Celebrating the winter solstice, or the pagan holiday of Yule, isn’t much different than the ways we celebrate the Christmas season; however with Yule, there is a deeper focus on nature, its cycles and how we can celebrate the joy of the changing seasons

The winter solstice—December 21st—is the shortest day of the year and is considered the official first day of winter. It’s when nature falls into its deep slumber as we retreat indoors to the warmth of our homes. The celebration of Yule is a time to find our inner strength and reflect on the year that has passed and the year that’s to come. The winter solstice allows us to be renewed by the stillness of winter with a promise of the sun’s return come spring.

Many of our Christmas traditions have stemmed from Yule, and recently there’s been a resurgence in Yule-type activities. Since this holiday is very much in tune with nature, there are many ways to bring sustainability to Yule festivities and honour our natural surroundings.

1. Decorate with natural elements

There is intention and symbolism in decorating for Yule. It’s a chance for us to bring greenery inside when everything might otherwise be bare and asleep.

Greenery: Evergreens are a symbol of strength, perseverance and protection. Many choose them for their wreaths and garland and incorporate colour through dried fruits or poinsettias.

Lights: Lighting your home for Yule is all about bringing hope for the light of the sun. If you choose to decorate with some LED lights, go with red, green, gold, silver and white, which are all symbolic for the winter berries, evergreens, earth, snow and sun. More traditionally, people light up their homes with botanical candles that are infused with berries and cedar and the scents associated with Yule like frankincense, cedar, cinnamon and peppermint.

2. Bring intention to your Yule tree

Did you know that the Christmas tree was originally a pagan practice? Once again, through the evergreen, we honour the hope for the sun’s return and sacredness of the trees because they don’t sleep through the winter like deciduous trees. You can also make a wreath with your friends for this same reason, and decorate it with intention. Talk about the things from this year that you’re thankful for, what you hope for the coming year, and reflect on nature’s cycles and her lessons. Add holly and mistletoe, which are associated with good luck and protection, or other forest items like pinecones, twigs, or ornaments that represent any intentions you may have for the winter reflection.

3. Light up the Yule log

This ritual comes from an old Celtic belief. Traditionally an oak or ash log was brought into the home where it was carved and decorated with greenery, anointed with ale, and would be lit on the solstice eve in the fireplace. The log is left to burn overnight and if it was still burning at sunrise, it was a good sign for the year to come. Since not many of us have wood-burning ovens or want to leave a bonfire going overnight, use a candle holder in the Yule log and burn a candle overnight instead. Incorporate the same natural decorations in your Yule log and set some intentions with your loved ones.

4. Celebrate with a feast

We love a good reason to get together with family and friends and eat good food. Traditionally, Yule is celebrated with fruits, nuts and berries that are readily available in nature, as well as root vegetables, and pork or turkey if you can find it locally and sustainably. If you have a garden or access to fresh farm foods, this is the best way to keep your meal eco-friendly and to share and celebrate your year’s harvest.

5. Share prosperity through gift-giving

Gift-giving through the Yule lens is done with a little more intention. Through gifts, we share our prosperity and show compassion to our loved ones that we will help each other in times of need. If you’re doing a Yule gift exchange, you can limit the amount of things that you purchase through a Secret Santa, buy thoughtfully (locally and/or sustainably), or make gifts with existing materials and objects that you have.