TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21: If you think a warm, merry holiday at the end of December helps to break up the winter season, you’re not alone—in fact, people have been celebrating the Yule-tide winter festival for centuries in the Northern Hemisphere! Today is the official, 21st-century day of Yule (and the Winter Solstice occurs at 11:38 p.m. tonight, to boot).
Today, many will mark the day with a grand feast, Yule songs and even a Yule log (Click here for a Yule Log recipe, courtesy of Taste of Home). For modern Pagans and Wiccans, today holds a special significance and they like to mark the Winter Solstice with great festivities and thanks.
Historically, the Yule-tide winter festival was an ancient pagan religious festival that lasted for many days—typically from late December to early January—although it’s widely accepted that the festivities lasted 12 days. (Wikipedia has details.) During this, the longest night of the year, ancient pagans would ask for a fertile, peaceful season and prepare for a large hunt. Our modern decorations of holly, mistletoe and ivy were once used to decorate homes as a way of inviting Nature Sprites to join household celebrations, and the original Yule Log was made of wood, not pastry. Ancient pagans would light the Yule Log and burn it continuously for 12 days, and the decorated log would be ceremonially put out at the end of the festival. (Some Christians still practice that log-burning custom to this day.)
Modern Pagans and Wiccans often mark this night with ceremonies in the home or with other devotees. (Get the Wiccan perspective at Wicca.com.) But anyone can remember Yule traditions today. Just gather friends and family, put a Yule log in the oven—an edible log, of course—and mark the long night with a toast of hot apple cider! Don’t forget to sing your favorite Yule songs!