This time of year always evokes some pretty strong emotions in me, mostly because I have such fond memories of the holiday season from my childhood. Despite not celebrating Christmas in the same sense anymore, there’s still this magickal feeling that takes over every year, a feeling that I absolutely want to instill in our own children.
Since we are interfaith, there are many ways in which our little nuclear family can honor this time of year and celebrate that magick. I’ve come to learn that many of my friends also celebrate the winter holidays in several different ways, too, so I invited everyone to share their holiday traditions! From secular Christmas to religious Chanukah, from Florida “winters” to inspiring Solstices, and everything in between, y’all sure did deliver!
So this year is going to be a mash-up of all of them, celebrating not only our personal take on the holidays, but including yours as well! Thank you all for participating, and in typical Coexist Cafe fashion: HAPPY EVERYTHING!
What IS Yule, Anyway?
I get this question every year without fail. In fact, it surprises a lot of people (my awesome attorney-boss included, haha) that Pagans get a holiday to themselves to celebrate every winter, too! This is more ironic than anything considering that most of our current holiday traditions have Pagan beginnings, but when this time of year is so focused on Christmas, strangely enough, Yule gets lost in the shuffle!
Yule is a modern English word used to describe an old twelve-day religious festival observed by Northern Europeans. For simplicity’s sake, even if the festival went by a different name for a certain group, I’ll be using “Yule”. The festival was later absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas, taking many traditions and adapting their own practices. Santa Claus, the myth of Jesus Christ, and the trappings of the season (trees, stockings, caroling, everything!) are all derivatives of old Yuletide traditions.
The solstice celebration likely originated with the Norse people, who viewed Yule as a time for merrymaking, feasting, and sacrifice (if the Icelandic sagas are to be believed… and I wouldn’t put it past them). Traditional customs included the Yule log, a decorated tree, and wassailing.
The Celts of the British Isles celebrated Yule as well, called midwinter to them. Not much is known about their traditions as they’ve been lost through the ages, but those that are known still persist today. Though while they still collect mistletoe, I’m pretty sure they don’t sacrifice a white bull like Pliny the Elder said Druid priests did back then!
Then there are the Romans, who had their own winter festival, Saturnalia. Full of general merrymaking, a lot of gambling, even more alcohol, and other debauchery, the week-long party was held in honor of the god Saturn — in fact, the common greeting around that time was “Io, Saturnalia!” There was sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves (we ARE talking Roman times), and feasting. On top of all the debauchery, and probably more importantly, the festival was to honor an agricultural god in the hopes for a fertile and abundant crop in the spring.
Oh, and as mentioned above, Jesus Christ wasn’t the first Son of God… or Sun God, more accurately. Four thousand years ago, long before Christianity started popping up, ancient Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of Horus, the god of the Sun. This became wildly popular with other civilizations, which took to honoring the welcoming back of the Sun, especially as these civilizations started to realize that things went swimmingly with their crops and abundance… until the weather got cooler. Each year, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth played over and over, and they saw that the Sun did return after a period of cold and darkness. Good reason to celebrate, if you ask me!
As their religious base grew, Christians took full advantage of many of these traditions and used them to their advantage, adopting them and applying them to their own religion in an attempt (one that proved pretty effective!) to convert the Pagans. Within a few centuries, Christians had everyone worshiping a new holiday celebrated on 25 December! Not too shabby, if you ask me… though it might behoove them to remember from where all their traditions came.
In some current Neopagan traditions, the Yule celebration stems from the Celtic legend of the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King, representative of the light of the new year, tries every year to usurp the old Holly King, the symbol of darkness. As we can see, the Oak King indeed kicks the Holly King’s ass every year, and the light does indeed return. This ass-whoopin’ reenactment is popular among some Wiccan and Pagan rituals.
The sun returns! The light returns!
The earth begins to warm once more!
The time of darkness has passed,
and a path of light begins the new day.
Welcome, welcome, the heat of the sun,
blessing us all with its rays.
