drink Hael'; at which the bowl was handed round for everyone to take a drink, and pass the bowl on with a kiss. Traditionally, the Wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night; now thought of as January 6th, but before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 was, in fact, January 17th - more properly known as 'Old Twelvey Night'. During the Middle Ages, Wassailing was a form of 'recipient initiated' charitable giving - to be distinguised from begging by the Lord of the Manor giving food and drink to the Wassailing peasants in exchange for their blessing and goodwill, in the form of the song being sung; which is the background practice against which the 16th Century English Christmas Carol 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' can be made sense of. The Carol portrays the continued custom of wealthy people in the community giving 'Christmas' treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve, such as 'figgy pudding'. During this period, 'Christmas' Wassailing became associated with rowdy bands of young men demanding free food and drink, similar to 'trick-or-treating' and refusing to leave until satiated!   An example of such an exchange is seen in their demand for 'figgy pudding' and 'good cheer' (the Wassail beverage!) - 'we won't go until we get bring some out here!' Originally, Wassailing was held around the oldest tree in the apple orchard. The first cider crop was poured on the roots of the apple tree to thank the tree spirits for the crop of apples, and to ensure a good harvest next year. Christmas was not celebrated anywhere before the Third Century, and only gradually moved Northwards through Europe - it was probably the Normans (post 1066) who brought the celebration to England. In later centuries, to go 'A Wassailing' meant carrying the Wassail bowl or cup around the village drumming and banging sticks to beat away any bad spirits, passing the cup around for everyone to drink. Toast dipped in cider would then be hung on the oldest tree, as an offering to the tree dryads (the origin of toasting someone with a drink).


Apples' Bounty

Although we have a tradition of the Sun being masculine, there are older traditions which saw the Sun as female. Anastasia, for example, was one of Rome's great Goddesses; her holy day was Winter Solstice. There were also many earlier Goddesses who were all systematically destroyed, demonised, made into masculine forms or incorporated into the Christian church as saints. Celtic understanding saw the Earth as a manifestation of the Triple Goddess - the Virgin Goddess of Spring, the Mother Goddess of Summer and Harvest, and the Crone representing Winter. The Winter cycle belongs to the Crone and during the Christian era, she became the 'Dark Witch Woman', an object of fear and superstition. Her connection to the inner world of wisdom and intuition was almost lost during this period. The Crone, at the Winter Solstice, becomes her Virgin self again, echoing the birth of the Sun King - and it is worth noting that at the Winter Solstice, the constellation of the Virgin rises in the East.


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  • Gods and Goddesses of Yule: The Holly King, The Oak King, Yule Boar (Corn Spirit), The Young God, The Bright Child of Promise, The Lord of Light, The Sun King, The Sun God, The Crone, 'Old Father Christmas', Herne the Hunter, Anastasia, Saturn, Pluto, Hades, 'Lord of Death'.
  • Yule Incense: Pine, Frankincense, Mulberry, Cloves, Cinnamon.
  • Candle Colours: Dark Green, Pale Greeen, Mistletoe White, Golden Yellow (or Gold), Holly Blood-Red.
  • Ritual Colours: Dark and Pale Green, White, Gold/Golden Yellow, Blood-Red.
  • Organic Materials: Seasonal spices, apples, oranges, nuts, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, ever-green plants, fir trees.
  • Recipe for Yule Mulled Wine: 1 bottle cheap red wine, 3oz castor sugar, 1 lemon, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 pint water, 2 oranges, 1 lemon, 6 whole cloves, tsp ground ginger. Peel rind from fruit very thinly. Squeeze fruit to extract juice. Put all ingredients (except sugar) into a pan and bring to just below simmering point. Keep at this temperature for an hour, then add sugar to taste. Serve with orange and lemon slices floating on top.
  • Yule Activities:
  • Go A Wassailing! - Find a large bowl to represent the Wassail cup (a food mixing bowl, fruit bowl or even medium sized saucepan will do!). Make your own traditional Wassail: follow the recipe on this link for a wonderfully traditional 'Lambswoo'l Wassail!  Now fill the bowl/vessel, and with friends and family, drum, bang and make plenty of noise to chase away any 'bad spirits'. The leader of the celebrations with a hearty "Wassail" should be answered by with all with "Drinkhail", at which point the Wassail cup should be passed from person to person to drink, handing it over with a kiss.
  • Take a piece of bread (or toast) dipped in the Wassail cup and tie it to an apple tree to thank the tree Dryads for their bounty of apples and to ensure a plentiful supply of apples again next year!

