For me the Christmas Holiday comes on in dark patches of sky and soul. Many who don’t follow the Christian religion, particularly as publicly practiced by media/politicians/vocal celebrities today, are bewildered as to what it is all about other than excess and resentment for those who aren’t part of the faith. Resentment overlaid with a chilling ignorance and indifference extended to those of us whose seasonal celebrations predate Christmas by centuries, even millennia, and whose traditions have been appropriated without so much as a by-your-leave.
The Roman holiday of Saturnalia – December 17th-25th – appears to have been chosen as the time of Christmas in an effort to persuade Roman Pagans to join in the Christian’s observance. The ancient celebration itself was a time of chaos dominated by the nomination of a “Lord of Misrule” who at the end of the carnival-like ritual and in the best tradition of antiquity was scapegoated and sacrificed to scare off various and assorted bogymen associated with the so-called forces of darkness. Since the festival seemed to have very little to do with the theory of Christmas, early authorities settled on December 25th only for the purpose of commemorating the birth of Jesus.
More closely aligned with my tradition are Yule and the Winter Solstice. The former was originally part of the Norse Tradition beginning before the Solstice and running past New Years Day. The latter is celebrated on December 21st or 22nd. Winter Solstice has been recognized in some form since the beginning of time our traditions teach us. It is the longest night of the year and is reckoned to herald the re-birth of the Sun. The world sits at the edge of Winter, as Goddess rests Her regenerative power to prepare for the Quickening at Imbolc (February 1st) and the awakening of the Earth. The Sun grows in intensity to nourish the planet’s blooming in the Spring and Summer months. Thus, providing us with the harvest that will carry us through the next Winter as the Wheel of the Year turns.
On Solstice night many burn three candles upon a log, known as the Yule Log. I was trained to use a green, a red and a white candle, representing the three aspects of Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Log is often decorated with holly, mistletoe and pine branches hung with brightly colored bulbs and strung with lights or streamers made with popcorn. We burn Bayberry and Pine incense and candles, make cookies and cider. Finally, the Log maybe burned. It symbolizes the rebirth of the Sun by the grace of Goddess and is sacred in our eyes.
All of our rituals are Earth based. At Yule we thank Goddess for the Earth – the only gift we need. I am honored to be a servant of the Earth, a gardener. This is the work I do on behalf of my Goddess. It is the finest gift I have to give and I will give it freely because that is a moral mandate of my faith. This is the meaning of Solstice and Yule, indeed of Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain as well. Blessed Be.