Firstly, Yule, or the Winter Solstice, occurs when the Sun enters the sign Capricorn, and is at 0 ° Capricorn. Thus, Yule is a "minor" Sabbat because it is at zero degrees, the beginning of the energy. This is the longest night of the year, at the darkest time of the year. In ancient times, it was believed that the Sun needed our help to return, so the people would light bonfires both to
strengthen the Sun through sympathetic magic and also to show the Sun the way back to the earth. Lighted candles in windows and lights on houses and trees (Christmas tree lights) are the leftover symbols of these bonfires, and are meant to symbolize and aid the return of the
Tinsel and icicles are fertility magic also, representing the rains which will come to fertilize the earth in the spring. Bells were used to purify the air, and to summon the friendly spirits for protection. The star at the top of the tree is our own pentagram, representing the four elements of air, earth, fire and water, overseen by Spirit.
Holly and Ivy were seen as the male and female principles (respectively) and were believed to bring good luck and fertility to men and women. Holly, berries, pine cones, and acorns were all used to signify the God aspect at this season, while the wreath symbolized the Goddess aspect. As a complete circle, the wreath symbolized the circle of life, the wheel of the year, and the sacred cycles of the Goddess, and was usually decorated with the holly, berries, ribbons, etc. of the God, and so combined both aspects in one decoration.
Of course, mistletoe has come down as the plant most associated with the Yule season. Being a parasite, it only grows high in trees, where the seeds land after being borne on the wind. The Druids therefore believed the plant was put there by the Gods, probably by lightning bolt, or put there by the Sun. It was believed to have miraculous healing powers, be very strong good luck, and have many other magical and mystical attributes, and thus was referred to as "the Golden Bough". In
Scandinavian countries, enemies would often be reconciled underneath boughs containing mistletoe, and any contract thus made could never be broken. Thus comes our custom of kissing beneath the