‘So now is come our joyfull’st feast, let every man be jolly; Each room with ivy leaves is drest, and every post with holly’ – George Withers (1588-1667)
Historians argue about the origins, retailers and restauranteurs bask in the profit-generating potential, ordinary people variously wallow in it or hide themselves away: the annual binge carries on unabated. Marking the shortest day of the year and therefore the longest night, this date in the calendar (December 21 or 22) has long been a time to live it up to the max. What else to do when all is dark, damp, barren and cold? Banish these with rousing festivity, of course!
Several kinds of greenery can be brought inside to decorate the home and Pagans do this to provide refuge for the spirits of the woodlands during the cold season. No need to limit yourself to pine trees! Include branches of bay and laurel, holly, yew, cedar, rosemary and mistletoe (caution: the berries are poisonous). Make a bouquet or wreath for a table centrepiece, fix garlands to doors and shelves, tied with brightly coloured ribbons and streamers. Paper-chains are a cheap and cheerful decoration and are easily made by children gathered around a table.
Feasting, merriment, socialising and entertainments are everywhere at Yule. Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia in honour of Saturn, their God of agriculture. Cries of ‘Yo Saturnalia’ rang out in the streets, role-reversals such as masters waiting on slaves, acts of generosity, etc. marked the occasion. Furthermore, the festival of Sol Invicta ‘the Unconquered Sun’ celebrated the return of the Light. For the Northern Tradition this is ‘Yule’, in English ‘wheel’ representing the turning of the year.
Musical themes for this season are plentiful. Anything that mentions the evergreens of the season, such as the lively ‘Deck the Halls’ with its simple fa-la-la-la-la chorus is ideal. Songs ancient and modern celebrate the delights of sleigh rides, dancing, gift-giving and feasting. Some people have adapted Christmas carols to give them a Pagan theme, so you might like to seek out a few of them. Mumming plays are performed in many pubs, and early in January the Mari Llwd (a mythical horse figure) can be seen in parts of Wales at street gatherings.
Good Yule! Sol Invicta!