The Yule Log—A Winter Solstice Ritual

This year, the longest night of the year—Winter Solstice, or Yule—takes place on Thursday, December 21st. On the night of the Winter Solstice, an old tradition that we have adapted for Atheopagan purposes is the burning of the Yule log.

Yule marks the moment in the year when the sun’s steady decline, with days growing shorter and shorter, comes to a halt, and the days begin to become longer again. The day the sun begins to return is celebrated by cultures throughout the world and going back far into prehistory; indeed, such archaeological marvels as the Newgrange passage burial in Ireland were constructed precisely so that they aligned with the sunrise on this momentous day.

We have many traditions drawn forth from antiquity for this time of year: the burning of candles and colorful lights, the decoration of the home with evergreen boughs and holly and other plants which persist in life through the dark months, and, of course, the “Christmas” tree, a Pagan holdover into modern times.

One such old tradition is the Yule log.  While found in various forms, here is what I have adapted as a tradition for our own Atheopagan celebrations.

For the log itself, I start with the trunk of the previous year’s Yule tree, which I have saved. This I bind with (non-plastic) ribbons of red and green to a large oaken log of firewood. Decorations, too, are tied on (with natural twine if cotton or silk ribbons aren’t available): boughs of holly and pyrocantha, redwood and fir. Some people drill holes so that taper candles can be inserted in the log, allowing the log to be “burned” for multiple nights in a row before burning the whole thing in the hearth (or if they don’t have a fireplace). A dusting of flour will create a “snow” effect.

Finally, we sit before our Yule tree one night, contemplating the coming year; we write wishes for the year on slips of paper, and tuck these under the ribbons binding the log together.

On the night of the solstice, we make ourselves a rum toddy or some eggnog, and sit outside in the cold and dark for awhile, to feel the character of the season. We then light a single taper each and return inside, where all lights have been extinguished except the Yule tree. We light candles which have been placed throughout the house, to bring the light back.

Then, we gently carry the log to our little fireplace, where we have made a nest of paper and kindling. We sing a Yule song, and light the log ablaze.

Solstice night is also a traditional time to tell ghost stories, so we might read a few out of a book of Victorian ghost stories we have.

Our Yule tradition no longer includes presents, as we have enough “stuff”. But we do have Yule stockings with little gifts and sweets. Under our tree, we place various treasures from among our existing possessions, to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are.

The Yule log is a fun project to do, and the entire family can help with making and creating it. Just be sure that everything on it is plastic-free, to avoid creating toxic fumes.

Happy Yule to you!

10 thoughts on “The Yule Log—A Winter Solstice Ritual

  1. The Winter Solstice has always seemed to me to mark the ending of the year, and the beginning of the new. I know there are other candidates. Some Pagans (for reasons I’ve never quite understood) celebrate Samhain as the turning point, and the larger population, of course, celebrates the end of the Gregorian calendar’s year as “New Year’s Eve”.
    Perhaps I’m too literal minded about it, and I do have to ask myself, why not Summer Solstice, the other time of the year when things seem to pause, and then resume? I guess there’s just something irresistible about celebrating the whole “Light returning” thing, bringing joy while Summer Solstice brings more of an “Oh-oh” feeling.
    In any case, I’ll be there, holding my candle, bringing back the light one more time of (Goddess willing) many more.
    See you there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes–I think of the Winter Solstice as the New Year, as well. For one thing, I don’t believe in reincarnation, so having the season of death, decay and fallowness as the beginning of the cycle, rather than the end, doesn’t make any sense to me.

      But there are also just some cultural rocks that aren’t worth pushing up the mountain, and the New Year is one of them. Winter Solstice is close enough to the calendar New Year that saying “Happy New Year” doesn’t elicit a confused stare, which it certainly does in November.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think one of the many wonderful aspects of modern paganism is that there are many such new beginnings. For those that follow the “wheel of the year” model, every 8 weeks or so can be viewed as a new beginning. As the seasons change, as the light grows or diminishes, there’s always a place to reflect, adjust and move on. It’s kinda neat that way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. Having a formal calendar requires that we have a “beginning,” but the Wheel of the Year asks, at each point, “beginning of WHAT?” Sun cycle? Grain harvest? Sprouts above the snow?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I’m actively seeking some pagan and nature/science rooted celebrations for this holiday season, as I carve out new family traditions with my daughter. Wish we had a fireplace! We’re not allowed to burn outside here, either. I think I will find an amazing wood scented candle and give a suburban nod to the Yule log tradition. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds so wonderful and peaceful. Reminds me of the advent wreath I loved so much as a child but more on track with my current beliefs and spirituality. I also appreciate your reduction of presents with more simple things. My newest tradition is making food and herbal gifts for grandparents and friends. It just seems more personal and thoughtful for them and the world. Thanks for sharing your beautiful traditions! 🕊️🌲❄️

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Old Ways, New Days – Atheopaganism

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