Many of the popular holidays celebrated nowadays have their roots on different Pagan holidays and celebrations. As Christmas gets closer, it is a good time to learn more about the Pagan origins of this popular celebration. There are two main Pre-Christian celebrations that are believed to be the predecessors of Christmas: the Roman holiday of Saturnalia and the Germanic celebration of Yule. We will be focusing on the later for this post, so let’s start with the basics…
What is Yule day and when is it celebrated?
Yule or Yuletide was a festival celebrated at the Winter Solstice by Germanic and Norse tribes. During 12 days they drank, feasted and made sacrifices to the gods to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun and life.
Nowadays, a lot of Pagan religions have adopted or try to recreate Yule, such as the Wicca or the Ásatrú.
How to celebrate Yule like a Viking
Although the exact Yule traditions are lost in time, there are many that have been adopted by Christianity and remain up to this day, especially in Scandinavian countries. Apart from the copious amounts of drinks and food with friends and family, here are a few:
- Adorning the Yule tree with natural elements and sacred symbols.
- Receiving gifts from Odin, whom it is thought to be the predecessor of Santa Claus.
- Hanging Mistletoe and other evergreens around the house, such as holly and pine branches.
- Burning the Yule Log for good luck and prosperity.
- Eating the Christmas ham, which could come from the tradition of sacrificing a boar to Frey and eating it.
As you can see, it isn’t very difficult to celebrate the Winter Solstice without anyone noticing anything different from the usual Christmas celebrations.
DIY ideas for Yule
Here are a few ideas adapted to modern times, so you can have a meaningful and budget-friendly Yule. These are just some suggestions, so feel free to experiment and adapt them to your own taste!
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1. BURN THE YULE LOG
If you are lucky to have a fireplace in your home or a garden where you can light a bonfire safely, you can go through the most traditional route and burn an actual Yule log.
The Yule log was made of the trunk of the previous year’s Yule tree, but if this is your first time celebrating it and you aren’t prepared, simply go to the nearest forest or buy some logs and select a large one, preferably made of Oak or Ashwood, although other types of wood will do too.
Once you have your log, inscribe some runes for good fortune with a knife – Please, be careful with this step! – You can also paint the runes with a Sharpie or paint if you are doing this with a kid or don’t want to use sharp objects.
Some examples of great runes to use for this are:
- Fehu for good luck and wealth
- Ingwaz for new beginnings or a new life (metaphorically and literally)
- Algiz for protection
- Dagaz for hope and happiness.
After that, each member of the family thinks about a wish for the next year and writes it on a small piece of paper. Use a cotton cord or string made of natural fibres to secure the messages to the log.
Finally, gather around the fireplace or bonfire with a nice cup of warm mulled wine (or chocolate for kids!) and burn the log, while the family sings and shares stories until the flames consume it completely.
For those without a fireplace, you can follow all the previous steps, but instead of actually burning the log, adorn it with some ribbon and evergreens, berries, spices, pinecones… then place three candles on top and use it as a centrepiece during the holidays. Remember to use caution and never leave the candles unattended!
2. HANDMADE ORNAMENTS
Traditional Yule decorations are one of the most fun parts, as it requires natural elements and everyday materials. Grab your coat and go to the nearest park or forest to gather branches from evergreen trees and plants, such as pine, holly, ivy and of course, we can’t forget the mistletoe. It will make a fun family day and a great opportunity to connect with the winter season coming.
But if we had to choose one thing to represent Yule, that would definitely be oranges. Take some firm oranges and simply stud them with cloves, be as creative as you wish with the clove arrangements! They will not only look good, but they will make your home smell amazing. Feel free to use other citrus or add a ribbon around it for an even more festive look.
For a longer-lasting decor that can also serve as a great gift, there’s the option of drying orange slices in the oven to make garlands.
Cut your oranges in 2cm slices and place them onto an oven rack (don’t put them in a baking tray, as they will stick and burn!). Place the rack in the oven at 120º Celsius for 2-3 hours, then turn it off and leave them inside until the oven is completely cool. Don’t be afraid to test this with other kinds of fruit, such as lemons or apples.
Lastly, use some fishing line or ribbon to create your garland. Stud some cloves to the orange slices or add other spices to the garland for an extra scent boost!
3. CREATE YOUR OWN TUB TEA
Another great, but more modern ritual for Yule is to take a much-needed self-care day. With the cold temperatures and the short days, is there anything better than taking a hot bath?
Making a festive mix for a Tub Tea is much easier than you think and it also makes a great gift for your loved ones.
These are the ingredients we recommend for a festive scent:
- Cinnamon sticks
- Dry orange peel
- Coarse sea salt or Epsom salt
- Pine needles
- Essential oils of your choice (optional)
First of all, use a pestle and mortar or your own hands to grind the cinnamon sticks. Don’t overdo it though, we still want it to have a coarse grind.
Add one equal part of all of the dry ingredients. The amount depends on how much you want to make, so for example, if you want to create a big batch, add 1 cup of the coarsely ground cinnamon sticks, 1 cup of dry orange peel, 1 cup of coarse sea salt, 1 cup of cloves and 1 cup of pine needles.
If you want a more powerful scent, add some drops of the essential oils of your choice at this point and mix everything thoroughly. Put the mix in a nice glass jar and include a small cotton or jute bag.
Whenever you need to unwind, simply fill 3 or 4 tablespoons of the mix into the cotton bag and let it sit in the hot bath water for a couple of minutes.
4. RESET THE ENERGIES FOR A FRESH START
The most popular herb to burn in order to clean the energies in a home is sage. Unfortunately, sage is becoming endangered due to the massive growth in popularity in recent years, but the good news is that you can easily adapt this and make your own herb bundles with native herbs from your region!
Rosemary has an incredible variety of uses and one of them is to bless and purify your space. Bay leaves are also widely used in folklore magic, some of its many properties are protection and success.
To make your bundles, you can either use fresh herbs or dry, although it’s easier to work with fresh ones. The ideal would be for you to have homegrown herbs, but you can also find fresh ingredients in big supermarkets or traditional street markets. You will also need some cotton string or other natural fibre yarn.
Pick some big bay leaves and cut some rosemary branches about the same size as your leaves, the bundle can be as thick or thin as you want, just bear in mind that the thicker it is, the longer it will take to dry.
Once you have selected your herbs, alternate the bay leaves with the rosemary branches and hold them together with your hand. Start by tying a firm knot around the stems and wrap it around the end a few times to create a “handle”. Then simply keep wrapping the yarn tightly around the herbs until you reach the top and tie a knot.
Trim off any herbs that stick out of the bundle and leave them to dry for about 3-4 weeks. Hang the herb sticks upside down in a cool dry place.
Feel free to experiment with your herb bundles, but be sure to make some research first, as some plants can be toxic or harmful when burnt!
5. HANDMADE CANDLES
Candles are a big part of Yule, as they represent the light and warmth coming back into our lives. Making your own is easy and a good way to avoid harmful chemicals from mass-produced candles.
These are the supplies you will need:
- Soy wax or beeswax
- Glass or ceramic containers – this is a great way to reuse glass jars from your kitchen!
- Dry herbs and flowers of your choice
First of all, prepare your containers by adding a little dot of glue to adhere the wicks to the bottom.
Melt the wax, using the double boiler method and whisk often until fully melted. Then pour it in the container you prepared at the beginning and let it cool a little bit.
When the top layer is a bit opaque but still soft, sprinkle the dry herbs and flowers you selected.
Lastly, let it cool for 24 hours and enjoy!
Check out our gift guide for the Norse Pagans and Witches for even more ideas!
Check out our selection of Yule gifts: