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21 December 2012 @ 07:28 am
Gladig Jul!  
The days grow shorter as the Sun stays abed later and retires earlier every day. The dark Holly King sends cold blasts from the north, reveling in the darkness of Mother Night. And we shiver and count our pennies, and assess our stores to last through until summer, when there is food again.

In the midst of this comes Yule. On the Winter Solstice, the night is the longest it will be, and the day is less than eight hours long. But on this night, Mother gives birth to the new Sun, who will grow in strength and power and warm us once again. Many pagans will watch, all the long night through, to see the sun rise on the Solstice.

In technical terms, the Solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its southernmost declension of 23.5 degrees. That means the Earth’s axis is tilted exactly 23.5 degrees away from the Sun. He roams in the Tropic of Capricorn and leaves those of us up north to shiver. This year, it happens at 11:12(GMT) on December 21, which is 06:12 in New York City.

Yule is one of the eight great Sabbats on the pagan Wheel of the Year. Sabbats occur on the Solstices, the Equinoxes and on four Cross-Quarter days in-between. Some traditions believe the year ends on Samhain (Nov 1) and the new one does not begin until Yule. Many traditions celebrate it, usually in the same ways, with somewhat different myths attached to it.

Hellenic Reconstructionists often celebrate the Roman Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus. The former honors Saturn, the latter is the birth of the Unconquerable Sun. This was a time of feasting and revelry, with gifts given and a special market, along with conventional temple sacrifices and rituals. One of the features that is unique to this celebration is the role-reversal, where slaves would be allowed to gamble, to eat with and celebrate with their masters. This later found its way into the Feast of Fools/Lord of Misrule customs.

Yule itself comes from the Norse and Germanic peoples. Many of the customs associated with this time of year are from here. The feasting was a way to celebrate the returning light. The trees were decorated with tokens to ensure a good harvest, and in some towns they still go out and wake the orchards on Yule. As it became unsafe to do this openly, the decorated trees moved inside. Ornaments became cookies in place of cider soaked bread, or strings of berries instead of little boats holding bits of holy day meals. Evergreens symbolized hope of returning spring, and their boughs were also used in wreathes. Many would weave these on modranect, Mother’s Night, which corresponds to Christmas Eve. They would be made and imbued with wishes and blessings and protection for the families. Mother’s Night was marked into the 19th century, with the mother or grandmother of the house watching the night through and committing the children to the protection of Mother Mary. The Yule log, burned for the twelve nights of the holiday, is also from these parts, where it would be decorated with holly and inscribed with protective runes.

Celts celebrated Mean Geimredh, Mid-Winter. They welcome the rebirth of the Sun on this day when the Year-Wheel stops turning for an instant. It is a time of reflection, of looking backward at the year past, and forward to the new year. The Oak and Holly Kings, nature gods who fight for dominance at the Solstices may be honored as well. The Oak King wins the fight at Yule, and reigns for six months, causing the days to grow longer and the plants to grow. Their rituals are heavily influenced by Norse and Germanic rituals, from the many invasions, but from them, we get the Holly and Mistletoe. This was the time of year when Druid priests harvested it, to be used in medicine and ritual and fertility rites all year long. Holly was used to decorate doors and windows and keep out the evil spirits thought to walk abroad more during the cold winter nights.

So feast and light candles against the darkness. Welcome the returning light and take hope from the green that soon, all will be green again.

This is a repost from Reviews by Jessewave, originally published in 2010. Solstice times have been adjusted.
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