Yule Spiritual Meaning and Secrets Found in the Darkness

Yule 2024: Spiritual Secrets Found in Darkness

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Yule 2024 is just around the corner, making it a perfect time to discuss the Yuletide season! This pagan holiday is deeply rooted in Winter traditions and the rhythms of Nature.

Glittering lights and festive decorations bring light and blessings during the darkest days of Winter. In this article, I’ll explore Yule’s history, meaning, correspondences, and how to celebrate the Yuletide season!

From the beginning, the Church’s hold over Christmas was (and remains still) rather tenuous. There were always people for whom Christmas was a time of pious devotion rather than carnival, but such people were always in the minority.

It may not be going too far to say that Christmas has always been an extremely difficult holiday to Christianize.

Nissenbaum, Stephen – The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday

Many Pagans, Witches, and those interested in Nature Spirituality celebrate the seasonal cycles. Sometimes referred to as the Wheel of the Year, it consists of eight celebrations. Four of these festivals (ImbolcBeltaneLughnasadh, and Samhain) are rooted in Celtic history and origins.

The other four (Spring EquinoxSummer SolsticeAutumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice) represent the sun’s location. I created a complete guide to each season, including history, traditions, symbols, correspondences, ritual ideas, and how you can celebrate.

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

Posts on this site may contain affiliate links that allow me to earn a small commission from your purchases (at no extra cost to you!)

When is Yule 2024?

Winter Solstice is observed on the year’s shortest day and longest night. In 2024, Winter Solstice falls on December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere.

Yule lasts for twelve days, starting when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky (Winter Solstice). This time marks the sun’s rebirth and the promise of longer days ahead. Yule holds significant historical and cultural importance across various Winter traditions worldwide.

Yule comes ultimately from an Old English word geōl. The Old English word, and its etymological cousin from Old Norse (jōl) were both likely used to refer to a midwinter pagan festival that took place in December.

But once the British Isles were Christianized, the Anglo-Saxons used geōl to refer to the other big festival that happened in December and January: Christmastide.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary – ‘Wassail’, ‘Yule’, and More: The Stories Behind 8 Holiday Words

What is Yule?

Despite what many people believe, Yule is not a synonym for Christmas. Yule is a pre-Christian winter celebration observed in Germany, Scandinavia, and the British Isles, where it was called Jul or Jól.

The Venerable Bede, an English monk who you may remember from the History of the Spring Equinox and Lupercalia posts, wrote about giuli during the early 8th century (5). According to Bede, the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons observed Giuli, a two-month period that coincided with the winter solstice. 

Rooted in ancient Pagan practices, Winter Solstice marks the beginning of Yule. Our ancestors had to plan and prepare long before Winter arrived to ensure their food lasted through the cold months. Failure to do so meant one thing: death. Remember, for ancient people, Winter was a bit like heading into battle, unsure if you’d survive it.

The word Christmas is derived from the Old English Cristes maesse, “Christ’s mass.” There is no certain tradition of the date of Christ’s birth.

Christian chronographers of the 3rd century believed that the creation of the world took place at the spring equinox, then reckoned as March 25.

Hence, the new creation in the Incarnation (i.e., the conception) and death of Christ must therefore have occurred on the same day, with his birth following nine months later at the winter solstice, December 25. 

Britannica – Church year – Christianity

Yule Spiritual Meaning

Yule’s spiritual meaning celebrates the cycles of Nature and the changing seasons. The longest night is here, daylight hours are few, and a cold chill creeps into our bones. However, from this point on, each day will grow longer and warmer. We now celebrate the return of the sunlight.

Yule celebrations differ among spiritual practitioners but typically honor the light beating the darkness and new beginnings ahead. This is a time of renewal, light, and hope amid the darkness of winter.

Now is an excellent time for reflection, gratitude, and connecting with yourself. Take some time to appreciate how everything is connected, be thankful for the year gone by, spread kindness, and plan for the new year.

Yule Traditions and History

Just like animals in the wild, our ancestors hibernated during Winter as well. Living in sync with the land and fully embracing the cold Winter days. They rose and slept with the sun, which helped to preserve supplies like candles, firewood, and oil.

There are many modern holiday traditions today that are rooted in Pagan origins. From lighting candles to having feasts, let’s take a look at a few and dive into their origins!

Pagan Yule Log

A Yule log is perfect for celebrating Winter Solstice and the Yuletide season. It’s also a great way to add spiritual intentions to your holiday decorations. However, you may be wondering, where did Yule log traditions begin?

