Winter Solstice or Yule
The Winter Solstice occurs when the sun reaches 0 degrees of the zodiac sign Capricorn, usually around December 21. This is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Also known as Yule, the holiday marks the turning point in the sun's descent into darkness; from this point, the days grow steadily longer for a period of six months. Thus, witches celebrate this sabbat as a time of renewal and hope.
The Holiday's Significance
Pagan mythology describes the apparent passage of the sun through the heavens each year as the journey of the Sun King, who drives his bright chariot across the sky. In pre-Christian Europe and Britain, the Winter Sol-stice celebrated the Sun King's birth. This beloved deity brought light into the world during the darkest time of all.
It's easy to see parallels between the Old Religion's myth and the Christmas story. You can also see the light theme expressed in the custom of lighting candles during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, both of which fall near the Winter Solstice. In all these religious practices, light symbolizes blessings, joy, and promise.
Ways to Celebrate
Before the Victorian era, Christians didn't decorate their homes at Christmas with ornamented pine trees and holiday greenery. That's a pagan custom. Because evergreen trees retain their needles even during the cold winter months, they symbolize the triumph of life over death. Holly was sacred to the Druids. According to Celtic mythology, holly bushes afforded shelter for the earth elementals during the wintertime. The Druids valued mistletoe as an herb of fertility and immortality. It has long been used in talismans as an aphrodisiac — perhaps that's the reason people kiss beneath it today.
In a magickal sense, pine is used for its cleansing properties. The crisp, clean scent of pine needles can help eliminate negative energies from your home. You don't have to wait for Yule to clear bad vibes from your home, however. Burning pine-scented incense or candles can do the trick, too.
Burning the Yule log is another ancient tradition with which pagans mark the Winter Solstice. On the eve of Yule, witches build a fire from the wood of the nine sacred trees. The central figure in the Yule fire is an oak log, for the oak tree represents strength and longevity. After the fire burns down, anyone who wishes may collect ashes and wrap them in a piece of cloth. If you place the package under your pillow, you'll receive dreams that provide guidance and advice for the coming year.