Yule is the celebration of the return of the Sun. It is the time of the winter solstice
, when the nights are at their longest. After the moment of the solstice, the days begin to grow in strength again, and the tide in the struggle between light and dark begins to turn. To Wiccans
of most traditions, the Sun represents the male aspect of Deity
, and his death and rebirth on the Winter Solstice is viewed as the death of the old solar year
and the birth of the new. This eternal struggle is symbolized in some traditions by the struggle between the Oak King
(God of the Waxing Year or the Divine Child) and the Holly King
(God of the Waning Year or the Dark Lord); at Yule, the Oak King vanquishes the Holly King. At Litha
, or summer solstice
(when the days begin to grow shorter), the Holly King is victorious over the Oak King.
The names by which the God was known have varied from culture to culture; thus to the Norse and Anglo-Saxons he was Balder, to the Celts, Bel, etc. Despite different names, his attributes generally remained the same, making him easy to recognize.
Yule symbols and themes have long been a part of our pagan past which stretches far behind us, our parents, or even great grandparents. These traditions and others were carried over to America by the settlers of the New World. Christmas (also known as Yule-day) is a good example of a purely Pagan festival, adopted by the Christian religion for its own purposes. History shows us that long before 400 A.D., when many Christians began to observe Christmas on the 25th of December, Pagans celebrated the birth of the son of the Babylonian Queen of Heaven.
Yuletide (Norse) lasts from December 20th through December 31st. It begins on Mother Night and ends twelve days later on Yule Night; hence the "Twelve Days of Christmas" tradition. The Norse word for Yule means wheel. In ancient Chaldee, the word yule meant infant or little child. The concept of the Old Father Time and the Baby New Year have these same pagan overtones as well. Each are views of the old being replaced by the new, the ever recurring cycle of life.
In Rome, at the time of the winter solstice, there was a great festival called the Feast of Saturn, or Saturnalia. This was a period of great revelry, drunkenness, and merriment. Slave and master were equal for the entirety of the festival; in fact, one slave was chosen to be the "temporary" master, wearing the royal purple and being called The Lord of Misrule. Even today, one of the major parts of Yule is the feast which accompanies it. All celebrants, no matter what their name for the season, feel its joy and festivity.
The first Christmas Trees are often thought to have been firs, although this tradition was also utilized by the early Egyptians, who used a palm tree (symbol of victory). Its green presence in winter reminds us of rebirth, the continuation of life's cycle. Some early legends depict the tree as a symbol of the new born God, Baal-berith (Lord of the Tree). His appearance or rebirth at Yule shows his victory over death. In early Rome, the 25th of December was observed as the birth-day of the unconquered Sun, the day when the victorious god reappeared on earth in the form of a tree.