Burning a Yule log is good luck for the upcoming year and offers light to the gloomy days.

A Yule log represents hope and fresh starts during the year’s dark and long nights. Around it, families and friends gathered to celebrate. Due to its magnitude, girth, and size, it would burn all day, ensuring that no one would have to relight the fire during the midwinter celebrations.

Check out this article to learn more about Yule logs and how to make your own.

my 2019 Yule log

Mistletoe

Although considered a parasite when found in Nature, Mistletoe has been used in Winter celebrations for many years. The god Saturn was revered in ancient Rome, and fertility ceremonies and rituals were performed under the mistletoe to appease him. Those Romans sure knew how to party, huh?

Mistletoe has long been thought to have magical properties by Celtic and Teutonic people. It was believed to promote healing and encourage fertility. Mistletoe was placed in homes by the Celts to bring prosperity and fight off evil spirits.

In some parts of Europe the midsummer gathering of mistletoe is still associated with the burning of bonfires, a remnant of sacrificial ceremonies performed by ancient priests, the Druids. Mistletoe was once believed to have magic powers as well as medicinal properties.

Britannica – Mistletoe

Later in England, during the Victorian era, mistletoe cuttings were often hung in doorways during the yuletide season. If someone were spotted standing beneath the mistletoe, they would be kissed by another person in the room. This was quite thrilling because this was considered improper in typical Victorian culture.

Otherworldly Winter Spirits

While Santa Claus and Krampus may be the first that comes to mind, many otherworldly Winter spirits and mythology are associated with the Yule 2024 season. Here are a few popular ones!

Krampus

More than a mere monster or Santa Claus’s antihero, Krampus is a terrifying creature. Often described as half-goat and half-demon with cloven hooves, razor-sharp fangs, large horns protruding from his head, an abnormally long tongue, and dark fur all over his body.

Krampus legends are rooted in pre-Christian Central Europe, specifically Austria. His name stems from the German word Krampen, meaning “claw,” or possibly the Bavarian word Krampn, meaning “withered or lifeless.”

Check out this post if you’d like to learn more about Krampus origins and legends.

Krampus Legend

Grýla

Grýla is an Iceland ogre, troll, or witch whose origins are thought to date back to the 13th century.

She is said to be a hideous and terrifying cannibalistic figure with fifteen tails, three eyes, and scales like a reptile. Grýla is fond of eating misbehaving or disrespectful children during the yuletide season.

Ded Moroz

Ded Moroz has origins in Russia and many Slavic countries. Initially associated with Winter, Ded Moroz evolved through time from a medley of harsh Slavic gods into a nicer, sweeter gift-giver comparable to Santa Claus.

He’s often described as an old man who can control the weather and spread illness. He’s believed to live in Northern Russia near the White Sea.

In fact, in old Slavic belief, he [Ded Moroz] is the wizard of winter – a kind of embodiment of the harsh season itself. He is also known as the Snow Wizard (because of the fierce snowstorms he can create) or the Snow Demon.

Curran, Bob and Andy Paciorek – Spirits of the Season

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is largely based on St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who was the patron saint of children, the impoverished, and prostitutes. The name Santa Claus came to fruition from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas.

Washington Irving popularized Sinter Klaas in America with tales from his book The History of New York in 1809, similar to when he popularized the fae Dullahan as the Headless Horseman in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

There’s often some speculation about the Norse God Odin being the origin of Santa Claus since he was an elderly man who rode Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse. However, there are plenty of arguments claiming this is false. I recommend watching Jackson Crawford’s explanation video: Odin isn’t Santa Claus.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey.

HISTORY.COM – Santa Claus

Yule Goat

The Yule Goat is an iconic symbol woven in Scandinavian traditions and history. A Yule Goat is also known as a Yule Buck, and this decoration or ornament carries meaning beyond its simple straw form.

Until the late 1800s, it was tradition for someone to dress up like a Yule Goat (Julbock), complete with horns and an unruly beard. Initially, the Yule Buck didn’t give gifts; he took them from families in exchange for a bountiful harvest.

Norwegian children would leave barley grains under their bed for the Yule Buck on Christmas Eve. If any of the grains were left behind on Christmas morning, this meant the following harvest would be bountiful.

If you’d like to learn more in-depth about the Yule Goat. check out this article

Wassailing

Caroling is a popular holiday tradition and has its roots in the ancient Pagan custom of Wassailing (pronounced Wah-sil-ing). Originally, Wassailing involved villagers making loud noises in orchards during Winter by yelling, dancing, and banging pots to ward off evil spirits that could harm crops. They poured wine or cider on the ground for a good harvest and sometimes lit fires for protection.

