Merry Sol Invictus

Yule and other pagan winter celebrations

The holiday season is upon us, but there are other important religious dates and festivities aside from Christmas that take place during this time of the year: one being winter solstice.

A brief history

Winter solstice, alternatively called Yule or Sol Invictus, is a pagan celebration Emperor Aurelian established in 272 CE after his troops were inspired by a divine power on the battlefield. He declared Dec. 25 as the birthdate of the “Invincible Sun” and made the day a feast-day. Not too long after, the Church decided to declare this same date to be Jesus’ birthday and soon the day was completely Christianized. Many pagan traditions were swallowed up as well.

The importance of winter solstice

Winter solstice is a time for reflection. Personal growth and the shedding of the past are important aspects of welcoming in a new sun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a time of solitude. The solstice celebrates people and new beginnings. Partaking in group rituals is equally as important as solitary ones. Cleansing the inner self while remaining connected to the outer world and the earth is central to this time of the year.

Winter solstice may have a set date, but the celebration doesn’t stop there. Pagan tradition dictates celebrations go on for around a week, ending as the new year begins. This gives plenty of time to soak in the spirit of the solstice and ready oneself for a new beginning.

So how can one properly observe the season?

One way is being mindful of and purposeful with any plants chosen to decorate your dwelling. Decorate your living space with sacred plants: Holly, ivy, evergreens, oak, mistletoe, frankincense, myrrh and wheat all symbolize important aspects of winter solstice such as rebirth and life. Fresh mistletoe is hung and will remain hung throughout the year to bring good luck.

Christmas is similar to Yule in the way of decorating trees. Instead of ornaments, traditional pagan symbols are hung on the tree and a blessing is placed on it, usually when the tree is cut and again when it’s being decorated.

Honor the Mother Goddess: Placing art depictions around your home is encouraged and is a respectful way to welcome her into your life during this time of rebirth.

Charity is an important aspect of the season. Giving back to the world around you is a key element of the winter solstice. Donating food or even hanging a birdfeeder up on your porch or outdoor space are both great options. The spirit of giving is important, especially in paganism, which is so firmly rooted to the earth and its inhabitants.

You could also partake in traditional rituals. Welcome back the sun by lighting candles and chanting during a traditional ritual. Start by arranging your candles into a circle, placing one in the middle to represent the sun. Then, chant. After the first part of the chant, the sun can be lit while chanting the second portion. Continue chanting as you light the rest of the candles, starting with the one closest to the sun.

Winter solstice is about new beginnings, so self-reflection should help bring focus on what changes need to be made in order to better oneself and the world. Balance this out with group meals and rituals to share the fun. Be around loved ones and participate in other winter solstice festivities together. The human experience is a big part of pagan tradition, so share the joy of the season with others.