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Winter Solstice/ Yule
The Birth of the Sun God: Yule
The Winter Solstice, or Yule, is one holiday which is still celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. This day marks the birth of the Sun God, the God who will overcome the darkness and allow light to prevail; if this sounds familiar, it is! Pagans have been celebrating this day of hope in the midst of winter for centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was born; the early Christians simply adjusted the names and myths behind this birth day and viola! Christmas!
All cultures which experience a winter cold enough to stop the activities of agriculture have some sort of mid-winter holiday. Think about how easy it would be to lose all hope in the middle of a brutal winter, with only wood for heat and each other for entertainment; some kind of celebration offering a glimpse of pleasures to come would have been necessary to break the gloom. Thus, the birth of the Sun God came into being. He was a powerful figure who would eventually grow old and strong enough to defeat the forces of cold and darkness which held these people in their grip. This offered people the hope they so desparately needed.
Today, we celebrate Yule in much the same spirit, although some traditions celebrate the Sun God's birth at Imbolc. It is primarily a festival of hope and promise for the future; children often take center stage at Yule because they embody this promise. Gifts are exchanged, traditionally gifts of preserved summer fruits and entertaining gifts that add fun to the closed-in feeling of winter. Some pagans specially preserve a jar of fruit or vegetables expressly for Yule; these special treats are designed to remind the household of good times past and future. Yule is a great time to review the past year, congratulating yourself on advancements on your path, and reconsidering those things which did not work out.
The traditional Yule Log is another fun tradition; the household saves an especially big and nice log earlier in the year to be the Yule Log, which traditionally should burn for at least three days. The Yule Log is a symbol of the Sun and the Light which will be returning soon.