Over time, Wassailing changed, becoming a Middle Ages custom where people shared a big bowl of Wassail (mulled mead, cider, or dark beer), as a way for the wealthy to help the less fortunate. Impoverished villagers would ask for a drink from the host’s bowl or carry their own and request it to be filled.

The traditional wassail bowl, usually made of wood, was used for toasting at festive events. This festivity, often involving alcohol, could get rowdy and sometimes led to property damage. By the Victorian era, Wassailing had transformed into the more serene tradition we now know as caroling.

The word wassail derives from Old Norse ves heill, meaning “be well, and in good health.” The name has come to be generally applied to any bowl from which a toast is drunk, as well as to the actual drink itself.

Britannica – wassail bowl

Yule Tree

Yule trees have origins that tie back to various cultures. Some believe the tradition began during the Roman festival of Saturnalia, where metal decorations honoring the god Saturn were placed on outdoor trees.

In Celtic culture, trees were considered sacred homes for spirits, deities, and fae-like creatures. During the Winter Solstice, an evergreen tree symbolized Nature’s resilience through the changing seasons. Another possible origin traces back to early Germanic traditions, where trees were adorned with fruit and candles in honor of Odin during the Winter Solstice.

The widespread adoption of Yule trees in English households is credited to Queen Charlotte in the 1790s, and the popularity soared when German-born Prince Albert and Queen Victoria brought the tradition to England.

Trees have been used in rituals and as decorations since ancient times, thus making the source of the modern Christmas tree open to debate. However, many believe that it originated in Germany.

It is claimed that in Germany about 723 the English missionary St. Boniface encountered pagans preparing a sacrifice at an oak tree dedicated to the god Thor (Donar).

Britannica – How Did the Tradition of Christmas Trees Start?

American Yule Tree

German settlers later popularized Yule trees in the United States; however, the tradition was not immediately accepted.

Due to the holiday’s pagan roots, many Puritans were against celebrating Christmas during the 1600s, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony outright banned it for around 20 years. Puritans despised the occasion so much that they deliberately closed their churches on December 25th. 

I guess we know who truly started the war on Christmas, huh? Ha! However, they could not stop the popularity of Christmas in America, and the first Yule tree was eventually displayed in the 1830s.

Fruitcake

Fruitcake is often the butt of many holiday jokes, and many people collectively seem to despise it. I’ve heard some claims stating ancient Egyptians placed fruitcakes on the tombs of loved ones. While an interesting theory, I’ve been unable to confirm this from a reputable source.

Romans allegedly made energy bars similar to fruitcakes by mixing barley, pomegranate seeds, and nuts together.

However, it seems fruitcake as we know it today can be traced back to the Middle Ages as dehydrated fruit became popular to place in bread. From there, many varieties and modifications began to pop up in different cultures and countries worldwide.

Italy’s dense, sweet-and-spicy panforte (literally, “strong bread”) dates back to 13th century Sienna

Germany’s stollen, a tapered loaf coated with melted butter and powdered sugar that’s more bread-like in consistency, has been a Dresden delicacy since the 1400s and has its own annual festival

and then there’s black cake in the Caribbean Islands, a boozy descendant of Britain’s plum pudding where the fruit is soaked in rum for months, or even as long as a year. 

Smithsonian – Fruitcake 101

Yule and Winter Solstice Correspondences

Every year during Winter Solstice, witches and Pagans celebrate the longest night and the gradual return of the sun. Here are some Yule 2024 correspondences to get you in the holiday spirit!

Winter Solstice Spiritual Intentions

  • Rest
  • Goal setting
  • Gratitude
  • Peace
  • Beginning
  • Renewal
  • Kindness
  • Intense ritual/shadow work
  • Rumination and reflection
  • Self-care
  • Personal development
  • Divination work
  • Rejuvenation
  • Healing
  • Embracing the darkness
  • Solitude
  • Slumber
  • Celebrating with family and loved ones

Winter Solstice Food

  • Citrus Fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc)
  • Root Vegetables
  • Baked goods
  • Roasted meat
  • Nuts
  • Dried Fruit
  • Stews
  • Soups
  • Pomegranates
  • Gingerbread
  • Cinnamon or berry breads, cookies, cakes, etc
  • Yule log (Bûche de Noël)
  • Cranberries
  • Apples

