Celebrate Yule Like There's No Christmas

Author: Quill ofQuillsOccultSupply / Labels: , ,

In our extremely proud and self-governed community, Pagans take a range of viewpoints on a holiday dear to us, the one with which we share the most in common with the Christian calender--Yule.  Some choose to quietly reflect on its meaning or hold a ritual in its honor, as they do the other Sabbats.  Others simply remember it as a special time with a lit candle or bit of incense.  With these folks, Yule will always be the preamble to the larger holiday, the one of their youth, the one remembered in song and TV specials--Christmas.  Rarely have I encountered a Pagan who forgoes the date of Christmas and focuses entirely upon our Pagan Sabbat.

It's hard to blame a person for this; Christmas is declared everywhere--in shop windows, lamppost decorations, every form of media, and classrooms across the country.  There's Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas shopping, and Christmas cookies.  We cannot escape the 25th of December as being the date upon which to pin all hopes and dreams, even if our own were fulfilled on the 21st.  But Yule is not just "Christmas Jr."  Whether or not you celebrate the Winter Solstice as the grandest day of the year or just a part of the Christmas season, making it an independent entity is possible, desirable, and easier than you may think.

Bringing Yule into Its Own 

You can create Yule celebrations that are unique, meaningful, and fun for all ages.  "Christmas is for children," as they say, but Yule is for everyone.  The simple methods described here will do just that and in such a way that you can bring them home this year, for this Yule.

Make your Yule it's own distinctive celebration by considering the following:

  • Understand the relationship and separation of Yule and Christmas
  • Highlight your favorite traditions from the usual stuff
  • Play them up in a big way
  • Create new traditions
  • Integrate ritual into the entertainment

Dissecting the Holidays

Decide first which you will celebrate and how much importance you will give to each. Because most of the secular parts of Christmas are shared by Pagan celebrations, you might want to choose one or the other to host the majority of those images.  My goal has always been to show Yule as the premier winter holiday event and to make it the most special and meaningful, far ahead of Christmas.  There are many ways to create separation between them--if only to give each their own space--so feel free to adjust these suggestions to fit with your idea of the perfect holiday.

In my home, we keep Yule as the special day within our home and Christmas is for traveling to visit friends and family who live elsewhere.  This means that the events of Yule are at home, and while visitors are always welcome, we don't leave home for work or school.  Nor do we ever celebrate elsewhere or leave to do things individually.  This keeps the two celebrations separate and allows our day to remain our own special event.  Consider what you can do that will have the same effect in your situation.  What individual options will you take to make it work for your own family?

This can be handled in many ways.  Will you follow the exact Solstice day from year to year (December 20, 21, or 22) or pick a standard date to make planning easier?  Will you arrange to have the day off of school and work for all family members?  Will you accept visitors or keep it private? These choices may change for you after years of celebrating, so allow yourself to stay flexible.  

The Wheat from the Chaff

Separate from the usual stuff your very favorite traditions.  It's simple to remove the religious overtones of Christian theology that goes along with some parts of the holidays--no religious carols, no time spent in church, no passages from the Bible in your cards--but it also goes far beyond that to the aspects that you continue to promote but don't actually enjoy or with which you feel little connection.  You may know right away what this means to you or you may have to take time to contemplate it or journal on the concept.

For me, it was Santa.  I love the idea of his generosity and kindhearted nature, but I wasn't interested in making an entire day in honor of getting presents from a stranger and not our children's hardworking and loving parents.  So our family has only sparse connection with Santa and lets other aspects take the spotlight.

Play Up What You Love

Through this introspection, you will also discover those aspects that you love most of all, those things that speak loudest to you of happiness, togetherness, and festivity.  This is what you should play up in your holiday.  There are a wide array of sights, sounds, scents, and events that coincide with the month of December.  Some are strictly religious, most are secular, and some are only of a seasonal nature.  Don't overthink this part; answer the simple question--what comes to mind when you think of the holidays?  This is your treasure; work with that and do it big.

For example, if you are really moved by holiday music, make Yule a day for music and fill the entire season with it as well.  Gather musicians to entertain during parties.  Play a selection of your favorite carols all day on Yule.  Make a yearly trip to see The Nutcracker or other live theater.  Look in the newspaper for productions of holiday themed musicals in local playhouses or go big and travel to New York City for the Radio City Music Hall show.

If you are a singer or musician yourself, this can be the perfect holiday to show off your talents.  Take part in a show, arrange a small ensemble to play for charity at schools or nursing homes, or gather all your friends for caroling.  I have toyed with the idea for the past few years of getting some fellow Pagans together to offer our services wassailing at the many apple orchards in my area.  Wassailing is a traditional blessing at midwinter for the health of fruit trees and would look beautiful with a group in Victorian dress.  It includes singing and sprinkling the trees with a special infusion of hard apple cider, brandy, and heady spices.  If you know of orchards that host winter events to drum up out-of-season business, this could be a perfect addition.

If you love all things Santa Claus, make a special day of visiting him at the nicest local place available.  Ask around to find a Santa with a real beard, the most plush costume, or who is at place that has other special features like craft sales, wreath making, or free hot chocolate.  There is so much more out there beyond the mall!

Also note that there are many classic movies, songs, and stories about Santa that can play their part in your festivities.  Create a special moment before bed to recite "Twas the Night Before Christmas" in a lavish style.  Many versions of a Pagan rendition of this classic poem can be found online, as well.  Ask a friend to dress up and visit your children or to be available for photos at your party.

