Re-live the Yule of 2017 with a tale of a cold winter solstice in the Great White North, warm fires burning bad spirits, and friendly faces gathered together to let the light in.
It’s December 21st, 2017. I layer on my winter gear after throwing cough drops in my purse. I pull on warm socks, ski pants, sweater, gloves, jacket, hat, scarf, boots, and finally mittens in succession. Then I hurry out the door to pick up my friend Robyn. Tonight is Yule, and for approximately two decades, I’ve been celebrating it with my best friend Sarah at her parents’ place. Every year, they open up their home and traditions to friends and neighbours, as they call back the sun on the the longest night of the year.
There are only a few years that I haven’t been able to make the Yule celebration. Usually, this is because I was travelling. Even the year Sarah and I lived in Scotland, we staved off homesickness by performing a smaller version of the Yule ceremony over our kitchen sink. There, we could douse our sacrifices and wash ashes down the drain without anyone being the wiser. I did not get to last year’s Yule festival due to illness. This year, I am once again fighting – and losing badly to – a nasty a cold virus. Still, I refuse to miss two years in a row. I am stubborn, and I won’t let this bug win.
Robyn has never been to a Yule ceremony before, and I am looking forward to sharing it with her. I invited her a few weeks ago. I had a feeling that, in some way, this ceremony is something she needs this year. Certainly I need it. It’s time I spent an evening focusing on bringing back the light.
We share the light from the fire as we usher in a new season
We’ve experienced a lot of darkness lately. Not all of it is literal. This particular series of familiar rituals always speaks to me. As a group, we join not only to end the long winter nights, but to symbolically banish other darkness in our lives by consigning it to fire. Before the ceremony, each participant can write down on slips of paper those things they wish to see eradicated from their lives over the holiday period. We slip these “criminals” or “bad spirits” into a wooden cage, where they stay until the ritual begins. Then, like the sacrifices that include oak, holly, ivy, and a stag effigy, the ceremony leader puts them the fire.
As I watch our demons reduced to ash in dancing Yule flame, I think of state of the world. Of the ugliness that inundates the news over and over. I take a deep breath and remind myself of some of my favourite Leonard Cohen lyrics, from the song ‘Anthem”. “There is a crack in everything,” he croons, and I feel it down to my bones. “That’s how the light gets in.”
It may feel like the world is broken right now, but those cracks are how the light will get in. How we let the light in. It will shine from all of us, as we grit our teeth and dig past despair to be the good we want to see in the world. Let the light in. Let the light win.
Listen to the song