The tradition known as Christmas was based off of the Pagan sabat known as Yule. Unlike its newer counterpart, Yule is a minor holiday along the Wheel of the Year. But both are celebrated in similar ways.
But first… What is Yule?
Yule is the start of winter and the lighter half of the year. It typically falls on the solstice some time between December 20th and 23rd. It is the day when the Earth’s north pole is tilted furthest away from the sun, resulting in an extremely short amount of daylight. The reason why it is celebrated is because it is an end to the growing darkness and the return of the light.
It is believed that the roots of Yule are in an ancient Germanic celebration called Modraniht. It is speculated that the Anglo Saxon Pagans would celebrate it by staying up all night drinking and feasting, maybe even making a sacrifice to the gods.
And there are many gods celebrated on this day. The Romans called it Saturnalia and honored Saturn, Bona Dea, and Mithras. Celtics celebrated Kris Kringle the gift-giver (who later would become Santa Claus) and Cailleach, the Queen of Winter. And, of course, the Goddess’ return to motherhood as the old God is reborn. Other deities who went through cycles of life, death, and rebirth were also celebrated.
These days, Yule is still celebrated with feasting and many a drink to be had. Most of the rites performed this night are focused on peace, harmony, increasing happiness, and planning for the future. Of course, there’s gift-giving (usually simple things hand-made or grown yourself), but there’s also a common tradition: the Yule Log. The log is always gifted to or grown by you, but never bought (it’s considered bad luck to buy it yourself). Then it is decorated, doused with ale, dusted with flour, and ceremoniously lit with a piece of the previous year’s log.
I honestly have no idea why this is done (it’s not part of my ritual), but some believe it represents the eternal battle between light and dark; between good and evil.
However you celebrate this turning of the Wheel, I hope you do it surrounded by love and light.