I was blessed to see Autumn take effect twice this year, once in England and once in November in Italy, I got to see the changing colours of the trees and enjoy the last of the cherished sunshine. When I got back to the UK I was greeted with the icy air and the sudden shift to winter. While it was a shock to the system, I was suddenly flooded with joy that the winter solstice was approaching.
There are so many Winter solstice traditions around the world, whether people are pagan or not, their traditions are embedded into so many cultures which can still be seen in many countries. The winter solstice, or Yule, is a festival that was celebrated by people who depended on the seasons. It marked the day of darkness that lasted longer than the light but meant that the days would start to get longer again. As a pagan festival, it was of course a sun festival, although we rarely associate Winter with the sun.
In Nordic mythology, Yule was known as the Wild Hunt. While obviously, it was a cold time, in difficult conditions and people needed to eat- it was known as the Wild Hunt because it was thought that the spirits of people who have died before their time, would come back to earth and form an army that would sweep through villages. People would leave out things for the spirits to eat such as bread or milk, to keep them onside. They’d also leave out food for Odin’s horse, who led the army- which is pretty similar to leaving food out for Santa and his reindeer don’t you think?
Thor would go ahead of the army to warn villagers that the army would soon be approaching. In Christianity, the Winter Solstice became St. Thomas day, which is of course steeped in Pagan traditions with Thomas being linked to Thor, the son of Odin, who would turn up to warn the people of the villages that the army was coming. Thor was the god of agriculture, which was important for survival and so people would bake bread in his honour and bring greenery into their homes.
Romans would celebrate Saturnalia, the God of Saturn who was their God of agriculture. It was a celebration for farmers and of course the Sol Invictus – the unbeatable sun that would rise again.
On the 6th of December, in Holland, and western Europe they celebrate St. Nicolas’s day, as I grew up in Holland, I like to celebrate it, it’s also my son’s Birthday (Thomas), so I have double the reason to celebrate. I shared my mulled wine recipe a couple of years ago that I like to make on St. Nicolas day. It’s a warming classic also known as bishops’ wine, and it really marks the start of Yule for me. Spices and flavours that remind me of Yule are of course oranges, cloves, cinnamon, honey and figs, so I like to add these to my mulled wine. Adding slices of Oranges to represent the sun wheel and the cycles of the solstice.
If you don’t want to drink wine, you can of course make infused tea blends instead. Perfect for warming up this winter solstice. In fact, this year I was given a really cute advent Calander, made by Clipper Tea. I love Clipper Tea because they don’t bleach their tea bags and are made from organic ingredients, they’re the perfect base for herbal infusions this winter.
It wouldn’t be Yule without candles, evergreens and even advent Calendars. A countdown to the solstice, the festival of rebirth and light. While evergreens are still popular and brought into the home, there are still pagan traditions within this. For example, mistletoe is a succubus, a plant that grows on trees and survives by sucking the nutrients from its host. In Nordic and Celtic traditions, many trees were thought to be sacred, and so the mistletoe was thought to be powerful as it contained the power of the tree. It was brought into the home for good luck and was associated with fertility- which is why people still kiss under the mistletoe.
Ivy is of course evergreen but was banned by the Church because it grew in the darkness and didn’t need much light, so it was considered dangerous. Instead, plants like Holly grew popular and of course ferns. Winter was a dangerous time, so decorations were made to pass the time, it was also a way of bringing the outdoors inside at a time when people would spend only a little time outdoors.
As you have more time indoors during the winter, it’s a great time to get crafting, baking and of course soaking in the tub. Check out my spiritual bath recipes for cleansing auras. Nice-smelling candles, or simmer pots, incense sticks are a great way to make the home smell festive and welcoming, it’s also another way to cleanse energy this winter…
Thanks for reading,
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