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(Also, that Yule pun was terrible and I’m not even a little sorry about it.)
Now that November’s almost through, I feel like I can talk about Yule. I confess, Yule isn’t my favorite holiday — like a lot of other witches, Samhain’s more my jam. Still, there’s a lot to love about winter, from bundling up with my partner, my cats, a cup of star anise tea, and a fuzzy blanket, to visiting the National Arboretum and Rock Creek Park to take in all of the things nature hides under the greens of spring and summer. (I’m a sucker for watching fluffy little titmice puffing themselves up in red-berried hawthorn boughs. They’re so freaking cute, they’re basically alive Pokémon.)
As a Pagan, it can be tricky to find ways to make Yule feel special when so much of U.S. culture revolves around Christmas this time of year. So, I put together a short list of things that, to me, help make this season a little extra sweet.
The smell of rosemary
If I could, I’d make my apartment smell like a pine forest basically always. This is particularly true during winter.
I think it starts with holiday cooking — what would roast poultry be without rosemary? This evergreen has a tremendous depth that goes far beyond its use as a culinary herb, though. It has the sharp “green,” resinous smell of pine, but with a sweet woodiness all its own. It smells like winter, but with a subtle warmth behind it. It’s at once refreshing and relaxing, bright and earthy, and I absolutely love it.
Combined with the warmth and sweetness of sandalwood, it makes for a really gorgeous, unique scent. If you’re tired of holiday candles that all seem to smell like pine, cookies, or mulling spice, check out this rosemary and sandalwood candle by Mythology Candles.
When I was a kid, my favorite holiday decoration was a soft, fleecy snowman. He — with his knit cap, crooked smile, and chili pepper nose(!) — inspired a love for snowpeople of every sort. They’re not the easiest things in the world to make here (unless you’re a fan of slushy, car-exhaust-gray lumpmen) but there are some really adorable ones out there made of needle-felted wool. Best of all, they won’t melt!
This seller has a bunch of really adorable snowmen, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
I have a lot of plants. Like, a lot-lot. In a previous incarnation of this blog, I talked about my perpetually-pupping aloe plant. I also have at least two cacti that are putting out pups as we speak, a pothos that’s more or less taken over a bookshelf, a nepenthes that puts out basal shoots with surprising regularity, and I pretty much don’t know what I’m going to do if I find another pup on my gigantic spider plant.
We have a lot of plants.
All of this is to say, I really like naturalistic winter decorations. I love botanical prints, boughs of greenery, and live trees. That’s why I absolutely love these pressed botanical ornaments by Sylvan Dream Designs. The leaves and flowers still have that bright, just-picked color, while the glass and silver frames twinkle and flash in the lights. They’re pretty without being gaudy, with a natural elegance that would suit almost any holiday decor.
I also love these rustic witch’s ball ornaments by The Closet Pagan. Filled with moss, coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, juniper berries, and tiny pine cones, they’re like a tiny forestscape in each ball. (I’m really tempted to get some for the area around my altar space.)
Okay, so these aren’t strictly a winter thing — if you’ve taken a look at my art blog, you will probably be completely unsurprised when I tell you that I love ravens, crows, and other members of corvidae. I have them pretty much everywhere, and my holiday decorations aren’t an exception. I just like busting out the extra fancy ones for Yule, like this copper raven ornament by roseworksmt. The hammered texture and heating give it a really lovely rainbow patina, and the heavy-gauge copper mean that it’s virtually cat-proof.
If you’re decorating a Norfolk Island Pine, or another live tree with flexible boughs that struggle under heavy ornaments, consider this beautiful raven in laser-cut birch by Yvonne Laube Designs. It’s light enough for delicate branches, but the birch plywood means that it, too, can hold up to curious paws.
Yule is a time for winding down. It’s the very beginning of the year for me and others like me — Samhain marks the boundary between one year and the next, so Yule is the first major holiday of my year. It’s a time for resting between the harvest and the new growing season, and a time for sharing my prosperity and the fruits of my harvest with my loved ones. I exchange gifts with others to show that, even in the dark and cold of winter when there isn’t much to go around, we will still take care of each other.
For me, since Yule is a time of rest and reflection before the spring growing season, it’s also a good time to set the seeds of intention that I want to see grow through spring, ripen in summer, and harvest in fall. That’s why I enjoy things like The Magick Cabinet‘s Yule Blessings Oil and Yule Incense. They are one part ritual for setting your intentions for the year ahead, and one part making memories.
I think it’s especially valuable for people who are new to Paganism and the wheel of the year. In the U.S., we’re pretty much inundated with Christian holiday rituals, and it can make it difficult to form traditions that feel authentically ours. Having useful, enjoyable ritual items goes a long way toward helping to establish a meaningful holiday practice.
A fancy bath
When I was little, I often got fancy bath salts as a stocking stuffer. I remember waking up early to open presents at one parent’s house, then relaxing in a toasty, comforting, fragrant bath until it was time to get dressed and visit my grandparents. So, taking a long, hot bath has become a sort of Yuletide ritual for me — a time to enjoy the warmth of the water away from the cold outside, and the peace of being alone in the tub away from the chaos of lights, music, and visiting relatives.
I’ve never been much good at gift guides — I have what could charitably be called “eccentric” taste in gifts — but I did want to put together a couple of things that help make this season special for me. Whether you’ve been a lifelong Yule celebrator or you’re just starting on your path, I hope they can make it special for you, too.
Not everyone has the ability to make their holidays merry, too many don’t even have enough food to eat. So, if you have the means to do so this season, please consider donating to Action Against Hunger to help feed the hungry.