Yule Drinks

  • Eggnog
  • Hot chocolate
  • Mulled wine
  • Wassail
  • Mead
  • Hot buttered rum
  • Spiced apple cider
  • Tea
  • Coffee (warm)

Winter Solstice Colors

  • Dark Green (evergreen)
  • Orange (solar)
  • Red (fire and vitality)
  • Gold and silver (or other metallic colors) (sun or prosperity)
  • White (moon, protection, or ice)
  • Black (darkness or the moon)
  • Blue (ice)

Winter Solstice Botanicals, Herbs, and Greenery

  • Evergreen trees (fir, pine, cedar, spruce, balsam, juniper, etc)
  • Poinsettia
  • Amaryllis
  • Pinecones
  • Mistletoe
  • Birch tree
  • Oaktree
  • Rosemary
  • Holly – believed to ward off evil spirits
  • Ivy
  • Lillies
  • Mint
  • Aspen
  • Rosehips
  • Yew tree
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon
  • Star Anise
  • Cardamom
  • Chamomile
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg
  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh
  • Sage

Yule Symbols

  • Twinkling Lights
  • Bells
  • Snowflakes
  • Sun wheels
  • Candles
  • Wreath
  • Sun and stars (orbs, circles, star shapes) (to symbolize the coming of the light and the beginning of the solar year)
  • Yule log
  • Snowflakes
  • Pinecone
  • Yule tree
  • Spinning Wheels

Winter Solstice Animals

  • Stag / Deer
  • Bear
  • Goat
  • Reindeer
  • Robins
  • Pig
  • Cow
  • Snow Goose
  • Owl
  • Fox
  • Squirrel
  • Any animal that hibernates

Yule Crystals, Metals, and Stones

  • Ruby
  • Orange calcite
  • Garnet
  • Amethyst
  • Clear Quartz
  • Gold
  • Emerald
  • Diamond
  • Bloodstone
  • Green Calcite

Winter Solstice Incense, Candles and Scents

  • Cinnamon
  • Peppermint
  • Cloves
  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh
  • Smoke or Fire
  • Gingerbread
  • Pomegranate
  • Sage
  • Sweet or spicy orange
  • Cedar
  • Ginger
  • Baked apple
  • Pine

…for the turpentiney scent of pine tar, which many of us find pleasantly heady, is apparently repellent to witches.

…The Norsemen used pine tar to waterproof their boats when they went a-viking, using the leftovers in the bucket to paint black crosses, or in those days Thor’s hammers, above the farmhouse door or above each stall in the cow byre.

Just about anywhere in Europe where pine trees grew, pine-tar crosses were painted at strategic points around the homestead.

Linda Raedisch – The Old Magic of Christmas
Yule Sun Setting on Winter Solstice

How to Celebrate Yule

Celebrating Yule 2024 can be as simple or complex as you’d like to make it. This beautiful holiday welcomes connection with loved ones through shared traditions and meaningful rituals.

From lighting candles to preparing feasts, various Yuletide rituals can help represent the transition from dark to light. Let’s explore some meaningful ways to celebrate the Yuletide season!

Yule Tree Picnic

When we were young, my little sister and I would get up early on the weekends and eat cinnamon Pop-Tarts in front of our Yule tree. We’d talk about the angel on top protecting our home, enjoy the beautiful glow of the lights, and giggle beneath the tree. It’s a memory I will always cherish.

Place blankets and pillows in front of your holiday tree and turn off all the lights except the ones on the tree. Enjoy that beautiful glow with friends and family. Eat delicious food or treats! Remember to get lots of beautiful photos to cherish later.

Listen Yuletide Music

Music has always been deeply connected with winter celebrations, weaving notes and melodies that resonate with the spirit of the Yuletide season.

You can find many Yule or Winter Solstice songs online, and some change the lyrics to classic Christmas songs, which can be fun, too, if you’re interested.

I created a playlist on Spotify (here’s a link to my playlist for easy reference). It’s not based on classic Christmas songs (that I’m aware of). I love instrumental music during the holidays, so I included a few of those, too! I think these are lovely for the Winter season.

Yule Decorations

Decorating during Yule isn’t only about making things look pretty; it’s deeply connected to the season’s spiritual meaning. Every decoration, including wreaths and twinkling lights, carries a special significance. Evergreens give us hope and show us how life keeps going even in the dark days of winter.

Lights and candles represent the return of light after the darkest days, reminding us that even during tough times, there’s brightness ahead. So, each decoration we choose is like a symbol of hope, new beginnings, and the joy of life that we celebrate during Yule.

