Christmas, Yule Or Both?
Seasoned Seasonal Advice For Witchlets
At this time of year new witches and pagans must be brimming with delight. Yule! Why, now they get two holidays! Wait, some mean person told you you have to give up trimming the tree, attending the town's living Nativity or any other beloved secular or religious traditions you might have? They told you there will be no lighting of lamps or gilt coins either? No hanging pretty lights or anything remotely, gasp, fun? And they told you you have to give up the aspect of Divinity you still love for a new one?
Well, it just isn't so, my little witchlets. While this isn't the place to go into the valid reasons they may feel this way, what matters most during this time of hope and light is that you do what makes you happy. In a lot of ways you are like our witchy ancestors. Walking in two worlds in more ways than one, and you must go where your heart follows, so why not honor what works for you?
This article is written with all due respect to those in the 'either or' camp in any religion. But human hearts simply do not work that way. The holidays are stressful enough without giving up the traditions that link us to our past and our ancestors, and yes that includes both the pagans and the Christians or whatever other way they honored Divinity.
And for those who grew up witches or in a pagan household, trust me the transition is hard enough without the added stress of trying to please everyone. This is a time of year to connect to Divinity in whatever way we see fit, not to bicker over religions and no such nonsense will be tolerated here.
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My Own Changing Holidays
I was raised Catholic but my mother taught me to respect those of other religions, such as those in the Jewish and other communities of the Book and that it was OK that they didn't celebrate our day. Not even all Catholics celebrate the same day, and some Christians don't celebrate at all. Which seems rather mean to the baby Jesus, just saying. But I always knew there was something more, something wilder and older and downright magical.
I did the best I could to honor the magic of the season, and keep in mind this was before the Internet and the conservative town I grew up in would hardly carry books on pagan holidays in any library. I didn't even know there were real witches! But I did, even then, have visits from the pagan gods, elves, fairies but was told it was imagination.
Even Odin dropped by, he of the Yule holiday, in my dreams. He was, and is, a kindly God, well suited to the festival of Yule. The year my parents thought it would be funny to put coal in my stocking and I cried He visited me in my dreams, dressed sort of half Santa half Odin of all things to comfort me. And yes, my parents gave me my real stocking after, but it destroyed any faith I had in Santa as a benevolent being who loved me for a very long time. Which is why the best pagan parents don't employ the carrot and stick myth of Santa, or in this case, candy or coal, but I digress.
As I grew older I forgot about my 'imaginary friends' and settled on celebrating the birth of Christ, Santa also being regulated to the world of myth, though from early on it didn't make sense that Jesus was born in the dead of winter.
It took many years and studying off and on before I even thought of Yule as a holiday I could seriously celebrate, and compared to the commercial extravaganza the secular world has wrapped around the holidays it didn't have much going for it. I'd never felt close to any solar diety so the joys of going outside to see the sun rise in freezing temps escaped me. Especially when some grouchbag pagan writers poisted the view that the holy event should be about as fun as Puritan Christmas (they didn't have one and frowned on frivolity).
But now that it is just me whether 'tis Yule or Christmas or both is entirely up to me. My Gods don't care much about anything other than my happiness. Would they like a nod to Yule? Of course, Odin's big day, and I'll certainly celebrate in my own way. Seeing the sun and lighting a fake bonfire inside (read: space heater shaped like a fireplace) included. But They understand if in my heart I remember family Christmas Eve's and Christmas Days. Odin in my experience is the last God to care about precise days, it's Loki that acts as royal timekeeper around here.
A Secular Tune To Get You In The Yule Mood
Why Honor Both?
For the simple reason that a lot of the religious meaning, pagan or otherwise has been drained out of the holidays. A tree in the mall isn't there to honor the birth of Mithras but to encourage you to buy more consumer goods. Garland in a fast food place is hardly there to honor any Diety and so on. Even stockings and gifts have become so secular that all may have them. Yes, even atheists.
