A Happy Yuletide: Celebrating the Returning Sun

There seems to be a theme running through most of the autumn and winter holidays – both religious and secular – that we celebrate in the northern hemisphere.

Do a quick online search and you'll find different festivals and feasts dedicated to light and rebirth in almost every culture. Winter is a time of short days and long nights as the Earth's northern axis faces away from the sun in its annual orbit. Historically we humans haven't liked the darkness, whether it's due to food scarcity with fewer crops that grow, or because there are monsters in the shadows, or because our bodies and mentalities need sunlight and vitamin D (aka Seasonal Affective Disorder).

So we light candles, burn our home fires bright, and light up our cities and towns. We surround ourselves with cheerful colors that symbolize the cycle of life (evergreen), love (red), and illumination (gold for the sun and/or silver for the moon and stars). We surround ourselves with reminders that the darkness won't really last forever.

I am one of those people. As both a nature lover and SAD sufferer, it's comforting to know that the light will return and spring will be here. So I – and many, many others – observe the winter holiday Yule, or, for me, the Winter Solstice.

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the night with the longest amount of darkness.

I mark that this means the northern axis will now start turning towards the sun again, a truly amazing feat when you really think about it.

I quietly observe the day in my own way, along with a few old traditions that I like. We don't give gifts for Yule since we also celebrate Christmas. This is more of a personal, individual time for me. I observe it in a really simple way since my COPD limits me a lot, but that's okay. It's enough to feel peaceful and well.

In the afternoon I go out to my garden with my camera. I photograph nature while it's waiting for the sun's rejuvenation. Photography gives me joy and purpose as a chronically ill person. After walking for a few minutes, I need to rest. So I sit still in my Serenity Grove and listen to the sounds of the winter birds. At times I hear the distant sound of a car, a human juxtaposition to the spiritual solitude I am enjoying. I offer up a silent thank you to the universe, for the universe, and all its wonders.

I offer up a silent thank you for the sun and not only our planet's perfect position within its glow, but the place on it in which I live.

This doesn't take long since it's cold, only about 30 minutes, but a little bit of self-reflection goes a long way.

Then I go inside to the light, the warmth, and the family I love. We don't burn a Yule log since I can't be around the smoke, but I do make a wreath out of evergreens from the woods. The scent is light and fresh and smells like the great outdoors. I also wrap a red ribbon throughout the greenery and put a candle in the middle of the wreath as my symbol of light.

Many of the winter holidays around the world are also feasts, and besides all the Christmas baking my son and I like to do, I hang herbs from my garden around my desk. I spend a lot of time at my desk, and the herbs – either ones I've dried or ones that are still growing like the sage – remind me of family meals and past holidays. I have rosemary, lavender, sage, mint, and basil, to name a few, and they're perfect. Not only are they non-fattening and don't take any cooking, but they don't have overpowering odors that overwhelm my asthma. I run my hands lightly through their leaves and I can smell just enough of their delicious scents to be pleasant. Plus, in my book, anything that reminds me of a summer garden is good.

The final way I observe Yule is wassailing2.

This is a very old English tradition of a “ceremony that involves singing and drinking to the health of trees on Twelfth Night in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn.3” Wassailing is fun and I don't do it every year, but should, especially since I do have apple trees. I do it on the Winter Solstice when I'm up for it. Sometimes it's a symbolic nod to the tradition and I just make mulled cider. Delicious.

If you too observe Yule, or a different holiday of light and birth, however so, may it be wonderful. And to everyone, may there always be light in your life.



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