ule, also known as the Winter Solstice, Brumalia, Saturnalia, Modrinacht, Tammasmas Nicht and Albun Arthan is a festival steeped in historic traditions and rooted in many pagan societies, whereby our ancestors gathered in the deepest darkness of night to pay homage to the twins of dark and light (the Holly King and Oak King) as well as the Goddess in her life-giving capacity. It is also one of the most recognized and largely shared pagan celebrations across the world(followed by Samhain). It is one that is so powerfully felt due to the mass numbers of people in the northern hemisphere with open hearts celebrating together. It is quite amazing and moving what people engaged in a single purpose simultaneously can energetically accomplish. If only all of our open hearts could be brought together for a single positive purpose all year long, imagine what we could accomplish.
Opposite of the Summer Solstice, Alban Arthan is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, signaling another change in our turning wheel. For three days the sun stands still and pauses, before starting on its journey once again. The Season of Yule is one of quiet expectancy, with the shifting of energy focused on the outward movement and expression of life, though it is hard to imagine spring at times during the hardships of winter. The subtleness of a longer day in the addition of an extra minute of light can also be lost on us when snow, clouds and rain are the order of the day or we are socked in by fog. However, the depth and void experienced at Samhain helped clear away the final chaff of the year, which now allows the quietness and stillness of the new solstice light to be felt, even if we are unable to see it.
At this time the Goddess in the cave labors to birth new light, hope and love in the world. A new baby in our family circle opens our hearts and as a soul tribe we are all called upon to participate in the love, care, nurturing and success of this new light in our lives. In this same manner, we are now called upon to love, honor, protect, nurture and engage in the long journey that brings fruition to the little seed of light within ourselves. With our hearts open it is also so much easier to give of ourselves to help birth the light in others.
At this time in the PNW, November winds have blown off the fall leaves on the trees, thunder has sounded and the driving rains are welcome after our hot summer. We are chipping ice out of the water buckets and horse troughs. Snow has intermittently fallen and the birds are relying on hawthorn berries, beauty berries and blackberries for sustenance as well as scraps from our chicken coop and seeds in the feeder.
On the first weekend of December, our family treks out to find the perfect noble tree. Sometimes the ground is frozen with snow and sometimes we are wading through mud. When our tree is in its stand we do a small rite to welcome the tree and give thanks for its life and the reminder of eternal life and the ability to thrive during all stages of growth. The trimmings from the tree are gathered along with grand fir, cedar, douglas and pine to fashion a Yule log to be burned on the Solstice. The fragrance of the season is both calming and uplifting, while also comfortingly reminiscent of family gatherings past.
Our altars are bedecked in evergreens, wintergreen, sprigs of bright green prickly holly with bright red berries and pure white snowberries. Mistletoe is strategically hung in an open doorway. White candles, statues, garnet, bloodstone and tigers eye grace our altars alongside offerings of homemade butter cookies, herbs and nuts. For several days before the solstice tales of Gods and Goddesses are told. On the eve of the solstice, fires are lit and flames are kindled to call forth the light, more stories are told as we indulge in festive treats. The kids will open a small gift from the Winter King before retiring for the night. Solstice morning we arrive around the fire ring to cast herbs of pine, grand fir, cedar and wintergreen berries into the needfire and burn the Yule log while we join hands to sing a song or two before wassailing and libation pouring in the orchard. Everyone quickly makes their way through the frigid morning air into the house, fragrant with brown sugar and cinnamon french toast and hot chocolate.
In a larger group, we come together to collectively create sacred space and call in the blessings of the season. We invoke the God and Goddess of Yule and give our energy to the birthing of the new divine light. In turn, our open hearts receive a piece of light and life to take out into the world that we continue to make the Lord and Lady manifest once again. We make merry as we share in a feast and heady wassail punch before heading out to the bonfire.
For many of us, the festivities shall continue over the days in visits with family and friends. For our family, festivities culminate in a large family gathering. Presents and breakfast are shared in the morning. We visit throughout the day with the menfolk making merry around the firepit with a libation in their hand and children playing with their new toys. Women visit in the kitchen and living room while a feast of roast beast, salmon, mashed potatoes, roast vegetables, pear and blue cheese salad and rolls are cooked up. Snacks are munched on throughout the day since breakfast is early and dinner is a bit more formal and later in the evening. The evening ends with the ladies convening on the front porch to share a drink and cigar (a carryover tradition of my mother’s Austrian family from the old country).
To our pagan brethren across the globe, we raise a pint of wassail to you and wish bright blessings on you and yours! Blessed Be!
We would love to hear what traditions your family engages in to bring forth the light.