How to Decorate a Yule Altar

How to Decorate a Yule Altar
The Yule altar is great fun to prepare because Yule is a time of rejoicing. Though it falls on the winter solstice with the shortest day and the longest night of the year, Yule is the festival that marks the return of the Sun. After Yule, each day grows longer as the Earth turns toward the spring and summer. Yule is also a time of rebirth. Now the Lord, sacrificed as a mature man during the final harvest at Samhain, returns to us a child newly born of the Lady’s womb.

And there is yet another way to see the Lord in the context of winter and summer solstices and how they balance each other across the Wheel of the Year: the legend of the Oak King and the Holly King. The Lord battles his brother (or his shadow self) on each solstice. At Midsummer, the Holly King wins the fight and the nights lengthen toward winter. At Midwinter, the Oak King is victorious and the Wheel turns toward summer.

The winter solstice is rich with symbolism. As you look ahead to the approach of Yule, you might want to create an altar in advance based on the following suggestions.

Yule colors include white and silver to represent snow and ice, gold and orange for Sun symbols, red for holly berries, and dark green for the boughs of the sacred evergreens that never die. Use these colors for candles, altar cloths, placemats, napkins, table runners, and table cloths.

Nature-themed decorations include ivy, mistletoe (sacred to the Druids), holly berries and leaves (for the defeat of the Holly King), evergreen boughs, pine cones, and living rosemary plants. Because this is a sabbat of rebirth and renewal, try to use fresh-cut or potted plants rather than dried foliage. Weave wreaths to hang on your door or lay flat to accent a table centerpiece. Arrange a bowlful of lemons or oranges studded with cloves to release their clean citrus scent. These round bright fruits symbolize the sun. Enjoy the crisp scents of bayberry or citrus candles. Use spicy incense with a pine or citrus scent.

For a basic seasonal altar that is not overtly Wiccan, start by draping your altar with a large cloth the pure white of the deep snows of northern Europe. (It would be a lovely touch to have it embroidered with sparkly silver metallic threads to look like ice or snow crystals.) Add a smaller cloth in dark green to represent the evergreen forests, and another one, smaller still, in gold or orange to symbolize the Sun. Arrange the altar cloths so you can see all the colors. For a centerpiece, add a simple wooden fruit bowl piled high with lemons or oranges. No one needs to know that the bowl represents the womb of the Goddess and the bright round fruits stand for the resurrected Sun. Circle the bowl with evergreen boughs, holly, and ivy. That is all you need. The Yule altar can be clean and minimal because Yule is a time of unencumbered beginnings.

Overtly Wiccan items for your altar include deer antlers to represent the Horned Lord and a bright chalice or cauldron of silver or bronze (instead of the bowl) for the Lady’s womb. Add poppets to represent the Oak King and Holly King, which you can whittle out of the appropriate woods or fashion out of small bundles of holly and oak twigs. Tie the holly twigs with red ribbons and the oak twigs with gold ribbons. In a pinch, you can substitute cut rosemary for one or both. Include figurine or images of the Lady as a young mother and the Lord as a newborn. She might be Rhiannon, Isis, or Demeter. He might be Pryderi, Horus, Mithra, or Dionysus.

No Yule altar would be complete without many scented white candles in Yule colors of white, gold, green, or red all lit up to spread their golden radiance and remind us of the Sun and the promise of warm, long days to come. Never leave lit candles unattended. The safest to use are in glass jars, which can also reflect the candlelight through their thick glass for a beautiful magnifying effect.

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