Yule Lore

Also called: Yule, Jul, Saturnalia, Christmas, solar/secular New Year, Winster Solstice.

Yule originates from the 12-day festival, celebrated by Germanic peoples, around the winter solstice in December and January.  Yule comes from the old Norse jól and Old English géohol, which was a season of hunting after the harvest was done. This fell in what we now call December, so it eventually became associated with the Christmas Holiday. The first recorded use of the noun Yuletide, according to Wikipedia, was in 1475. The Yuletide season lasted from the end of November to the beginning weeks of January, but the feast of Yule lasted three days over the Winter Solstice and marked the beginning of the new year.

According to Norse historian and saga translator Lee M. Hollander, every nine years, Germanic (Norse) farmers were compelled to come to the temple hof and make sacrifices and feasts over a prescribed time during Yuletide. Yule was celebrated in Germanic countries with animal sacrifices where the sanctified blood was then used to paint the altar, temple posts, and the supplicant himself as part of the ritual. He was literally “washed in the blood.” This was followed by feasts, storytelling, and drinking around a large communal fire. In Grettis Saga, Yule is described as a time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.”

This was also a time of oath-making. Business deals and marriages were brokered. The godi (priest, judge, chieftain) in charge of the hof wore a great gold ring around his neck. The people who would swear an oath laid their hands on this ring and pledged in front of witnesses. Archeologists have found just such a ring at an excavation of an 11th-century chieftain’s residence on the outskirts of Tissø, Denmark.

The Yule Log

Eventually, Christmas celebrations absorbed many Yule customs as Christianity overtook Northern Europe. The oldest was the Yule log tradition, which echoed with sacrificial significance. Originally it was a whole tree or a large tree trunk that was carefully chosen, felled, and hauled to the longhouse with great ceremony. By tradition, the log must have been harvested from the householder’s land or given as a gift – The Yule Log must have never been bought. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred wood of the world tree from Norse Mythology, also known as Yggdrasil. Ash, an herb of the Sun, brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.

Then the end of the trunk was laid on the hearth and lit with a brand from the previous year’s yule fire as the rest of the tree stuck out of the hearth into the room. The tree trunk was pushed into the hearth as it burned, which it did continuously for 12 days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany. Finally, the unburned part of the tree was extinguished and saved to start the fire the following year. In Holland, they believed that storing the leftovers of the Yule log under a bed would protect the home from lightning strikes. No doubt a nod to Thor.

The Bûche de Noël is a French tradition that celebrates the Yule Log in the form of a fancy dessert made of thin sheets of sponge cake spread with buttercream frosting then rolled to form a log. The Bûche de Noël is decorated with chocolate frosting bark, candy holly leaves, and meringue mushrooms.

Roman Saturnalia

Few cultures knew how to party like the Romans. Saturnalia, which fell on December 17, was a festival of general merrymaking and debauchery held around the winter solstice. This week-long party was held in honor of the god Saturn and involved sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves, and feasting. Although this holiday was partly about giving presents, it was to honor an agricultural god.  A typical Saturnalia gift might be a writing tablet or tool, cups, spoons, clothing items, or food. Citizens decked their halls with boughs of greenery and even hung small tin ornaments on bushes and trees. Bands of naked revelers often roamed the streets, singing and partying — a naughty precursor to today’s Christmas caroling tradition.

Wassailing & Yulesinging – House to house

Traditionally, the Wassail Wassailbrated on Twelfth Night (on either January 5 or 6). Some people still wassail on “Old Twelvey Night,” January 17, as it would have been before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.  In the middle ages, the wassail Wassaileciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient-initiated charitable giving, distinguished from begging. This point is made in the song “Here We Come A-wassailing,” when the wassailers inform the Lord of the house that,

we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door
But we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.

The Lord of the manor would give food and drink to the peasants in exchange for their blessing and goodwill, i.e.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year

Wassailing is the background practice against which an English carol such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” can be made sense. The carol lies in the English tradition where wealthy people of the community gave Christmas treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve, such as ‘figgy puddings.

Although wassailing is often described in innocuous and sometimes nostalgic terms—still practiced in some parts of Scotland and Northern England on New Years Day as “first-footing”—the practice in England has not always been considered so innocent. Similar traditions have also been traced to Greece and the country of Georgia. Wassailing was associated with rowdy bands of young men who would enter the homes of wealthy neighbors and demand free food and drink (like the modern children’s Halloween practice of trick-or-treating). If the householder refused, they usually cursed him, and occasionally his house was vandalized. The example of the exchange is seen in their demand for “figgy pudding” and “good cheer,” i.e., the wassail beverage, without which the wassailers in the song will not leave; “We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here”. Such complaints were also common in the early days of the United States, where the practice (and its negative connotations) had taken root by the early 1800s; it led to efforts from the American merchant class to promote a more sanitized Christmas.

