It’s getting close to the winter solstice and hence time for my final High Day essay!
In some ways Yule is the hardest High Day to discuss due to the fact that many different cultures had celebrations at this time of the year and many of them have largely been consumed into the Christian and secular holiday of Christmas. Additionally, the habit of early Neo-Pagans inventing new myths (such as that of the Holly King and Oak King) further muddies the water for those trying to sort out solstice tradtions from the perspective of a particular culture.
Most of the elements of Yule which Neo-Pagans typically embrace, such as the tree, the log, wassailing, and visiting elves seem to be particularly Germanic in origin. From a Celtic perspective the traditions and elements are much less clear. Although the landscape of the Celtic peoples is littered with monuments which are aligned to the winter solstice sun, such as Newgrange, these were built by neolithic pre-Celtic peoples. While we do know that the Celtics incorporated these structures into their fairy faith, it is unclear as to what extent if any the Celts used them for ritual purposes.
There are some living traditions that come down to us, including the Scottish Hogmanny, the Irish Wren Day, and various Mummers traditions throughout the Celtic fringe. Most if not all of these have been co-opted into either Christmas or News Years celebrations, but they can all provide some fodder for traditionalist solstice rituals. More typical for those working with the Celtic hearth cultures is the invocation of the sun god cycle with Yule marking the birth of the divine child of light; Óengus mac ind-Og in Irish or Mabon ap Modron in the Welsh.
As far as seasonal changes at this time of year, Yule really marks the beginning of winter here in Canada. Whether or not we have any snow on the ground, the earth feels like it has gone into hibernation; nothing green is still alive and no flying or crawling insect is to be seen. The gulls and geese and robins are all gone, and the cardinals and jays and chickadees are out looking for seeds. Most noticeable, of course, is the long, dark nights.