Today is my first Yule! I know that sounds strange, because really, I’m twenty-two years old, but at least this is the first Yule I’ve had where I celebrated the Solstice, and not just Christmas (having been raised Catholic).
Of course, I’m still going to celebrate Christmas. One cannot go twenty some years celebrating a certain holiday and building up traditions and then decide “eh, not anymore” and go with something completely new. Some Pagans might argue that Yule is close enough to Christmas to just kind of switch them out and keep lots of the same traditions, but for me, there really is something in honoring Christmas, and saying, “Yeah, this was the day that Jesus of Nazareth was born, and he was a pretty cool guy.” Plus, I am deeply in love with most Christmas music, and honestly, I’d really just be mincing words if I said that I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore, because by celebrating Yule, I’m celebrating everything about Christmas, just not the word “Christmas,” per se. So I might as well just call it like it is, and celebrate Yule, and celebrate Christmas. I mean, who ever said no to two holidays?
Even more interestingly, in the country that I’m working in right now, they actually celebrate New Years like Christmas (it’s a bigger holiday), and “Christmas” (again, just mincing words in my opinion, but it’s cool) is celebrated in January. So I get to celebrate Yule, then Western Christmas (Dec. 25th), then New Years (as New Years and as a big, Christmas-type event), then Eastern Christmas (which is basically just a religious day). So FOUR HOLIDAYS FOR ME. Of course, I’m not taking them all off work, but I get about a week or so coming up with no work, so I’m satisfied.
Anyway, I really wanted to do something special to celebrate the Solstice. I’ve been slowly working my way up to bigger and bigger celebrations of each of the Sabbats, because I’ve become a little more confident in what I’m doing. For Litha last year, I made some sun water and worked outside. For Lammas, my family had a picnic and a campfire (remember, I’m in the broom closet, so there was nothing special about the fire for them, but I was pretty stoked). For Mabon, my roommate and I made pizza and got our first paycheck (which is awesome because Mabon is for prosperity), and I got treats for everyone at work. For Samhain, I got a little more gutsy and I actually decorated my apartment a bit, and then on November 1st I had a silent dinner to honor my grandpa, my grandma, my other grandma, my neighbor, and my dog–all of whom had died in the past two years.
So for Yule, I wanted to get pretty geared up and have a nice ritual. So, despite not getting much sleep, I knew that I wanted to get up early and celebrate the moment of the Solstice, which was, for me, at about 7:48 am on December 22nd. So, even though it’s really early for me to get up before 11:00 am (I work very late at night), I planned my ritual last night, got some stuff together for it, and got up at 7:20 this morning to get it all together.
I recorded a lot of what I was planning to do in my journal and used it kind of like a Book of Shadows, in the absence of an actual BoS. For my ritual, I started by cleansing my room with water and salt, and then cleansing the closed balcony where I was going to have my ritual. Then I decorated the altar with some pine boughs (very small ones) that I cut last night (no other option, unfortunately…the streets around here are kept notoriously clean of any natural debris, so I couldn’t find anything already on the ground), and got all my candles situated. I made sure everything was on the balcony, then I cast my circle (which I’m not very good at, but hopefully I’ll continue to get better at that). Then I sat down on the floor in front of my altar and started. It was a little strange to sit on the floor of a balcony, because you can do like, no grounding there, but I think the ritual was very fiery and ethereal, so maybe grounding wasn’t entirely necessary.
So I’ll confess that I took a lot of the ritual from About.com and its spirituality section, but there are some pretty awesome rituals on there (who knew?). Of course, I tweaked the ending a bit and put my own spin on everything. The key idea was starting in complete darkness and contemplating what the meaning of the Solstice was for our ancestors, who knew that they were going to go months without being able to get more food and adored the Sun as the bringer of life. Then one candle is lit on the altar, and some words are spoken about the meaning of the Solstice. The second candle is lit, and the winter goddess is invoked. Then the rest of the candles (and there can be many, and even electric holiday lights) are lit, and the reborn god is invoked. It was such an amazing thing to go from sitting in complete darkness, squinting to read my journal notes, to having the balcony be flooded by candlelight, which was shining out of the windows to all of the town and the few people on the street below heading to work.
Once all the candles are lit, an offering of incense is given (the recommendation was frankincense, myrrh, or cinnamon on a charcoal disk, but mine was frankincense and pine in one of those water-based oil heaters). Additionally, you can offer food, so I offered dried buckwheat and a cup of hot wassail. One thing that’s tricky for me is that I don’t really know what to do with food offerings. I guess that if I were outside, I would just leave them for animals or nature to eventually absorb. But I can’t just leave them on my altar inside and let them get old. So I drank the wassail, because I figure that having that energy go into me and then out into the world is a better way to offer it, and the buckwheat will maybe sit there for a few days, and then I’ll toss it out the window to the Earth (I could toss the wassail, but I’m three floors up and you never know if somebody’s going to be sticking their head out the window below).
Once the offerings are given, you can pinch out the candles and finish the ritual, but first I contemplated all the new things I want to bring to fruition in my life for the rebirth of the light. I wrote them in my journal next to my ritual notes, and they filled a page. I would love to check in at Imbolc and see how things are going.
Then I gave an additional offering of music. I wore red/silver/green jingle bell earrings, so that the sound of the bells could be an offering, and then I sang a song that is near and dear to me, As the Dark Awaits the Dawn. Not only have I sung this before in choir, but we sang an arrangement by one of my favorite people in the world (my choir director). It also can be for Christmas (my choir director is Christian), but the words are very universal and have more about light than about religion. So I sat on the floor of my balcony and sang this song.
As the dark awaits the dawn, so we await your light.
O Star of promise, scatter night, loving bright, loving bright,
Til shades of fear are gone.
As the blue expectant hour before the silvering skies,
We long to see your day arise, whole and wise, whole and wise,
O lucent Morning Star.
As the moon reflects the sun until the night’s decrease,
May we your healing light release, living peace, living peace,
Until your holy dawn.
Shine your future on this place, enlighten every guest,
That through us stream your holiness, bright and blest, bright and blest;
Come dawn, O Sun of Grace.
And the ending really is “Sun,” not “Son,” so really, this was a great song to sing for the Solstice, and I imagine I’ll sing it again and again every year.
The sun actually still is yet to rise. Around here it doesn’t come up until 10:00 am in the dead of winter (and likewise, we have white nights in the summer), so I still have a half-hour, but now we are in the “blue expectant hour,” so the sky is lightening. As the end of my ritual (it’s still kind of ongoing), I’m going to make a buckwheat breakfast. I don’t think buckwheat is really traditional for the Solstice, but I’m working with the few resources I have.
So anyway, that’s most of what I did for my Yule ritual, but I fully expect to keep honoring the Yuletide season for the next couple of weeks, until the Eastern Christmas is over, definitely. I kicked it off with a great ritual and filling up our Christmas stockings for my roommate and me. He’s going home to his own country for Christmas, so I will be alone for the next week at least. It’s okay though, because I made the stockings part of my Yule ritual, rather than for Christmas.
Anyway, I have to go and make the buckwheat to finish before the sun rises, so then I can greet the dawn.
Blessed Yule to everyone. I am sending out love to you, wherever you are in the world.
By the way, if this blog post was kind of strangely written, keep in mind that I’m writing this way before I usually get up in the morning.