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The Festival of Yule

Yule Date Celebrated
Winter Solstice (around 21st December)

Alternate Names
Midwinter, Celtic "Rebirth of the Sun," Alban Arthuan (Light of Arthur)

Christian Equivalent
Saint Thomas' Day, Christmas Day (25th December)

Place in the Natural Cycle

Yule is the solar festival that marks the shortest day of the year, with the sun rising and setting at its most southerly points. The winter quarter of the year runs from Samhain to Imbolc, so Yule stands at the midpoint of winter.

More About Yule

Yule may mean "Yoke of the Year," derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Geola," though some suggest a derivation from the Norse "Jul," meaning "wheel." Although it marks the sun's weakest point in the year, Yule is also the time at which the sun is reborn, as days begin to grow longer again. This link with the rebirth of the sun led to Yule's assignment as the main deity's day of birth in many religions. Dionysus, Mithras, Helios, Horus and Jesus (despite the Bible's indication of a spring birth) were all reputedly born on 25th December, the date on which the Winter Solstice used to fall before calendar changes. The Druidic name for Yule, "Light of Arthur," identifies the legendary British King Arthur with the sun god.

Saturnalia, the Romans' seven-day festival in honor of Saturn, took place from 17th-23rd December each year and was a time of great merriment and gift-giving. The Roman name of the Yule festival was "Sol Invictus" ("Undefeated Sun"), and this was designated as the birthday of Christ in 336 by Pope Julius I in order to appropriate the most important of the pagan festivals. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" are the days after Christmas Day until the Epiphany (the day designated for the manifestation of Christ to the Magi) on 6th January.

In terms of the Tree King myth cycle, the Winter Solstice sees the crowning of the Holly King, God of the waning year, and his fall to his lighter aspect, the Oak King, God of the waxing year, who is reborn on this day (days grow longer after Yule). This aspect of the festival is seen in the Christmas carol The Holly and The Ivy, whose refrain concerns "the rising of the sun," and which begins and ends:

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.

Decorating with evergreens over the Yule period is an ancient custom, most commonly seen today in Christmas trees and wreaths. Such plants were considered magical and protective in being evidently alive at this seemingly dead part of the year, and so are symbolic of the survival and rebirth of the sun at Yule. An evergreen Yule wreath symbolizes the survival of the sun through the wheel of the year.

To conclude, here is an edited version of the salutation to a friend by Fra Giovanni. It was written on Christmas Eve, 1513, and its sentiments sit particularly well with this time of the year:

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see - and to see we have only to look.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty - beneath its covering - that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

The Mystical Calendar
The Eight Festivals:     Yule   -   Imbolc   -   Ostara   -   Beltane   -   Litha   -   Lughnasadh   -   Mabon   -   Samhain