Wassailing & Yulesinging – The Orchard

In the cider-producing West of England (primarily the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Herefordshire), wassailing also refers to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. Wassailing is also a traditional event in Jersey, the Channel Islands, where cider made up the bulk of the economy before the 20th century. The format is much the same as in England but with terms and songs often in Jèrriais.

17th-century English lyric poet Robert Herrick writes in his poem “The Wassail.”

Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.

The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in autumn. The ceremonies of each Wassail Wassailom village to village, but they generally all have the same core elements. First, a wassail King and Queen lead the song, and a processional tune played or sung from one orchard to the next. Participants will then lift the wassail Queen into the tree’s boughs, where she will place toast soaked in Wassail Wassail Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited, such as:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!

This chant is followed by noise-making from the assembled crowd until the gunmen give a final volley through the branches. The group then moves on to the next orchard.

As the largest cider-producing region of the country, the West Country hosts historic wassails annually, such as Whimple in Devon and Carhampton in Somerset, both on January 17, or old Twelfth Night. Many new, commercial, or “revival” wassails have also been introduced throughout the West Country, such as those in Stoke Gabriel and Sandford, Devon. Clevedon in

Nineteenth-century wassailers of Somerset would sing the following lyrics after drinking the cider until they were “merry and gay”:

Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah,
Holler biys, holler hurrah.

A folktale from Somerset reflecting this custom tells of the Apple Tree Man, the spirit of the oldest apple tree in an orchard, and in whom the fertility of the orchard is thought to reside. In the tale, a man offers his last mug of mulled cider to the trees in his orchard and is rewarded by the Apple Tree Man, who reveals to him the location of buried gold.

The Winter Solstice

Scientifically speaking, a solstice is either of the year’s two events when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the equatorial plane. The name is derived from Latin sol (Sun) and sistere (stand still) because, at the Solstice, the Sun reaches a maximum or a minimum.  The cause of the seasons is that the Earth’s rotation axis is not perpendicular to its orbital plane but at an angle. Consequently, for half a year, the northern hemisphere tips to the Sun, with the maximum around June 21 (summer Soltice), while for the other half-year, the earth tips away from the Sun, with the maximum around December 21 (winter solstice).   Spiritually, The Winter Solstice (referred to as Yule in modern paganism) is one of the four minor Sabbats, which celebrates the rebirth of the Sun, the Sun God, and honors the Horned God. It is the longest night of the year when the balance is suspended and gives way to the coming light. It is a time to look at the past year’s achievements and celebrate with family and friends.

The Winter Solstice is also known as Yule, Midwinter, Alban Arthan, Finn’s Day, Festival of Sol, Yuletide, Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Growth.  Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges, which they laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the Sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was an accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy decorated the outside and the inside of homes. It was to extend an invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay a visit to the residents.

In modern paganism, the Winter Solstice (Yule) is the birth of the Sun God, who will eventually chase away Winter and bring summer and life back into the planet.  Although Winter looks bare and cold, it is a time of hope and joy – a celebration of the warm seasons ahead.  The days will grow longer instead of shorter, and we can look forward to the warmth of the Sun being brought back into our days and nights.

Yule Gods and Goddess

Goddesses: Albina (Tuscan), Angerona (Roman), Anna Perenna (Roman), Fortuna (Roman), Gaia (Greek), Grian (Irish), Heket (Egyptian), Isis (Egyptian), Kefa (Egyptian), Lucina (Roman), Persephone (Greek), Rhiannon (Welsh)

Gods: all reborn and Sun Gods; Apollo (Greco-Roman), Attis (Anatolian), Balder (Norse), Cronos (Greek), Helios (Greek), Hyperion (Greek), Janus (Roman), Lugh (Irish), Oak/Holly King (Anglo-Celtic), Odin (Norse), Osiris (Egyptian), Ra (Egyptian), Saturn (Roman), Sol (Roman)

Yule Herbs

Holly, mistletoe, evergreen, poinsettia, bay, pine, ginger, myrrh, valerian, cinnamon, nutmeg, oak, orange.

