The Haskell family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. Instead, they celebrate Yule. And though the term “Yule” is often used as a synonym for “Christmas” or a generic winter holiday, it has specific significance for the Greeley, Colorado, family of four, as well as for many other Pagan and Wiccan families.
Yule: The Solstice Celebration
Yule may not be as well-known as other winter holidays, but it isn’t because it’s a new idea: It’s one of the oldest winter festivals celebrated today. Yule falls on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. It’s not known exactly how many people celebrate it, but there are nearly 700,000 people who are Pagan or Wiccan (two groups that mark the winter solstice), according to the U.S. Census.
“Yule is based on changes in season and the alignment of the planets,” Haskell explains. “As Pagans, we’re celebrating the return of the sun and of life to the earth,” she says. Wiccan families often celebrate Solstice as the rebirth of a god that brings light back to the planet. “In my family’s tradition, Yule is the rebirth of the Sun God, and as such it’s the beginning of a new year,” says Patrick McCleary of Tampa Bay, Florida.
How families celebrate Yule
If a casual observer looked into the Haskell family’s windows on Yule, they’d probably just assume the family was celebrating Christmas. They have an evergreen tree (“because traditionally, that was all that was alive in the dead of winter” in the Northern hemisphere, Haskell explains) and they decorate it with brightly colored ornaments reminiscent of the colors in the sun, includ- ing a sun-like lighted topper.
They also prepare a Yule feast, focusing on foods that would have been available at mid-winter before the modern era of trucking foods across the country, as well as foods that have bright sun-like colors (sweet potatoes and winter squash are favorites). And while they don’t get visits from Santa, the Haskell kids do get showered with gifts the morning after the solstice. “When I was growing up, I would tell people ‘We do pretty much the same thing you do; we just get to open presents sooner,’” says Haskell.
Bringing Yule into your family’s celebration
No matter what religious tradition you follow (or if you follow none at all), understanding the solstice celebration can add a new dimension to your family’s winter holiday. “Many holidays this time of year already talk about the return of light to the world,” McCleary says. “So it isn’t a big step to recognize this event—the days getting longer—and add small things to your celebration that honor this change.”
And just understanding Yule and solstice celebrations, and why they’re important to those who celebrate, is a step in the right direction as far as Haskell is concerned. “I had to learn as a little kid there are people everywhere who don’t understand Paganism and can be really, really mean about it,” she says. “I tell my son, who is seven, that in school when kids talk about Christmas, it’s okay to call what we do ‘Christmas,’ too.” After all, she says, they do presents. They do songs. They feast and decorate with holly and greenery and ornaments. And they have a tree that reminds them of why they celebrate.
From the pages of KIWI magazine’s December/January issue
Talk about it
1. Do you or any families you know celebrate Yule? How does the celebration differ from Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa—and how is it similar?
2. How will you incorporate more natural, earth-friendly traditions into your family’s holiday celebration?