There are many traditions, practices and beliefs associated with Yule and the Winter Solstice, as well as different theories when it comes to the timing of Yule and Winter Solstice. Historians believe that Yule was celebrated around mid-winter, usually around mid January, though others have claimed that Yule was celebrated around the time of the first full moon after the beginning of winter, creating no exact date. There are traditions that place Yule right around the time of the Winter Solstice, beginning December 13th and lasting for 12 nights.
Winter Solstice was celebrated around the time of the longest night of the year, this date could change, give or take a few days, depending on the moon phase. The northern European people would tell time by moon cycles and in the old traditions there was 13 months to a calendar year. Today Winter Solstice is celebrated on December 21st. These times of celebration differed from location to location and from tribe to tribe. And just as our ancestors practices and beliefs evolved over time so did these celebrations and traditions
There is an old Norwegian tradition of ale drinking that began on or around December 25th and came to completion on or around January 12th. The people would brew enough ale to last during this time. The ale was consumed and used as offerings, enticing the Gods and Goddesses to bring back the summer sun. Attempting to introduce and push his christian agenda, King Haakon the Good, who ruled between 934 and 961, implemented a law to celebrate Christmas with the drinking of ale. Anyone who didn’t have ale at their Christmas feast was issued a fine. Centuries later, this law was officially formalized making it so that skipping out on this tradition was a punishable act and if someone skipped out 3 times in a row, that person would forfeit every penny of their worth.
Yule was a sacramental ceremony, a Blot, for the recognition of the long dark nights, scarce daylight, the celebration and hope of the return of summer, fertility and happiness for the New Year. The celebration included feasting, drinking, songs, games, boasting, sacrifices for the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors and Spirits. This celebration would last 12 days.
During Yule, it was believed that Odin, the Allfather, would ride across the night sky on his horse Sleipnir in what was named Odin’s Hunt or Wild Hunt, followed by the dead and spirits of the land. It is said that if you were out at night during this time, you may see the procession or be spotted by them. Odin and the Spirits may pick you up and carry you away, later being dropped off miles away from where you were.
One tradition related to Odin’s Hunt, is the belief that Odin would ride through the night sky visiting households. Children would leave their shoes by the hearth on the eve of Winter Solstice, along with sugar and hay for Odin’s eight legged horse, Sleipnir.
These are but a few examples of traditions involved with Yule and the Winter Solstice, there are many more. Such as the giant wreath that was set on fire and rolled down a hill. The Yule tree, decorated with statues of Norse Gods, food and clothing. The mistletoe, representing resurrection and hope for the end of winter. The Yule goat, grain bundled in the shape of a goat in honour of the God Thor. The Yule log was a piece of an oak tree, carved in runes, asking for the protection of the Gods and Goddesses and burned for the duration of the celebration.
Yule and Winter Solstice is a time of deep connection, not only with oursleves, but with our loved ones, alive or not. During this time it is believed that the realms of the living and the dead were especially permeable and contact with those in the other realms was easily attainable. One could gain potent insight of the coming year.
This is a time of renewal, regeneration, hope, a time to plan and plant “seeds of transformation” for the coming year. We can take this time to go inward, connect with our Fylgja on deeper level, acknowledge what we truly need or want in this moment. Stating with intention what we want to bring into our lives and what we want to let go of. This is not a new years resolution or a goal, this is an intention. This is our magical force being sent out to the universe with the purpose of manifestation.