Verily, trees are pagan and were done up to honor Odin. Well, men used to be hung on trees as he is that kind of war God, but His image and worship mellowed out over time and pretty baubles were hung on trees in His honor, especially in Germany. Got hand blown or other treasured ornaments? He'd be the first God to enjoy them, so would most Gods to be honest. My Vodoun lwa (spirits) and my beloved La Santisima Murte adore the holiday season, never mind it has nothing to do with them.
Because these traditions had deep meaning at first people did them for the God they honored, then for that God and the new God, and finally for the new God alone. They were done out of love and thanksgiving to celebrate and honor the God/dess in question. The same goes for every other aspect from mistletoe and holly to the hanging of greenery. Some pagan somewhere thought it suited the local diety and it caught on over time.
And you may have precious memories tied to more religious aspects. In our home the season did not start until the Nativity went up and Baby Jesus went in last. This came after the tree and all decorating was in His honor. You know what? I still put up Nativity because it connects me to my deceased parents and it honors the return of the dead during the holiday season.
And I never had a problem with any baby. To me as a Wiccan it could just as easily be the God in infant form in any of His many guises. I don't mind a bit, so long as my Gods and Goddesses are happy. And if I stopped doing it Isis and Bastet would throw ten fits as well as La Santa. How could I be so cold-hearted as to not show kindness to a baby?
Now, I do not attend church, I don't wish to. I don't read or even own a Bible I'm aware of unless there's one left for the ancestors and any crosses belong to Legba or Baron. But the point is I kept the decorating and I now know the special and gentle God who delighted in my decorating is decidedly Norse in nature.
There are no bad Gods, after all. Just Gods with very bad followers. So do what makes you happy adopt new traditions as they fit into your life. Maybe as I started out, just a few quiet moments outside on your first Yule and build from there. Your new traditions may not even have a midwinter festival so it is entirely up to you.
Honoring The Horned God
Your Festivities Belong To You
You may be the lone pagan in a Christian or Jewish or Muslim family. You may feel frustrated that while your family might be saying it is 'just a phase' or calling your new holy symbol 'Satanic' on one side, on the other are pagans pulling you away from everything, some extremists even demanding you dump your family. Whoa. Do any of these people look like your God or Goddess? No, they look like humans and most oftentimes anger is fear exploding outward.
They may feel Divinity will punish them for failing to chase away this other Divinity. Well, if your Wiccan it's simple enough. There is only one Divinity, we just choose to see that Divine Being in a different way. If you are in the 'all Gods are separate beings' camp, then you must gently explain to people on both sides that the choice must be yours.
You and you alone know how you feel towards the Divine Being(s) of your old religion and your new one. You might not even be ready to make the leap to a new religion and be just barely getting to know this new God/dess that called to you. And that's a wonderful pace to be. Take your time, OK? No God/dess worth serving will demand you just dump everything and run to Them. They will give you time to let your heart decide.
So how you celebrate should be up to you. There's no reason to give up beloved traditions. You may now view them as secular acts, trimming the tree, listening to holiday music, or dedicate them to your new God/dess. But enjoy! There's no reason to give up gingerbread, especially as it used to be a godly treat, and fruitcake used to be buried with the dead, so it's all good.
I'm supposing you could connect eggnog to any Divinity that loves to imbibe and they wouldn't complain. Heck, if there is no non-alcoholic eggnog Papa Dambala would be sad indeed and I have Loki whining, er, asking nicely for store baked cookies.
And if you are still in the transition phase and want to attend both pagan and other events, I'm telling you to do it. No Divinity wants us unhappy. If all you'll be doing is missing your old one you'll be missing the point of the season. There, some witch said it. If the thought of giving up any saints, spirits, God, Jesus, Jehovah or anything else is making your cry for Goddesses' sake, don't do it! We are hardly a monotheistic religion.
I've actually no blessed idea whether this is a greeting card or Tarot deck, but either way, what a lovely work of art for the festive season.
Ready for part 2?
- Christmas, Yule Or Both? (Part 2)
Here in part two we shall cover the basics of décor and more. Please feel free to take what you need and leave the rest behind.