The roots of the Christmas tree: Pagans celebrate Yule

This winter celebration featuring trees, candles and wreaths predates Christianity.

Brian Stanely dresses as Father Yule in preparation for ritual. Father Yule is a symbol to pagans as a combination of gods from different pagan cultures and practices that focus on the changing of the seasons. RNS photo by Mikala Compton

BOONVILLE, Mo. (RNS) — The pagans at the Oak Spirit Sanctuary decorate their trees, hang wreaths and tell the story of Santa Claus. But unlike Christian Americans this time of year, pagans are celebrating Yule.

Yule honors the winter solstice — the longest night of the year — when pagans focus on the sunlight to come after a season of dark, and engage in rituals that predate Christianity’s adaptation of these practices.

To pagans, the Yule tree, wreath and candles remind that spring is around the corner.

Though the longest night of the year falls on Dec. 21, the celebrations at Oak Spirit came early this year — on Dec. 16 — when more people could participate.