Coffee and Contemplation: Yule/Yuletide

December 21 is the first day of Winter or the Winter Solstice. This is also celebrated as Yule. Yule is the final celebration for the Wheel of the Year and the cycle ends and begins again. This is also when the Holly King is celebrated during the peak of his power and reign over half the year. He will lose the battle to the Oak King who reigns over the other half of the year in the Spring. Yule celebrations involve bonfires, decorating with holly, mistletoe and the boughs of evergreen trees, ritual sacrifices, feasts, and gift-giving. I don’t recommend you participate in the sacrifices because I don’t recommend killing anything.

Many of the traditions of Yule were carried over into Christmas celebrations. The midwinter feast usually lasted 12 days (the 12 days of Christmas). Vikings decorated evergreen trees with gifts, food, and carvings (Christmas tree). In Norse tradition, Old Man Winter visited homes to join the festivities. Odin was described as a wanderer with a long white beard and is considered the first Father Christmas. These are a few examples and chances are many of you already celebrate Yule believing it’s Christmas. I think it’s time for the world to admit that Christmas has never been about Jesus. Also, let’s just call it Yule from now on.

Summer Solstice: Blessed Litha

Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. While some consider this the official beginning of Summer, others call it Midsummer because it’s when the Sun reaches its peak. Celebrations during the solstice are found in every country and believed to have been around since the Stone Age. Stonehenge in the UK aligns with the sunrise on the Summer Solstice and aligns with the sunset during the Winter Solstice. The Summer Solstice sunset falls between two of the pyramids of Giza near Cairo, Egypt. Christians celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist around the Summer Solstice.

The Pyramids of Giza near Cairo, Egypt.

Pagans, Druids, and Wiccans call the Summer Solstice Litha. And like many of the Midsummer celebrations, there are bonfires, feasts, and offerings. There is a great deal of mythology around Litha. I encourage everyone to read up on it if interested. Some of you may recall I spent last Summer in Fairbanks, AK. Being near the Arctic Circle, they have a celebration called the Midnight Sun Festival. The festival takes place at midnight and the sun is still shining. There is also a baseball game, the Midnight Sun Game. It starts at 10:30 pm and continues through midnight with no artificial lighting.

If you’ve never visited Alaska in the Summer, I recommend it. Until then, stoke up a fire, have a feast with friends, and I hope your Midsummer Night Dreams are pleasant ones. They may or may not involve fairies. If you’ve never seen Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I also recommend this. Have a blessed Litha.

The Wheel of the Year, the annual cycle of seasonal festivals observed by modern Pagans.