Here’s a round-up of posts from TCC’s previous years, as they’re definitely interesting (at least I think so):
- The Science of the Solstice
Ever wonder why, even as the Sun makes his return, the cold weather still lingers and even gets stronger? Find out here!
- Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse
MOAR SCIENCE! This one is from 2010.
- Pagan Songs for Yule
My favorite collection of songs for the Winter Solstice!
- Blessed Yule and Winter Solstice
A brief history of Yule before Christmas came about, to supplement what you just learned above.
I also really enjoyed these posts from other Pagans this year, and thought you would, too!
- Kallan at The Secret Life of the American Working Witch – The Sunday Stew: Solstice Edition
- Ellen Dugan’s Blog of Witchery – Embrace the Light: A Yuletide Spell
- Sam at Bones, Buried Treasures and Beliefs – The Anthropology of Santa Claus
- The Pooka Pages (for kids and kids at heart!) – Yule 2012 Edition
- The Huffington Post – Winter Solstice: A Paean to the Pregnant Darkness
- Willow Firesong’s Circle of Firelight – Yule and Solstice Carols (YAY!!)
Facebook Friends Chime In!
Last week, I posed the question of how you celebrate the winter holidays on Facebook, and I received some great responses! (I also asked on my personal page, and received some responses there as well.) Below are some of your insights, and some fun pictures to go along with some of them.
See, I love this. It gives you time to spend with your family without the stress that typically accompanies it.
Hahaha! One of my favorite things growing up was getting that themed Christmas ornament to hang on the tree each year. Mine were actually Barbie ones (I’m not entirely sure why, either!), and I’m pretty sure my mom still has and hangs it most years!
My dad had the Star Trek ones. In fact, my sister and I preferred them off the tree as toys than we did ON the tree…
SHE’S NOT EVEN KIDDING!!
If anyone ever wonders why I miss Florida, this is exactly why.
Mmm, challah and Lughnasadh! Now THAT’S a tradition I could sink my teeth into! :cymbalcrash:
I also like the idea of creating your own butter. Might have to try that… with a little dance party, of course.
I love getting an atheist’s perspective on this! I’m of the belief that atheist children end up knowing more about a wider array of religions than many of those religions’ adherents, and this is exactly why. Checking out books? Reading and discussion? Delving into the actual history of the holidays? Love love LOVE it! It’s the same thing as I’d want to instill in our children, even if they aren’t raised atheists.
OH, and she had some amazing photos to share! Remember the reference to the Trek Tree? You can thank Sarah for that one:
And Tori shares her story below about extending winter celebrations from Yule to the day after Christmas! These are just some additional things they do to make the week even more special.
Thanks to everyone who chimed in and shared their holiday traditions with us!
A Week of Christmas (a special post by Tori Zigler)
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions what Matt and I are planning to do with the holidays, considering I’m Pagan, Matt and his family are Jewish, and my family is Catholic. The easiest response, of course, is to say, “We’re going to celebrate all of them!”
… easier said than done, am I right?
We’re still lost for ideas, especially since we want to start new traditions with our children and would like to celebrate all three in a way that both separates the significance of each and melds them so they make sense together. So I asked you, my faithful readers, over on my Facebook page to send me your holiday traditions, no matter what you celebrate! As you can tell above, y’all definitely delivered.
I did get a special word by email from a good friend of mine, Tori Zigler, a prolific children’s writer who herself is part of an interfaith family — she and her husband identify as Pagan, but their families do not, so they’ve had to create their own traditions! See how they make the winter celebrations last not only on Yule and Christmas, but all season long…
It’s always seemed like a real shame to me that, after all the preparations and expense, within 24 hours Christmas is over and all that’s left is the mess. Wouldn’t it be nice if Christmas lasted longer?
Yes, we thought so too! So, because of that wish, and the fact we’re Pagan and the rest of the family aren’t – meaning that we wanted to celebrate the Winter Solstice, but they didn’t – we decided to make it happen. Besides, the Roman celebration of Saturnalia lasted for eight days, so we saw no reason our celebration couldn’t last for several days too!
