Before the rise of Christianity and Christmas, our ancestors celebrated Yule (also known as winter solstice), which centers on nature-based traditions and rituals that honor this season and the rebirth of the sun.
Ever since I discovered the ancient tradition of Yule, I’ve felt called to participate in these rituals and traditions rather than commercial Christmas ones. I’m not a Christian, so to celebrate Christmas feels strange, and to be honest, it always has. I love the idea of living seasonally and celebrating the unique beauty that nature offers with every turn of the wheel.
So, if Christmas tends to leave you feeling drained, stressed, or even depressed in the new year, you might find celebrating Yule a lot more chilled and enjoyable.
What is Yule?
Yule (said to mean “wheel” or “feast” falls on winter solstice, which happens between December 20th and 23rd every year. It’s a celebration of the shortest day and longest night of the year and a turning of the wheel. From here onwards, the days will get lighter again, which is why it’s a celebration of light and the sun. The Latin word “sol” means sun.
Many Yule traditions and rituals can be traced back to the Nors people, who named this festival “Jól,” and to the later Germanic people. But it all happened pre-Christianity and pre-Santa.
Like all wheel of the year festivals, Yule celebrates nature’s cycles. Yule asks us to honor the endless birth, death, and rebirth cycle as the sun is born once more. It’s a celebration of hope, warmth, and light. It’s also a time to find stillness, reflect on the year passed, and give thanks before welcoming a new season.
Wheel of the year holidays:
- Samhain (October 31st to November 1st)
- Yule/Winter Solstice (December 20th-23rd)
- Imbolc (February 1st)
- Ostara/Spring Equinox (March 20th-23rd)
- Beltane (May 1st)
- Litha/Summer Solstice (June 20th-23rd)
- Lammas (August 1st)
- Mabon/Autumn Equinox (September 20th-23rd)
Goddesses associated with Yule:
- The Great Mother
- The Earth Goddess / Gaia
- Freyja (Frigga)
Gods associated with Yule:
- The Sun God
- The Star Child
- The Holly King
- The Green Man & Red Man
- The Horned One
14 Yule Traditions & Rituals To Celebrate Winter Solstice
I’ve compiled a list of Yule traditions and rituals to help you celebrate winter solstice, the return of the sun, and this wonderful time of year. Choose one or two, or do them all—whatever you feel called to do!
Remember, Yule (unlike the modern spirit of Christmas) is a time to slow down and go inward. That’s why you’ll notice all of the Yule rituals in this list are chilled and typically involve seasonal foliage and ingredients.
1. Adorn an evergreen tree
What we now know as Christmas trees were originally Yule trees and a symbol of life and rebirth. This is why we bring evergreen trees into our homes—their green color never fades. The tree was termed the Tree of Life by the early Pagans.
Back in the day, you wouldn’t go down to a garden center to buy a tree and cart it home. You would simply go and decorate one in your local surroundings. It was traditionally decorated with other foraged items, including pine cones, nuts, berries, fruit, corn, and coins (to symbolize abundance and prosperity). Birds, squirrels, and other animals could feed off the trees. Hanging candles and other ornaments were adorned on the branches to symbolize the light of the sun, moon, and stars.
So how about getting outdoors and decorating a tree rather than buying one? Or if Yule is not Yule for you without an indoor tree, forgo the tacky Christmas decorations this year and get outside and forage for your decorations!
2. Burn a Yule log
When we think of Yule logs today, we think of delicious, delectable chocolate cakes (or at least that’s what I think of)! But the Yule log tradition began with felling a large tree (an Oak or Ash) and bringing the entire log (yes!) into the house to burn for the 12 days of Yule.
Many of us no longer have a fireplace, and it’s quite impractical to get outside and chop down a tree and then haul it inside!
If you have a fireplace, a smaller Yule log burning will create a super cozy, warm atmosphere during the winter. If not, head to Youtube or Netflix and find a fire-burning fire video to stream on your TV in the background.
3. Decorate with holly
Holly is another popular item synonymous with Yule traditions and rituals. The holly leaves are said to symbolize the Holly King and hope, while the prickliness is said to offer protection to any home by warding off negative energy and evil spirits.
Place sprigs of fresh holly at the front of your door and by windows and fireplaces to protect your home this winter and celebrate Yule.
4. Hang some mistletoe
Frigga—Goddess of fertility, sex, and love—was responsible for the lasting tradition of kissing underneath the mistletoe at this time of year. To protect her son, Baldr, she made every plant and animal promise they would not bring harm to him but forgot mistletoe. Baldr was eventually killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. When he was later resurrected, Goddess Frigga kissed all of her friends with joy and made the mistletoe plant sacred, which is why it still evokes thoughts of love, passion, and celebration.
Hang mistletoe in your doorways or above your bed to ignite passion and love this winter and remind you to celebrate winter solstice.
5. Make a Yule wreath
Wreaths have been made since ancient times using foraged items from nature. Their wheel shape symbolizes the wheel of the year and the eternal cycle of life.
A Yule wreath is traditionally made using evergreens (pine, fir, juniper, and cedar), twigs, pine cones, and berries and is hung on a door or somewhere in the home. Instead of hanging them, you can place a wreath at the center of a table and add candles. They also make the most beautiful Yule gifts for your loved ones and symbolize friendship and joy.