Here's to thee, old apple tree,

Whence thou may'st bud, and thou may'st blow,

And whence thou may'st bear apples enow,

Hats full! Caps full!

Bushel -- bushel -- sacks full!

And my pockets full too! Huzza!


Wassailung c. 1650 Stuart England - Cotwsold Wassailing - Cotswold Tree 'Toasting'

  • Stage your own Mummers Play with family and friends re-enacting The Holly King and The Oak King - or make cut-outs on sticks, if you prefer - to entertain those gathered, and keep alive the real reason for this wonderful festival! 
  • Have a 'Yule Boar' making competition with whatever is at hand - the winner becomes the Lord of Misrule at the Yule feast and their Boar takes centre stage upon the table for the druation of the festivities!
  • Make a Yule Wreath (Wreath comes from the Old English word 'Writhen', to twist or writhe) - You need: a wicker circlet as base, ivy, holly (with berries), fir, pine-cones, ribbon, wire, glue. Start by wrapping lengths of ivy around the front of the base, securing with wire ties and sticking stems into the base as you go (you will not see the back, so no need to make that pretty!).


  • Slip pieces of fir into the base, behind the ivy right around the circlet. Next add the sprigs of holly evenly around the wreath.


  • Using a glue gun, carefully stick the pine-cones to the arrangement. Finish by tying a big ribbon bow at the bottom and add a loop at the top of the wreath to hang it up.


  • You can add baubles, cinnamon sticks, bells, bows, ribbons, feathers, or any other decoration you fancy! Hang the wreath on your front door and be filled with joyful pride every time you enter or exit! HAPPY YULE!


Ceremonial Tools: White altar cloth, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe (and other evergreens/seasonal vegetation), small fir tree, dark green and pale green candles (unlit), gold or golden/yellow candle (unlit), mulled wine for chalice, cakes (Yule log would be appropriate). (Additional items if required - crowns of seasonal flowers and fruits for the female and male element).

Decorate Altarwith white cloth and decorate with Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe and other evergreens or seasonal vegetation, small fir tree with lights unlit (either small candles or electric), dark green candle and pale green candle (unlit), gold or golden/yellow candle (unlit), chalice filled with mulled wine, cakes (ie Yule log).   (If undertaking the ritual as a couple, invoke as denoted; if working solo invoke all parts.) Circle opened and consecrated, Quarters called.


FEMALE:  Gentle Goddess, Mother of us all, On this night darkness prevails.  The Sun rides weak on His journey and warms not the land.  We call to thee to leave the darkness and the quiet of your Underworld, to return to us, and so return your Son.  Bring forth to us the Child of Promise, the new born Sun, Giver of Life!

BOTH:  Bring forth to us the Child of Promise, the new born Sun, Giver of Life!

FEMALE: Brings the gold or golden/yellow candle from the altar.  Blessings be upon the Goddess, the Child is born.  Joy to the Earth.  The Sun rises in glory, with strength shall He grow.  (Female lights the gold/yellow candle) Rejoice that the Sun is born!  (with the yellow candle, Female lights the dark green candle and the tree) 

MALE:  As in the days of old, the Old God dies, the Young God lives.  The Holly withers,  the sap rises in the Oak.  Blessings be on the God who shines in resplendence. (Male goes to the altar and lights the light green candle)  

MALE:  (Maleextinguishes the dark green candle) The Holly King is dead!  Long live the Oak King!

Mulled wine and cakes are now blessed and shared.  Couple or solo practitioner sit in quiet contemplation.  After a suitable time, games may be played, singing, drumming, reading of poetry or prose may now take place.

Goddess and God are farewelled. 

Quarters are farewelled.

Circle closed and deconsecrated.

Ritual, White Witch

The Pagan Carol - The Holly and The Ivy


The Holly and the Ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

the Holly bears the crown.


Oh the rising of the Sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir.


The Holly bears a blossom

As white as lily flower

And when the Sun is newly born

'Tis at its darkest hour.



The Holly bears a berry

And blood-red is its hue

And when the Sun is newly born

It maketh all things new.



The Holly bears a leaf

That is forever green,

And when the Sun is newly born

Let love and joy be seen.



The Holly and the Ivy,

The Mistletoe entwine

And when the Sun is newly born,

Be joy to thee and thine.


Doreen Valiente