So, here’s what we do:
Instead of one or two expensive gifts, we buy 1 expensive gift and 4 cheaper ones each. The cheaper ones are exchanged on the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th of December, and the expensive one on the 25th. The expensive one gets a slightly different label to the others so we know to not grab that one from under the tree until the 25th, but the 4 cheaper gifts are grabbed at random from under the tree. We started doing this both to spread out the gift giving and because it gives us time to enjoy and appreciate each gift before moving on to the next one. Also, ‘Santa’ usually visits on the 24th, filling our stockings with treats, and placing a small gift for us under the tree from him.
On the 21st of December we usually do some kind of a ritual, even if it’s a very small one. Last year, for example, I did a ritual to chase off unwanted houseguests, which seemed appropriate since we’d pretty much only just moved in here.
The days from the 21st through the 25th of December are then filled with any holiday activities we want to do. Always involving holiday baking, the watching of holiday movies, and the reading of holiday books, but usually also involving the making of some sort of handmade holiday decoration. Last year, for example, we made some decorated baubles for the tree, and also some penguin tree ornaments (there were four, but we gave three away). Other holiday activities may be included; pretty much anything you can think of really… Holiday parties with family and friends, holiday games, more baking (especially good if family is visiting for a party or to join in your feast), build a snowman (if there’s snow), or whatever. The key thing is to be doing things together, preferably things with a holiday feel to them, though that’s not essential.
On the 26th of December is when we have our holiday feast. It used to be that the 26th was when we had a buffet with the family, but now that we live away from the family we’ve changed things a little. What we do now is phone them on the 25th to wish them “Merry Christmas” and exchange news on who got what from who, and so on, then we have our Christmas dinner on the 26th instead. The reason for this is a combination of not wanting to try and cook a full roast between phone calls, and the fact it then leaves us free to enjoy the phone calls and exchanging of final gifts without having to worry about burning the potatoes. Besides, we technically have two roast dinners to make, since I’m a vegetarian and my hubby isn’t, so we make a vegetarian roast and a meat roast. Last year, for example, I had a cranberry nut roast to go with my potatoes and veg, hubby had ham. Making two different roasts in our little kitchen is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Also, the good thing with making those roasts just for us is that there’s enough left over for the next day, so on December 27th, all we have to do is enjoy leftovers and relax; an option we took with leftover buffet food in the past too. We don’t really count that as part of our holiday celebrations though, because it’s basically a day to rest from all that celebrating. I suppose you could count it though.
And that, my friends, is how to make your holiday celebrations last a week!
Tori is an eclectic Pagan, a poet, and a writer of children’s books. Her series include “Magical Chapters” and “Toby’s Tales“. Tori can also be found on Facebook! She currently lives in England’s southeast with her husband, Kelly, and her Westhighland terrier, Keroberous (“Kero”).
Fox Family Traditions: One Year At a Time
Matt and I are still trying to find our footing in this holiday, especially considering how many we have to work around this time of year.
One thing we’ve been doing for the past few years is getting stockings prepared for opening at Yule, and a pair of PJ pants to keep us warm as the weather continues to cool off. I’ve put together the stockings each of these years, basically forcing us to do something for Yule (as we have or have had traditions for Christmas and Chanukah, but nothing for the Solstice). This time around, though, we’re making them for each other! I’m really excited about that, as it’ll add an element of surprise to this Yule celebration.
I’m so happy Matt is getting into this tradition, too, and between that, Chanukah candle lighting, and our Jewish-Pagan Christmas (Chinese and a movie, yo!), we’re hoping that we can make the winter holiday season just as amazing for our kids as it has been for us.
We’re taking it one year at a time. The nice thing about having our own little family is starting these new traditions, and finding out what works, what doesn’t, and what we can’t live without.
Again, I want to thank everyone for sharing their holiday celebrations! It makes me look that much more forward to giving Kit everything he deserves when it comes to making the Solstice magickal.