I love the idea of making a wreath to celebrate each of the four seasons—it’s a wonderful way to honor nature and decorate your home.
6. Light candles
Pagans would celebrate the winter solstice because it’s the “rebirth” of the sun. From the next day onwards, the days will grow longer again, and we’ll enjoy more sunlight.
This is why Yule traditions and rituals typically involve lots and lots of candles! Candles act as a symbol of the sun and his warmth and light. They’re a way to have an eternal flame indoors and bring that energy and light of the sun into your home.
Back in the day, pre-electricity, candles were needed during this time because of the long nights. One large candle in a white, yellow, or gold color can be placed at the center of your dining table or altar to symbolize the sun.
If you’re like me, you might want to fill your home with lots of candles—there’s something so sacred and magical about candlelight. I love candles!
7. Cook up a Yule feast
Instead of saving your feast for the 25th of December, why not have one on winter solstice?
This was always a day for communities and families to gather, connect, and celebrate life through the darkness. They would cook with seasonal produce (pork, turkey, goose, fruits, berries, cider, ale) and spices and enjoy a real feast.
Even if you want to still have a traditional “Christmas” dinner on the 25th, there’s no harm in cooking up something delicious to celebrate Yule too! Invite friends over, exchange seasonal gifts, and teach people about Yule.
8. Do a cleansing ritual
If you’re a modern witch, one of the best Yule rituals to celebrate the season is to do an energetic and spiritual cleanse. This is a time to clear out the old to make space for the new to flow in. So have a physical clear out of things you no longer need or want, and follow this with a spiritual cleanse.
Instead of reaching for the white sage, burn seasonal plants like pine needles, mistletoe, juniper, rosemary, and frankincense. These will leave a delightful holiday aroma throughout your home and get you into the festive spirit!
9. Decorate your altar to honor Yule traditions
If you have a sacred altar in your home, it’s really fun to decorate it to reflect the different festivals of the wheel.
To celebrate Yule, add gold or yellow candles, bits of nature (pine cones and evergreen sprigs), and red, green, white, and silver tones. Place your altar somewhere you can see it every day and be reminded of this wonderful season.
10. Reflect & dream
Yule falls in the dark time of the year and is naturally a quiet, reflective time. We are being called to go inward, dream, and visualize what we’d like to channel our energy into the following year.
So create space to be alone, meditate, journal, and just be. Resist the urge to speed up and overload your calendar during the holiday season. Fill your days with acts of self-care, and be mindful of how you want to feel as you start the new year.
Out of all the Yule traditions and rituals, this is perhaps the most important one because it will help you feel restored, energized, and at peace come January rather than overwhelmed and burned out.
11. Bake some gingerbread
There’s a reason why we make gingerbread houses and decorate them with a blanket of snow icing. Back in the day, gingerbread wasn’t easy to come by and was considered a real treat. It was only allowed to be made during the winter holiday season, which is why it became one of the popular Yule and winter solstice traditions.
Keep things simple and make some gingerbread-shaped people, animals, or trees. Use red, green, white, silver, and gold icing to decorate your gingerbread and make it Yule-worthy!
12. Brew some mulled apple cider
To celebrate Yule, Pagans would drink wassail, which means “be well” or “good health.” It was made from ale, apples, oranges, honey, and a delicious, warming blend of seasonal winter spices. Similar to punch at a party, a large bowl of wassail would be served at a Yule feast, and they would also anoint their Yule log with some of this liquor.
I love this modern take on wassail by Cookie + Kate, but you could also make mulled wine or any kind of hot toddy to celebrate winter solstice.
13. Winter solstice rituals: Welcome the return of the sun
Finally, on my list of how to celebrate Yule is one of the oldest and simplest traditions and rituals: welcoming and worshiping the sun.
Winter solstice is a turning point on the wheel. From here onwards until summer solstice, the days will get lighter, brighter, and longer.
One of the loveliest ways to celebrate the sun is to get outside and do a ritual while watching the sunrise. Take a candle outside with you. Welcome the sun and his warmth and light back on the earth. Do some sun salutations if you feel called to. Say a prayer. Give thanks for all you’re grateful for right now and over the past year.
14. Give some thoughtful gifts
We equate Christmas with presents. And while exchanging gifts is a Yule tradition, it was never commercial.
Giving thoughtful gifts to people we love helps to spread the magic and beauty of this season. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Yule.
But you don’t need to spend a small fortune. Yule gifts were always traditionally rooted in nature. You could make a wreath, give crystals or seeds, a beautiful candle, or even a homemade jar of chutney made from seasonal produce. If you decide to buy something, try and shop for things made ethically and sustainably and with love at every stage of the process.
Have fun celebrating Yule with these ancient traditions & rituals!
There’s a reason so many of these Yule traditions and rituals have lasted since ancient times and can still be found woven into Christmas celebrations today. They are rooted in nature and meaning and resonate with us on a deep, soul level. The fictional, commercial nature of Christmas cannot compete with this!
We are meant to live in harmony with the cycle of nature and the seasons. But most of us feel incredibly disconnected from this rhythm. Celebrating Yule and other wheel of the year festivals (Samhain, Beltane, Litha) can help ground and rebalance us. Plus, these Yule rituals are so much fun to do!
Out of all the traditions and rituals, what is your favorite way to celebrate Yule? Tell me in the comments below!