Most people (even non-pagan people) have heard of Yule, or at least something associated with Yule. Like the Yule Log, or that song that sings: “Spread the Yuletide Cheer….” but most people don’t know exactly what, or when, Yule is.
Yule is another name for the Winter Solstice, which is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight of the year. Yule doesn’t have an exact date, it’s whenever the actual solstice falls, but it tends to be between the 19th and 23rd of December. This year it is on the 21st.
Yule is the origin of alot of our current christmas traditions. Like decorating, a christmas tree, and even presents. Those are all Yule traditions that christianity stole to try to “combine” the two holidays. (they did the same with easter, but that’s different story for another day)
The christmas tree began as a pagan tradition. Pagans would decorate an outdoor tree with food for the animals. Some even used shiny or scented objects to attract the animals. It was a time of giving back. Not by giving to other people, but giving back to the animals we share our planet with, during the time when food is hard to come by. They recognized the necessity of everything in nature, and this was their way of trying to help that balance.
In our current times we cut down trees made of pine and spruce and bring them in our houses to decorate them. Some people still use edible things like candy canes, gingerbread men and popcorn.
Few christians know how this tradition started, and most would be outraged if they knew that their christmas tree was actually a pagan tradition, and has nothing to do with the birth of christ.
Yule (along with the summer solstice Litha) is a big turning point in the year. Even though it is the beginning of winter weather-wise, it actually is the turning point to getting warmer. From here on out the days start getting longer and that eventually heats up the atmosphere and brings spring.
That phrase “it’s darkest before dawn” is kind of parallel. Even though you would think that it would be darkest (and coldest) when the sun is shining on the exact opposite side of the planet (the mid-point between our sunset and sunrise), it doesn’t actually work that way. The darkness and coldness of the night has an accumulative affect, which leaves us in the darkest and coldest time right before the sun rises.
Our seasons work the same way. The Winter Solstice (Yule) is the point where the northern hemisphere is tilted in it’s furthest position away from the sun. But even though from this point on our north pole starts tilting back toward the sun, our coldest weather isn’t until right before the “dawn” of spring.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better!
So have a happy holiday, and go spread some of that Yuletide cheer!