Merry Yuletide to you all, whether you choose to celebrate the most important European holiday on the Winter Solstice or on Christmas Day, this festival marks the return of light and the sun during the cold and dark winter. The warmth and light of the hearth provided a focus for almost all activities at this time of year, and so families would be engaged in close contact for much of the winter season. In our busy, Modern lives it can be difficult to make time for our families, which is why it is important to make the effort to spend time with our loved ones at some point during the festival.
However, there is also a side to this holiday that has a dark and sinister aspect. Cailleach Beira, the Winter Queen, is most powerful at this time of year, and with this comes the dreaded plagues of disease, hunger and despair. Though we do not have to worry so much about foraging and storing food as our ancestors did, it is still the case that various diseases, particularly the cold and flu, can affect us most strongly at this time of year. Aside from these physical ailments, seasonal depression resulting from a lack of sunlight can cause us to feel a sense of hopelessness, as if the sun can never return into our lives.
Therefore, it is important not only to maintain a nutritious diet for oneself (since what is healthy for one person may be detrimental to another within traditional medicine), but also to continue to exercise and keep occupied. Though the cold and dark outside drives many of us indoors and onto our electronic devices, we must also take care not to become too distracted by this, because this is the best time of year to do important inner work and examine our present situation in our lives. Do you have something that must be done in the coming year? Is there something that needs your attention and focus in order to move forward? Though the slow and sluggish atmosphere at this time of year makes it difficult to take action, it is still worth preparing and planning for the future ahead.
In mythological terms, Yule is when Wotan (as Hermóð) descends to Helheim to petition to Hel, ruler of the Underworld, to release Balder (the Norse ‘Krist‘) and Nanna from death. She refuses, but allows him to accept gifts from Balder and Nanna to take back to Ásgarð. This is where the tradition of gift-giving comes from, but it is only possible if Wotan ventures into the Underworld to retrieve them. In an allegorical sense, this means that we must journey into the darkest depths of our psyche in order to gain a fuller understanding of ourselves, and face that part of us which is weak and reluctant to move on into the new year. What is holding you back in life? Can something be done about it and, if so, how should you go about it? These are all things worth considering while we are not spending time with our loved ones around a warm fire (even if not in a literal sense, but rather the fire of our hearts).
The bareness of the trees and the grey colour of the sky can make things seem hopeless and forlorn. As Western civilization enters into its darkest hour, it can make the future ahead appear frightening and full of uncertainty. Yet, if we manage to cultivate within ourselves that light that has been handed down to us, then we can endure the darkness and live to see a brighter future. The growing awareness of our place in this world that emerging after the severing of our roots means that we must strive to plant the seeds of a a new civilization. However, this will take time, and we must be not only strong, but patient and willing to shed those parts of us which refuse to move on and accept the change that is happening. Yule is celebrated to remind us winter never lasts forever.