Yule Incense

Rosemary, myrrh, nutmeg, saffron, cedar, pine, wintergreen, ginger, bayberry.

Yule Incense Recipe
by Scott Cunningham

Two parts frankincense
Two parts pine needles or resin
1 part cedar
1 part juniper berries

Yule Incense
From Wylundt’s Book of Incense

1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. pine
1 tsp. cedar
1 tsp. frankincense
1 tsp. myrrh
few drops of mulberry oil

Yule Incense
From Wylundt’s Book of Incense
1 part cypress
1 part oak bark
1 part juniper berries

Yule Stones

Bloodstone, ruby, garnet, cat’s eye, clear quartz, jet, ruby, diamond, garnet, alexandrite, kunzite, citrine, green tourmaline, blue topaz, pearls

Yule Animals

Stags, squirrels, wren/robin, phoenix, trolls, myrmecoleon

Yule Foods
Ham, nuts, apples, caraway rolls, dried fruit, fruitcakes, gingerbread men, mulled wine, eggnog, Wassail.

by Terri Paajanen

Holiday cookie cutters can turn your gingerbread into a festive treat.


3 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
4 tbs milk
1/2 cup light molasses
2 tbs dark molasses
2 tbs ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda


Preheat your oven to 375F. Combine all the dry ingredients (except baking soda) in a large mixing bowl. Add 3 tbs of milk into a large saucepan and the molasses (both) and butter. Melt together over low heat.

Add beaten eggs and flour mixture to the melted ingredients. Dissolve baking soda in the remaining 1 tbs of milk, then add to the batter. Pour batter into a greased 10-inch baking pan. Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.

by Terri Paajanen

One variety of Wassail, Wassail mulled apple cider. Make up a batch of this before you go Yule caroling.


4 liters apple juice or cider
1 lemon, chopped
1 orange, chopped
1 lime, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground anise


Mix ingredients in a large enamel pot, and simmer for about an hour. Serve hot. Adding brandy or rum is a nice touch when served to adults


Roast Port with Rosemary
By Terri Paajanen

A straightforward recipe that can play center-stage on your Yule table.


4 lb pork roast
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Rosemary, dried
Olive oil


Preheat your oven to 325F. Place the roast in a pan, then rub the meat first with olive oil and chopped garlic and rosemary. Pierce the pork with a knife and stick in some pieces of garlic and rosemary.
Cook for approximately 35-40 minutes per pound of meat.

Yule Altar

Colors: red, green, white, gold.
Decorations: mistletoe, Holly, small Yule log, strings of colored lights, a candle in the shape of Kris Kringle, homemade wreath, presents wrapped in colorful paper.

Yule Spells and Ritual Work

Peace, harmony, love, increased happiness, a healthier planet, Personal renewal, world peace, honoring family & friends.

Yule Activities

Sing Pagan Solstice Carols

There are hundreds of pagan carols out there.  I strongly suggest you search for some that your family will enjoy!

Here are a few examples:


Joy to the World
(It Came Upon a midnight clear..)
Joy to the World, the light has come
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and Nature sing
And Heaven and Nature sing
And He-av’n and Heaven and Nature
Welcome our Lord, who brings us light
Our Lady gives him birth!
His Living Light, to warm our hearts,
And wake the sleeping Earth (x3)
Light we the fires to greet our Lord
Our Light, our Life, our Lord!
Let every voice sing holy praise.
And Heaven and Nature sing (x3)


Silent Night
Silent night, Solstice Night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Nature slumbers in forest and glen
Till in Springtime, She wakes again
Sleeping spirits grow strong!
Sleeping spirits grow strong!

Silent night, Solstice Night.
Silver moon shining bright
Snowfall blankets the slumbering Earth
Yule fires welcome the Sun’s rebirth
Hark, the light is reborn!
Hark, the light is reborn!

Silent night, Solstice Night.
Quiet rest till the light
Turning ever the rolling Wheel
Brings the Winter to comfort and heal
Rest your spirit in peace!
Rest your spirit in peace!


Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful!
Oh, come, all ye faithful.
Gather round the Yule fire
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye,
To call the Sun!
Fires within us
Call the fire above us
O, come, let us invoke Him!
O, come, let us invoke Him!
O, come, let us invoke Him!
Our Lord, the Sun!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee!
Born again at Yuletide!
Yule fires and candles flames
Are lighted for You!
Come to thy children.
Calling for thy blessing!
O, come, let us invoke Him! (x3)
Our Lord, the Sun!