Yule is such a warm, festive time of year for most of us. And if we don’t enjoy Christmas for various reasons, Yule gives us a second chance to reinvent this Winter holiday for ourselves in a way that feeds our spirits through the Winter. The themes here are creating warmth as the weather gets cooler and more treacherous, and coming together with family and friends.
There are different ways to approach this holiday. You can see it as a festive season of parties and celebrations, or as a quiet time of giving handmade gifts to people you love. You can see it as a time to experience the feeling of nature as she winds down for the long Winter, or you can even celebrate it as a version of the traditional, nostalgic holidays that you remember from your childhood. It’s important to remember that Yule is what you make it, and it grows from what you bring to it. So if you have negative associations with this holiday, perhaps trying to see it from a different perspective and making it something that resonates with you will help you begin to enjoy it again. You don’t have to do the same things that you’ve always done just because it’s expected.
Agriculturally, this time of year is quiet. There isn’t a lot of work to be done now, and our holiday feasts are a celebration of the harvest and our survival in the cold months. Farmers and gardeners may be doing some planning for next year, leafing through seed catalogs, but that’s not urgent by any means. Now is a time of rest and enjoyment.
In the non-agricultural world, we’re being affected by the longest nights of the year, and a lot of our frantic holiday revelry is an effort to beat back the Winter fear of the dark, and the doldrums that come from the grey, close days. So celebrate as much as you would like, but try to give yourself space to relax and unwind in these contemplative short days and long nights as well.
Let’s look at ways to decorate our Yule altars!
Colors (for altar cloths, flowers, candles, and decorations)
There are so many ways to go when choosing colors for your Yule altar. You can always go with traditional Christmas colors of red and green for a nostalgic feel. You could also choose colors from nature this time of year, like greens, greys, and browns. Or you could embrace the opulence of a truly festive Winter holiday, and go with rich jewel tones and gold. The important thing is that the colors you choose reflect your own feelings about the meaning of this sabbat.
I tend to use plaid a lot around this time of year, as it looks old-timey, but still festive. I also like the idea of using blue and green instead of red and green to set my Yule decorations apart from traditional Christmas decorations.
Any evergreen scents are really appropriate for this time of year, whether you use pine, cedar, hemlock, or yew. Also, there are tons of Winter scents out there, so choose ones that speak to you. Cranberry, cider or spiced apple, peppermint, vanilla- a case can be made for any scent that speaks to you. I like warm, woody, incensey smells this time of year or scents that remind me of the fireside.
For incense, spices are great right now. Cinnamon, clove, cardamom or nutmeg all smell amazing over a sandalwood base and create a sense of warmth.
- Greenery from nature, especially pine boughs, holly sprays, handmade wreaths, mistletoe, or cones or berries you might find around.
- A holiday tree, decorated festively to celebrate nature in this quiet time of year.
- Lights and candles. This is the longest night of the year, and traditionally festive lights and candles are used to chase that darkness away and call to the sun to return to us.
- Yule long or a representation of fire. Traditionally, on Yule night, a Yule log was tossed into a fire that was kept burning through the long dark hours. People would tell stories and feast and spend time together around this fire as a way to pass the long night. So anything to do with a Yule log or even ashes from your hearth would be meaningful.
- Bells were thought to scare away any negative spirits or entities that might try to gather around during this dark time of year.
- Personally, I like representations of snow, even though we don’t get much snow down here in Georgia. So snowflakes can be a festive addition, possibly even cut from paper and hung over the altar from the ceiling.
- I also like visual representations of starry nights, as I like to celebrate the long darkness instead of fearing it.
- Foods that you tend to see around this time of year, like Winter citrus, cranberries, and nuts in the shell. Candies that remind you of this time of year are great too, like candy canes or hard candies in festive colors. Even a glass of eggnog or a mug of cocoa would work!
- Any animals that you’re seeing around right now, as well as deer or reindeer and cardinals.
I probably missed a lot of traditional symbols here, so please share any that I forgot. Let me know what you’re doing with your Yule altar in the comments below. Blessed be!