You could even organize the main thrust of your day around what you don't want, like cooking.  Host a potluck dinner or take everyone to a favorite restaurant.  If you have a friend who does enjoy cooking, offer to bring the holiday to their house while they are busy cooking.  You will surely be a hero providing tablecloths, candles, centerpiece, music, flowers, and special decorations.

Make Your Own Traditions

Another aspect of orchestrating your Yule is that you can get creative with your own traditions.  Revive the bits and pieces of holiday activities from bygone times that really speak to you and find a way to tie them into your beliefs.  My family and I loved the idea of a Yule Log but it never seemed to be given the attention it deserved beyond being another
decorative element.  So we integrated it into our ritual, lighting one candle for each month of the year in memory of the special things that take place at those times.  It all comes together with the December candle where we focus on celebrating and sharing the good fortunes we have gathered throughout the past year.  This practice gives the Yule Log special focus and also lets it be more meaningful than just another pretty object on a shelf.  
If you are having trouble figuring out what you could base your new tradition upon, take some cues from your family's country of origin or that of your magical tradition.  Mythology and archeology can be great resources for this.  For something more modern--and not culturally specific--look at the huge selection of Christmas and winter crafts and Do It Yourself books.  Adapt what you find to fit with your tastes, timetable, and creativity level.    

Integrate Ritual into the Holiday

Don't think that rituals must be separate from the fun.  The best rituals have an element of fun that is all their own.  Ideally, everyone will be looking forward to the ritual the same way they look forward to other elements of the day, so let your events flow into the rite and then back out of it with interesting things to do before, during, and after.

Timing should be foremost in your planning to assure that everyone can attend and will enjoy the event once they arrive.  With a to-do list a mile long, most people find it difficult to
add a ritual in the midst.  Will you have your rite on the day of Yule to be the most accurate or choose some other day to ease the anxiety of those who are overextended?  My family holds ours the night before Yule.  It's anticipated because we, as I mentioned, light the Yule Log and retell the story of Mother Berchta as a play, which causes a lot of laughter.  No one is tired (as we certainly are the night of Yule itself) and the event sets the tone of everything that is to come in a spiritual, grateful, natural light.  When we are done, it's time for the kids to go to bed--another anticipated event--to rest for the overpacked day that starts early the next morning.  

So what can you add to your rite that will make it something its participants eagerly await?  How can you integrate into it your talents and style?  If there was ever a rite that can sustain a little loosening, it's this one.  The weeks leading up to Yule carry with them a feeling of peacefulness and awareness of the human exchanges and natural world changes going on in the season.  The spirit of the holiday is acknowledged in a variety of small ways over a long period of time.  Let your ritual be a celebration of that, not just a summary of it.

To keep your ritual entertaining and enjoyable, make it something that has recognizable features.  Stimulate all the senses at once with lights and candles, music, incense, colors and textures, and food or drink.  Let these things come together in an active and upbeat way.  Give your participants something to do--especially as a group effort--and keep the different elements moving along, flowing from one part to the next.

The final word on rituals is that they should be somewhat brief.  It is up to you to decide what this will look like for your coven or family, but the event should be long enough to be enjoyable (and worth getting dressed up for!) but short enough that young ones don't become restless.  Give your rite a big finish and then send them on their way.  They will remember a rollicing parade of color and laughter, spice and poetry that can sustain any heart through the long winter.

Starting and Continuing

It was 15 years ago that my husband and I decided that it made more sense to honor the Winter Solstice than Christmas.  We were newlyweds and eager to give our new life its own unique stamp.  I had been Pagan for two years and he was just coming to the path, but we knew that switching could make a much more meaningful celebration for us.  We started that year, wondering if we would notice that we were waking early to exchange presents on a "not Christmas" day.  But on Yule morning, with the milky sun rising through our apartment window, a Bing Crosby record playing loudly, and the two of us sitting under the tree like children, we realized that the dates don't matter.  We were spending the day focusing on love, generosity, and the adoration of our spirituality.  For us, Yule has remained a perfect expression of that ever since.

If you decide to switch, do it completely.  Give yourself over to a new practice and put your all into making it something special for you and those you love.  It can quickly become your favorite holiday for many more reasons than the presents, for Yule is a whole day of good things: time for frivolity and pleasure, the remembrance of friends and family, and the celebration of all the good in your life.  To wake on a day that holds all this in store is surely the greatest present of all.

Happy Yule to you and yours!

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My name is Quill and I've been practicing witchcraft for the past 17 years. 10 of those years I've been reading tarot and teaching.  I own a shop on Etsy called Quill's Occult Supply (check it out at QuillsOccultSupply.Etsy.com) full of handmade ritual and decorative items, spell components, and wild picked herbs.

I love to work with my hands.  Magic is a tool to shape our lives, and I'm using magic to shape tools to shape magic.  Cosmic! 

I use a lot of my favorite things in my shop: herbs, candles, wood, fabric, paint, clay.  And I get to carve, burn, grind, mold, think, dream ... I'm in the perfect business!

I've written 3 manuscripts for publication (2 non-fiction and 1 fiction) and am an avid NaNo-er!  I and my husband run a local coven called Orbis Prosapia, and our children are growing up surrounded by magic, mythology, fairy tales, Earth worship, art, open discussion, music, and humor. 

In addition to working on Ex Penna about my experiences as a professional witch, I also write for Scenes from the Circle about being a coven leader. 

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