How Much Yule Do You Put into Christmas?
This is a difficult topic. I didn’t think it would be until I started. In fact, I thought it would take about two paragraphs to describe how I celebrate Yule by myself and then participate in Christmas with the rest of my family. Until now, that’s the way it’s been – separate.
I remember last year vividly – I shut the bedroom door, laid out a full altar, substituted a small piece of pine incense for my Yule Log since we had no fireplace, and sang of my wishes in a hushed voice, trying to drown myself in the raised volume of the television. I did this not because I was hiding from my husband in the next room, but because I didn’t want to “disturb”e; him with my ritual. A week later, we were in Danvers, MA sitting in the Congregational church with his family and as I watched the minister light his candles and listened to his words, She leaned over and whispered in my ear. “You’ve been here before.” It clicked later, but at first I didn’t pay attention.
A year later and my life is as it should be – completely different. I still close the bedroom door for private rituals, but every now and then, I include my husband. He is definitely Christian, but he’s very tolerant and curious about everything I do. He helped me bless our seeds at Ostara. He attended an open festival at Beltane. He even sat with me to experiment with the open door ritual (Thank you Wren). And this summer, I managed to tell my mother and my best friend that I am a witch.
So now, as the days get darker, and the trees become bare, I am thinking ahead to the holidays. Suddenly, I am confused. Before, there was no question – I had to hide my beliefs. I had to keep to myself. This year though, I somehow have to figure out how much Yule to put into Christmas.
We flip-flop each season between my husband’s family, and mine. This year we will spend the holidays with mine. The only time my immediate family thinks of the birth of Christ on Christmas is if they happen to catch the Little Drummer Boy on TV. It’s never really been about religion with us – just food and family. Oh yeah, and presents. So my problem is not that I’m stomping on a holy cradle, but rather that I may actually inject something of a religious nature into the hors d’oeuvres and stuffing. I’ll be stomping on our traditions, which I’ve always thought to be a bigger offense.
For example, there’s the Christmas card tradition. Among us, cards are an obligation of sorts. You find the funniest one with Santa being farted on by Rudolph, or the sweetest one with puffy sparrows playing in bright red ribbon – but you never take the card that sends blessings to anyone. You receive these cards and then display them on your wall, or in the window, or on the front door. Really anywhere they’ll be seen by lots of people. I’ve always liked this tradition – it’s the one time my mailbox fills up with something other than bills. And yet, my principles tell me it’s a waste. All that paper, all those trees, sacrificed for vanity. So, what do I do?
Do I call everyone and say I don’t want to send cards anymore because we’re decimating Mother Earth? Do I tell them not to send me any? Do I tell everyone to only use recycled paper? Is it really my place to tell anyone anything at all?
And what of the Christmas feast? No one bows their head at my family’s table. I am the first. To make matters worse, I won’t be thanking God for the bounty before us. That would be acceptable to them, if uncomfortable. But I can just see the looks on their faces when I mutter my thanks to Mr. Turkey and the asparagus. At least I won’t have to mourn the passing of an evergreen. My mother’s tree is fake.
I start to think about my Yule rituals and wonder if they’d let me give out presents au natural. Or perhaps I can find some nice pine and sage incense to cleanse my mother’s house with and still be able to convince her she does not smell marijuana. And maybe she’ll allow me to light the front room with votives, being careful not to damage the fine finish of her furniture. Instead of presents, we’ll exchange wishes and burn them in my cauldron. Maybe I can gather my whole family into a circle, weaving it in and out of the sectional sofa and invoke the Goddess into our presence. Or we can gather together all the used pots and pans to drum and chant the evening away in merry camaraderie. Or maybe I’ll make one suggestion of a living wreath of flowers and seeds to wrap around the tree and endure the laughter and disdain the entire evening once I’ve stained the white carpet with cranberries.
Maybe I won’t do anything at all.
But then I remember Her voice in my ear and the warmth of Her breath on my cheek and I know what my answer is.
I know historically what Yule is all about. I know the story of the sun God’s return. But I also know that historical context doesn’t necessarily mean anything to us. We no longer sit huddled in sod huts with what’s left of our flock trying to keep warm. That the days are shorter now means we turn on the lights a little earlier. Why adhere to something when it’s meaningless? Why does my family still celebrate Christmas, even though Christ is no longer a part of it?
Because for them it isn’t about religion anymore. It isn’t even about presents or trees or cards. It’s about being together because we only see each other a few times a year now. It’s about coming together and reaffirming our faith in each other. It’s about touching base with the love that for some reason still exists, regardless of space and time.
How much Yule do I put into Christmas? The same amount I always have. I’ll bake nut tree pear bread for the family, and maybe an apple pie. We’ll all sit at the table and reminisce about the past year – catch up on each other’s lives. We’ll talk briefly about Dad and try to remember his corny jokes or some stray moment when you knew just how much he loved each one of us. After dinner, some of us will go for a walk and take in the beauty of the stark trees and icicle-laden eves. And when we’ve gotten our second wind, some of us will pile into the car and drive the neighborhoods to ooh and ah over this year’s most inspired displays. We’ll exchange tokens of love and admiration, and before we disperse, each will bless the other with love and happiness until we meet again.
If that isn’t a Pagan evening what is?
And what of next year when I find myself back in the Congregational church, surrounded by my husband’s family? Well, I will admire the four candles on the altar and the Christmas flowers that adorn the stage. I will listen with rapt attention as my mother-in-law lends her beautiful voice to the choir and her faith shines on her face. I will hold my husband’s soft, warm hand and watch the snow fall silently. I will bask in the warmth of the moment and listen to Her whispering in my ear again, but this time I will pay attention.
I was never alone.
Bio: Stazya is one of the luckiest Pagans alive. She has an understanding, if skeptical, family and a husband who loves her. She receives daily snuffles from her dog, Igor, and provides a pleasantly warm lap for her cat, Potato. In her spare time, she is a writer and an editor in desperate need of actual work (Show me a writer who isn’t!). She keeps one leg in the closet, one finger in the cookie jar and her nose out of most peoples’ business. It’s all about balance. Blessings to all and to all a joyful turn of the Wheel.