Yule is a time to celebrate the strengthening of the Sun and the return of the light. It is perhaps this idea of the returning Sun that led to the festival being adopted by Christianity to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yule is a time of peace and happiness as the wheel turns from the dark to the light. Again, as with many winter festivals, Yule offers a message of hope, not just for lighter times but for a greater awareness of humanity. In times of old when Winter meant real hardship and the elderly and infirm turned to those they loved for comfort the bonds between loved ones were strengthened and nourished. This emphasis on caring for family is honoured among Pagans as part of their Yule celebrations.
Yule marks the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. It is at this point of the year that the days start to lengthen and the nights shorten until the Spring Equinox at Ostara when the length of the day once again overtakes the length of the night. For those of us going to work in the dark and coming home at night in the dark it is a very welcome reminder that eventually we'll be going to work in the sunshine again. That's very a cheery thought on the shortest day of the year!
The symbolism associated with this Sabbat is very heavily concentrated on images of the light. Candles, bonfires and the appropriate named Yule log all promise the returning of the light.
(The Yule log is traditionally a piece of an ash tree, a reminder of our links to Yggdrasil, the eternally green tree of life. The log is lit from the remnants of the previous year's Yule log and left to burn for the entirity of the longest night of the year.)
This returning of the light is both literal and symbolic. Literal in the sense that the wheel is turning back toward the light as the days get longer but also symbolic in the sense that darkness can always be pushed aside by the light. We are reminded of the cycle of life - that nothing is all dark and nothing is all light. Perhaps to a Pagan it is a reminder of the old saying that the "darkest hour is just before the dawn." It is also a reminder of the concept of balance, that nothing within our lives or our craft is all dark or all light but a blending and an ongoing cycle of both.
Traditionally Yule is a time of rest. The crops have been harvested and the planting season is yet to arrive. The dressing of the Yule tree symbolises the return of nature and the return of Spring to the earth. The winter blooming flowers of the mistletoe were a symbol of life returning to the earth once again. It is perhaps not difficult to see how this particular symbolism became incorporated into the modern practise of kissing under the mistletoe. Love, after all, being the foundation of life renewing itself.
For those Witches and Pagans who choose to incorporate religion into their celebrations, Yule marks the rebirth of the Sun God who died at Samhain. The Sun God will grow in strength until his powers peak at Midsummer (the longest day of the year) to dwindle once again in the ever perpetuating cycle of his death and rebirth. Yule is neither the start nor the end of the Pagan year, bur another reminder that life has no beginning and end, it is merely an ongoing cycle.
Image http://www.deviantart.com/art/Spirit-of-Yule-105215723 (AnneStokes) Check out her other wonderful pagan imagery here.