The Wheel turns, and the Winter Solstice has come and gone. For me, one of the things I had to think about when converting (for lack of a better world) to Paganism was what the Hel I was going to do about Christmas.
I gotta tell you, though. It wasn’t too hard to give up the trappings of Christmas. What? I’m supposed to get all excited about some kid born in a barn? And all that good will towards men? What about women? What about the rest of the year? And gift giving? You know, I don’t really buy myself anything during the year, and now I’m supposed to spend all my money on other people. Do you know how many hours I have to work to earn the money for that gift? As a kid in the girl scouts, band, and later in choir, the holiday season became a never-ending month of parties, concerts, recitals and rehearsals. I’m sure running around in near darkness all the time didn’t help either.
But Yule? I love it! My family had always gotten a Christmas tree, and now my partner and I get a Yule tree, usually a small evergreen in a pot. For the season, the tree becomes the family altar. We place each ornament with meaning and care, assigning it a blessing we are thankful for and would like to have more of in the next calendar year. Most ornaments are handmade, or from our childhood, or shaped like birds, suns and stars. We know the lights represent the return of the sun, and help to keep us cheerful during the darkness.
On the night of the Winter Solstice, we stay up through the darkness to really experience the longest night. It is not an easy vigil. Just like waiting for a friend to give birth, the wait seems to go on forever, and you do little things to keep busy. (This year, I baked and baked, creating abundance from what was left in the refrigerator from more bountiful times, and what was gifted to us.) It’s the last three hours that really show your character. My sweetheart and I were at each others throats until it was time to watch the sunrise.
About thirty minutes before the sun was scheduled to rise, we drove out in the valley where we could normally see the mountain. I had heard from some local Pagans that you can watch the sun rise out of the very top of Mt. Rainier. We were excited to watch this miraculous event.
The problem was that this is the Pacific Northwest, and there was rain coming in from the East. So instead of witnessing the mountain give birth to the sun, we watched a generous display of cloud formations: elephants, orcas and unicorns, witches with hats and women laying down, bunnies and birds and alligators and dragons. It was quite a show!
When it was sufficiently daylight, we went home and crashed for a few hours. Then we were ready to exchange gifts, entertain friends, and eat an amazing dinner that I was up all night and all day making. I like to give gifts that are somehow both useful and spiritual. So incense was on the list. I made Pagan prayer flags for my witchy girl friends, and my partner did the bulk of the work on windchimes for our other friends and family.
When I celebrated Christmas, gift giving seemed like an obligation. But when I started celebrating Yule, gift giving was an expression of affection, and hope for the continued strength of the sun. I feel a relief in my spirit, knowing the light is on its way back from darkness. It makes me feel optimistic and cheerful–like the future is getting brighter every day. And it is! As an adult, I am no longer obligated to go to an endless bunch of gatherings, although I do find myself checking in with people I haven’t seen in awhile.
Truly, the energy of Christmas doesn’t vibe with the energy of the Solstice. The time between Samhain and Yule is a period of rest and reflection, a time to hunker down and ration your resources through the darkness…not the best energy for pushing your way through a mall to madly spend all your hard-earned money. My body wants me to take it easy this time of year. I need more sleep, drink more water and take more vitamins to keep disease away. Running around like a crazy person and attending every holiday party in the world is contraindicated.
Although I celebrate Yule, my family still celebrates Christmas in a very secular way. We get the tree, decorate it with the old family ornaments, give gifts, eat dinner. Honestly, my Yule celebration looks very much like my family Christmas, but a few days earlier. But while Yule to me is infused with spiritual meaning, I no longer look to Christmas to fill that need, and can approach it as a holiday to get the family together and show some affection with gift giving. Christmas isn’t an empty let-down for me anymore, and I do find myself singing carols and emptying my pocket change for the Salvation Army. But now I can pull back and slow down, because I know the worst of the darkness is over and the light is returning.
And now, a Solstice carol for you that I found amongst my papers! I believe it is from here.
Midwinter moon is shining bright
The yuletide log is burning.
The people gather ’round tonight
The Sabbat wheel is turning.
Joy! Mirth! The Sun’s rebirth!
Now as of old we greet Thee.
Gladdening is the song we sing
Of praises to the Lady.
‘Twas at the feast of bright Beltane
When we all were a-Maying,
Sweet minstrel Queen in Her gown of green
Spring roundelay was playing.
And though now roped in snow
Her wintry garb deceives, for
Bedipped with holly and mistletoe
She is still Our Lady Greensleeves.
So drink ye wassail everyone
Good Pagans all made merry
With wine as red as the reborn Sun,
As red as holly-berry.
Dancing, come join the ring,
As Her Yuletide spell she weaves.
Fair Queen, the evergreen,
Sweet lovely Lady Greensleeves.