Yule is one of our most sacred times of the year. Not only do we have the twelve days of Yule usually bookended by Mother’s Night and Twelfth Night in our observances, we also have other celebrations like Krampusnacht (and with it the rebranding of Saint Nicholas’ Day as Oski’s Day), Lussinatt, and more throughout December and through the wassailing season, which concludes by early January. So many folk customs have persisted from what were once surely pre-Christian practices, that we get excited to have so much we can sink into as we celebrate the holy tide. We also are opportunistic, seeing traditions from mainstream religious observances around us and deciding to do our own thing that speaks to our own religious pathways.
In modern times, heathens have created a new tradition in the 21st Century known as Väntljusstaken (literally, candles we light to wait) or Sunwait. Sunwait began specifically in Sweden, and it quite intentionally was started to echo Christian advent style countdowns towards Christmas. Sunwait starts six weeks before the winter solstice, and is an anticipatory lead-in towards Yule. One candle is lit per week leading up to Yule. Each candle is also symbolically tied to the first few elder runic letters: ᚠ – Fehu, ᚢ – Uruz, ᚦ – Thurisaz, ᚨ – Ansuz, ᚱ – Raido, ᚲ – Kenaz. Traditionally Thursday evening’s at sunset is when each candle would be lit, but others have created timings that work for them instead. Some decide to have it coincide with Friday’s because of work schedules, or choose instead to have each week fall on the same weekday as the winter solstice does in that given year. Still others opt to observe it on Sunday, since that day of the week is named for the solar goddess Sunna.
The Scandinavian origins makes sense considering that the amount of sunlight is shortening everyday at this time of year. For instance, Reykjavík, Iceland is only getting about 7 hours of daylight at this point in November, by the time of the winter solstice the amount of daylight will be around 4 hours a day. At the more extreme latitudes closer to the planetary north pole the feeling of darkness and winter can feel oppressive, and even be a cause for vitamin deficiencies leading to worsening health, and even depression. Anticipating the joy of Yule, the tipping point of the year when light and warmth begin retuning again is indeed a joyful affair. The custom is slowly spreading outside of Scandinavia, but still is only observed by a small minority across the various denominations found in the Northern Tradition umbrella. Others who prefer to only observe historical rites choose to ignore it in it’s entirety.
The Facebook page, fb.me/vantljusstaken, not only has resources in multiple languages, but encourages people from around the world to share the photos from their sunwait candles and altars. They have the FUTHARK poem, a stanza per each week of Sunwait available in multiple languages, the English version follows below.
Fehu – In the first of sunwait we light
The candle of Fehu so bright
Until the return of the queen of skies
May her beauty and splendor in it rise
Uruz – In the second of sunwait we light
The candle of Uruz so bright
With all that has passed and ahead of us lies
May the passing of time in it rise
Thurisaz- In the third of sunwait we light
The candle of Thurisaz so bright
When the force of winter upon us lies
May the return of spring in it rise
Ansuz – In the fourth of sunwait we light
The candle of Ansuz so bright
In worship of gods old and wise
May the powers of Regin in it rise
Raido – In the fifth of sunwait we light
The candle of Raidō so bright
In yearning for that which never dies
May our longing for new life in it rise
Kenaz – In the sixth of sunwait we lightunattributed author
The candle of Kenaz so bright
A light in darkness again shall arise
May the hope of yule in it rise
I found some photos at fb.me/vantljusstaken, and the instagram account @sunwait_candles. I am including a selection of them in a gallery below for inspiration (and in case their original posts ever disappear from the internet). I find it’s helpful to see visuals on how people choose to celebrate it. You can also follow social media hashtags such as #väntljusstaken and #sunwaitcandles to find more.
John Hijatt discuses it at his blog, with suggestions on how to personalize the candles. Bridgette Sloane talks about how her family celebrates it. Others, are creating their own observances and traditions inspired by the base of the futhark sunwait poem. Krasskova detailed her practice with it last year at her blog, including the prayers used in her household for the observance.
If you want to try your hand at it, but live in a situation where you can’t have open flames, there are a variety of LED candles from large pillar sized candles, to smaller tapers, and votives you can use instead. The devotional act, the sacred mindfulness in your approach, is far more important than using a real flame.
Anglesdottir Arts has made a printable sunwait graphic, that she’s made available for free download, which would be a perfect way to involve young children by having them color the card as you teach them about sunwait. Keep in mind this generous gift is intended for non-commercial use.