How short the daylight hours have now become.
How gray the skies, how barren seem the trees.
A damp and chilling wind has gripped my mind and made me gloomy, too.
But there is that in me which reaches up toward the light and laughter, bells, and carolers,
And knows that my religious myth and dream of reborn joy and goodness must be true,
Because it speaks the truths of older myths;
That light returns to balance darkness, life surges in the evergreen—and us,
As babes are hope, and saviors of the world, as miracles abound
in common things.
Rejoice! And join in the gladness of the season.
— “Reflections on the Resurgence of Joy” by Dori Jeanine Somers
Yule is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It usually falls on December 21st or 22nd in the northern hemisphere. It is the time when the days begin to lengthen again. The day is also called “Midwinter” or “Mother Night” by some Neo-Pagans. The day falls near Christmas and (depending on the year) the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, when candles are lit on the new moon closest to the winter solstice.
Many Neo-Pagans celebrate Yule as the birth of the Child of Promise or Sun Child from the dark womb of the Goddess, a child who will defeat the powers of darkness in the spring and then be sacrificed in the autumn, only to be reborn again the following winter. The resemblance to the Christmas myth is unavoidable. The primary difference is that, while Christians see this as a historical event that occurred once centuries ago, Neo-Pagans see it as a cosmic event that occurs annually in nature and irregularly in the human soul. In both traditions, the winter solstice is an ambivalent time, the darkest time of the year, which simultaneously is the beginning of the return of light, a reminder that “it is always darkest before the dawn.”
Mythologically, at Yule, the Holly King, representing darkness, still reigns, but he begins his decline, as the Oak King, representing light, begins his ascent. The Goddess returns from the Underworld. She travails and bears her Son, the Sun Child. The Goddess’ ascent from the tomb mirrors the coming forth of the Sun Child from the darkness of her womb. The Goddess then takes on her Crone (old woman) aspect, for a season of repose.
While many Pagans consider Samhain to be the beginning of the Pagan year, the winter solstice or the spring equinox was the New Year for most ancient pagans.