Yuletide Season

Normally, I don’t feel the ‘Christmas season’ starts until after Thanksgiving is over. We do the whole meal, have our little carbo-overload nap, and then make rice krispies while listening to Christmas music and setting up out gigantic 7ftx4ft tree.

Well this year we decided to do things a little differently. I am not Christan, so to be fair, celebrating the ‘Christmas’ season is a bit out of context for me. Laura is Agnostic so she doesn’t believe in Jesus as the son of God.We had a talk about whether or not we even wanted to celebrate this year at all. So we decided instead to do things our way. This year, instead of Christmas we will be doing more of a Yule tide things.

Where as most of the neopagan holidays take their names from the Celts, Yule is originally a Germanic/Norse festival. It is the midway point of winter (winter solstice) and cause for great celebration as the cold is almost over. It was a time of heavy livestock sacrifice so that the gods might be appeased and protect their houses and men for the rest of the winter. This was a wild time, when many people were open to dangers from sickness to starvation and frostbite and wildlife. Yule is the longest night of the year, and rituals must be observed to keep people safe in their villages. The celebration typically lasted for 12 days, or as long as the Yule log burned in the hearth.

For the Celts, this holiday marked the point when the sun starts to fight against the cold, staying a little longer in the sky every day thereafter. The celebration included worshiping the signs of life that maintained during this frigid time of year. Druids would take a golden sickle and, in a great procession, lead the village out to a tree which contained mistletoe, a plant considered sacred to the Celts for its symbolic and medicinal properties. The Druids would cut down the mistletoe and then bring it inside, reminding the people that life continued even in the depths of winter and that the verdant green of the land would return.

For a people who were largely dependent upon their crops, the return of the sun was of utmost importance. A long winter and late spring meant less time to plough and plant and a weaker harvest, which brought many dangers to the populace. Not to mention that people were trapped in their holdings for longer and food supplies ran low. It was imperative that the seasons progressed and were appreciated in their turn.

That said, the real point of Yule is understanding just how strenuous life was back then. There were no weekends or vacations. You did not get days off save for festivals. Every day there was work to be done, not just for wealth, but for survival. You were constantly harvesting, repairing, cooking, drying, sewing, cleaning…the list goes on and on. Winter however was a time of rest and respite, when people did not have to farm or do many outdoor chores, so there was the opportunity to sit inside and be together as a family or tribe. These dark months could be very bleak and depressing, so it was all the more important to remind people of the coming sun and light returning to the world.

So Laura and I have planned on doing a few different things to celebrate this holiday according to our tastes and faith. We’ll still be doing the secular holiday with the family, exchanging gifts and going to Clifton Mills like we do every year. But we’ll be skipping the obligatory Catholic mass (don’t know why we did it in the first place), skipping the nativity scene and all the usual religious hooplah that clings to this time of year.

1) Mead Brewing- Mead was considered a sacred drink in ancient times. It was said to inspire poetry, art, prophecy, bravery and fertility in it’s drinkers and was shared in liberal amounts during festivals. So we are going to try to make this a project during the month of December. Of course the mead won’t be ready by Yule, but we will let it shelve through the year once it’s brewed and (as well as continuing to make mead) we will be able to give out bottles next year as gifts to friends and family.

2) Yule Tree- while the Yule log is traditionally burned through out the feast, it’s said that Germanic tribes were the first to bring trees inside and decorate them. We bought a new tree this year, which I will be blessing soon, and we are going to invite friends to make decorations with wishes for themselves and their family for the year forthcoming. We will hang these on the tree after the blessing in hopes of them coming true.

3) Decorating Pagan-this is going to be rather difficult with all the religious icons around, but I’m hoping to replace some of that in our house with Norse & Celtic regalia. We bought a lovely mistletoe for our home (traditionally a sacred plant which reminded people of the virility and endurance of nature through out the cold as well as serving as a fertility charm). Making a pagan star for a tree topper, creating a wreath for the house, a lot of this is going to have to be done by hand. One thing I would like to find is a series of statues/one statue which depicts Celts/ Nords feasting. I feel it would be more an appropriate replacement for the Nativity given the context.

Any other ideas out there from fellow Pagans?

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