Almost every year I am asked the same question, and already on 2nd December it appears this year is one of them ... ‘Yule’s the same as Christmas isn’t it?’
But, it is an understandable comment in light of Christmas cards interchangeably using Christmas and Yule on their greeting title ‘Have a cool Yule ...’
Yule is celebrated on 21st / 22nd December, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day with the longest night. In Druidic terms it is also known as Alban Arthan.
At this time night is longer than day, and being the longest night, it is a celebration for when the sun is being reborn with longer days and sunlight to be enjoyed once again after this point.
Stories will vary amongst traditions, orders, covens and followings but in my household it is where the mighty Oak and Holly King had a battle. The Oak, symbolising light and the longer days of sunshine, won the battle and the Holly King disappeared to await his return to fight again at Midsummer. A good site well worth looking at is http://www.earthwitchery.com/yule.html which also provides further details and activities for anyone interested.
I recall some 26 years ago hearing The Holly and the Ivy in my first Christmas play, and knowing about the Holly King, and despite the Christian Pagan crossovers in the words, I remember sitting in the school hall imagining the kings having a huge battle, the Holly King with his crown crashing to the ground as the mighty oak won and ivy strewn about everywhere. Being young everything seemed theatrical and larger than life, I recall the hall being filled with greenery and shrubs, older children dressed as soldiers, girls with princess hats and us younger ones dressed as foot soldiers with paper tankards. I also recall a very fetching red felt tunic with a blue cross on it, later recycled as a dog blanket! Ironic as 30+ years later my son is at the same place and I heard him singing the song in the very same hall, but alas the greenery is against health and safety, tankards would be a no no and the idea of anything other than Christian would not be allowed anymore.
So, what do we do then? Here are just a few Yule bits and bobs we do in my household:
· Well, chocolate Yule log is a must! If I have time I do make my own Swiss roll and decorate and ice it, but, if not, a shop bought Swiss roll generously covered in chocolate butter cream is easy to do.
· Candles, candles everywhere! Why? To show the support to the Oak King of course.
· Plenty of stories too, I am an avid lover of http://www.barefootbooks.com/uk/shop/ ideal for fairytales, traditional tales and more.
· The witchy window as we call it, will have evergreen items placed with it, and the altar will be decorated accordingly too. Often we will make decorations, using items found when out on a walk such as fir cones, pine needles, dried leaves and so on.
· I also end up watching River Cottage, the earlier series before Hugh changed locations. In Escape toe River Cottage the Christmas special, Hugh enlists the help of a Hedgewytch to find the perfect Yule log. Homemade programmes too are good viewing such as Kirsties Homemade Christmas on Channel 4 OD. These touch upon the spirit of old ways: making things, living from the land, being thrifty and using your time wisely.
· It is also a time for reflection and what to focus on for the year ahead, similar to how the 1st of January is regarded. With this in mind, it is helpful to note on your BofS any dreams or goals, also to carry out any spellcasting for ending something and starting something anew with the energy and light of the Oak King.
· We will usually find a large twig and spray it gold, to then place it indoors and decorate with homemade or delicate ornaments.
· Gifts of homemade items will be made and shared
· A party tea, if I am organised enough!
· Some people subscribe to the Wassail cup, the belief being toasting the trees and ensuring a good crop in the year ahead. In my house it is good old cyder, and in my mind Wassailing is usually 17th January in line with the old calendars and as celebrated by cider making counties like Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. All the same, a good excuse to raise a bottle or two!
· This year I will also be taking part in The Village Witch’s Yule Magic Blog Party taking place on the 21st, please visit her site for further details http://www.thevillagewitch.co.uk/events/yule-magic-blog-party/
So briefly and by no means in any detail or cement wording, that is how Yule is not Christmas!