For Yule DIY Decoration Ideas, check out this post or my YouTube Yule Playlist

yule deocrations

Yule Journal Prompts

These prompts are meant to encourage introspection, spiritual exploration, and a deeper connection with the themes and traditions of Yule and the Winter Solstice for spiritual practitioners. Perfect to add to your Grimoire or Wiccan Book of Shadows!

Create a to-do list for this Winter holiday that captures your inner child. What would you like to do to bring more holiday magic to the season?

How do you honor the past year’s growth and lessons during the Winter Solstice? What achievements or challenges stand out to you?

Reflect on the theme of giving back or charitable acts during the Yuletide season. How does this align with your spiritual beliefs?

Describe a moment of profound insight or spiritual awakening you’ve had this year.

Explore the spiritual significance of giving and receiving gifts during Yule. How does this exchange align with your values?

Write about a time when you felt a strong connection to your ancestors or spiritual guides during the Winter Solstice.

Consider the concept of darkness as a time for inner reflection, light, and growth. How do you embrace this aspect of the Winter Solstice?

Consider the ways in which you honor and celebrate different cultural traditions during Yule in your spiritual practice.

Embracing the Return of Light: A Yule Candle Ritual

The ritual of candle magic goes back many years in human history and can be found in various spiritual practices. A lit candle joins the physical world with the spiritual.

Remember, this ritual can be adapted to suit your preferences and beliefs. The use of candles as a symbol of light and intention during the Winter Solstice can be a powerful way to connect with the spirit of the Yuletide season.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Candle(s)
    • As many as you’d like to represent your intentions for next year
    • The type of candle is up to you, but I recommend smaller ones if you don’t want the ritual to last too long
    • Choose any candle color of your choice
  • Matches or a lighter
  • A safe, fireproof holder for the candles

Prepare Your Sacred Space

Find a peaceful space where you won’t be disturbed. You might even try doing this ritual outdoors to honor the return of the sun and embrace the beauty of the winter night. Feel free to include friends or loved ones if you like.

Arrange the candles in a circle, and cleanse your space. Each candle should symbolize your intentions (like health, joy, growth, relationships, prosperity, wisdom, gratitude, etc.) I like to dress my candles as well (here’s a video with a step-by-step tutorial).

Begin Your Ritual

Begin the ritual as night falls on the Winter Solstice. Light a central candle, signifying the return of light on the longest night. Take a moment to meditate on the spiritual meaning of this moment and embrace the symbolism of light overcoming darkness.

Light each candle one by one, remembering to focus on each intention it represents. For example, if you’re lighting a candle for health, imagine a year full of well-being. Feel the healthy energy flowing through your body. Take your time to infuse each candle with your hopes and dreams.

Reflect and Meditate

Sit comfortably, basking in the glow of candles. Take this moment to reflect on this past year. Contemplate lessons learned, achievements, and areas for improvement. Consider your intentions and goals for the upcoming year.

Let the glow of candlelight warm your thoughts towards positivity and hope. Before the ritual is complete, express what you’re grateful for this year. Recognize the experiences gained, your amazing resilience, and any support you received.

Let the candles burn out completely to release your intentions out into Nature or the Universe. Embrace the opportunity to start fresh with the returning light.

I hope you found this article about the Yuletide season helpful! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…

Sources

Forbes, Bruce David. America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Stories. University of California Press. 8 April 2016.

Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday. Vintage publications. 28 October 1997.

Raedisch, Linda. The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year. Llewellyn Publications. 8 October 2013.

Shepherd, Massey H.. “church year”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Nov. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/church-year.

(5) Simek, Rudolf. A Dictionary of Northern Mythology Translated by Angela Hall. D.S. Brewer. 28 April 2008.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “mistletoe”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Aug. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/plant/mistletoe.

Curran, Bob and Andy Paciorek. Spirits of the Season. Dremour Press. 20 November 2020

History.com Editors. Santa Claus. HISTORY. 16 February 2010. https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “wassail bowl”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Oct. 2015, https://www.britannica.com/topic/wassail-bowl.

Tikkanen, Amy. “How Did the Tradition of Christmas Trees Start? “. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/story/how-did-the-tradition-of-christmas-trees-start.

Rhodes, Jesse. Fruitcake 101: A Concise Cultural History of This Loved and Loathed Loaf. Smithsonian magazine. 21 December 2010. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/fruitcake-101-a-concise-cultural-history-of-this-loved-and-loathed-loaf-26428035/

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