I am not usually an overly Christmas/Yule-y type of gal. Like many people who call themselves Pagan/Witch I am usually far more into Halloween! I’m the one trying to smuggle the Halloween decorations upstairs sometime in August while my poor husband runs interference in an attempt to maintain what little sanity I have left him with. Usually we compromise and I can have them up after his birthday in the middle of September. As soon as stores have the Halloween decorations up I am on the prowl looking for the next piece to add to the décor. After this year I finally have perfected what I want to have inside the house, next year onto the outside of the house!
Even as far as rituals go (when the bad witch that I am remembers to write the damn thing) I usually have my Samhain one ready to go a few weeks in advance or at least have the rough idea of what I want to do in my little brain box ready. I spend weeks gathering the supplies I want, reading different ideas and wandering taking photographs of the cemeteries and fallen leaves. I usually take the day off, carve the pumpkins, place the lantern by the window, hand out the candy to the trick or treaters and then in the darkness of the late night I perform my ritual. I also spend a lot of time reflecting about the season, about the need for death, the sacredness of the end and of those I have loved.
Christmas/Yule is different. No I am not stuck on the big Yule vs. Christmas debate. I don’t spend hours agonizing over how Christians stole the ancient Pagan traditions or getting fed up with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaigns (to be brutally honest, I don’t give a flying fuck). I don’t spend the time finding Pagan adaptations of Christmas Carols or try and cook up new ideas for having the most Pagan of Pagany Yules. I just don’t. And I don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, I don’t care if you call my tree a “Christmas Tree” or a “Yule tree”. I don’t care if you celebrate the season on the solstice or the 25th.
Usually in the middle of December we will pick up a tree (ok, total confession, that I get excited about). We will decorate it and the house while listening to old Christmas Carols (Typically John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Together… don’t judge, you like weird shit too lol!) or watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.
I will plug the tree in every night and it will stay up until new years. I like to give friends and family a nice gift for putting up with my shit year round and naturally spoil my little sister rotten. Our pets even have their own stockings and I always grab some new toys and a box of treats for them. If you’re lucky on the eve of the solstice I will remember light a candle (or it may be a day or two later when I look at the calendar and go “oh fuck, solstice passed”). I also usually keep a piece of last year’s tree and burn it in the fireplace after lighting the candle.
As far as pausing and reflection on the season, yeah, that doesn’t happen. Usually I spend a lot of time cussing out the cold, trying to keep the damn walkway clear and avoiding shopping centers like the plague. If I do end up having to go to one (usually because I’m a dumbass and forgot to grab a gift for someone) I end up muttering under my breath like a crazy old lady as a barrage of fake festiveness hits me like a tsunami. I get overwhelmed in crowds easily and the bustle of shoppers trying to get the best deals for the gifts they want to buy and the tidal wave of panic of not finding that perfect gift assaults my senses so badly that I usually end up sitting in my car holding my head in my hands while hyperventilating after these trips.
But this year is different. I took down the Halloween decorations early this year and put up a few garlands before November was over. I’ve been listening to Christmas Carols and fighting off the temptation to watch my favorite Christmas Movies. I find myself pausing in the stillness of the cold winter nights in my little hamlet and just letting the feelings around me wash over me. I sit by the fireplace and as I put another log on the fire I think of the sun, of the way it must have been for my ancestors on those long cold nights. When I wake up and go to work I pause at the darkness around me and feel a pull at my soul, the longing of rebirth.
I find myself at work contemplating rituals for the night of the solstice, researching and writing ideas, I actually have a ritual half formed in my mind. I find myself turning to the east, awaiting the sunrise that will come earlier and earlier after the 21st. I even find myself reading blogs from Progressive Christian Bloggers about Christmas, about faith and hope, about renewal and the deeper significance of advent. 2016 has not been an easy year for me, challenges at work, issues in my youth group, the death of some people I really looked up to (RIP David Bowie), financial challenges here and there as Alberta has suffered an economic down turn, my husband being in a bad car accident (and yet blessedly walking away with some minor whiplash and a dislocated finger), the US presidential election, mortgage renewal circus and a huge shake up with my faith have left me staggering and exhausted.
I need this time now, this time of people coming together to celebrate the lights in the world, the sparkly lights outside the houses and the warm hearths within. The outpouring of generosity that showcases the best of humanity this time of year, the gathering of family and friends, the happy songs and fun traditions that I don’t care who started them, I am blessed to be part of them. I need the stillness and quiet that these nights bring me and the promise of rebirth, of the light at the end of the tunnel that will come. The chance to lay the old year to rest and celebrate the coming of a new year, of new possibilities.
Most of all I need the sacredness of a pause and then a turning to the sun, the promise of hope and the chance to build myself anew. I have been a Pagan for a decade now. When I was young I crusaded against Christian Holidays, seeking to be more Pagan than thou. I was loud and proud shouting against Christmas, and banging the Yule drum. In the middle of the decade I found myself cruising by the holidays, just trying to survive being a grown up, parroting words such as “happy holidays” and looking forward to stuffing my face with Turkey and getting presents. The last few years I have struggled with Pagan lore and legend, with the wheel of the year not making a hell of a lot of sense to me and struggling with what I believe in and what is just a nice story to listen to.
Now as I start down the road to my second decade of Paganism I find I finally am just starting to begin to understand at least this holiday. Regardless of what religion we call it there is a universal yearning within the human spirit for a light to shine in the darkness, a desire for the warmth and comfort of each others company on a dark night, and the chance to be reborn and begin anew. How blessed we are that this opportunity is available this time of year.