Whatever your beliefs or preferences to celebrate this time of year, it is a wonderful way to have a Mid Winter Celebration! As some people suffer in the months of darkness and are affected by the lack of sunshine, what better way to lift spirits than to have a lovely celebration to look forward to. It doesn't need to involve a lot of expense as the spirit of the festive season should be focused on friends, family, community and spending time together.
I am sure we are all aware that the 25th December is celebrated by Christians to recognise the birth of Jesus Christ. Though how many people actually remember that during the festive season may well be declining.
As Pagans, celebrating the Wheel of the Year is the focus. The date of 21st December (sometimes 22nd) is celebrated due to it being the shortest day of the year, which means the start of the 'coming of the sun', and the longer days bringing more sunlight into our lives. Although some people enjoy the winter months and a time to refresh, sunshine is welcome for so many reasons.
The feasting which we so enjoy today, would have also had a place in days gone by. Part of which being the celebration, but using some of their animal stock for food would not only give them several good meals, but would have reduced the need to find food for the animals over the winter months when food was hard to come by for everyone.
Yule, or Winter Solstice is a time of the battle of the Holly King and the Oak King, each representing the changing seasons. The Holly King has had his time, and the turning of the seasonal wheel once more, means it is time for the Oak King to take his crown. Our community often perform a Winter Solstice Mummers Play (and again at Summer Solstice), to explain in a visual and somewhat amusing way, what the seasonal change is all about.
So, how do Pagans celebrate Yule/Winter Solstice? Probably in much the same way as everyone else does and as varied as any other group of people. The celebration is on a different day to Christmas although there is nothing wrong with enjoying 25th as well in your won way. Many people hold a ritual of some kind on Winter Solstice in celebration of the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and to remember and discuss what it means to them. We have a family tradition when we light a candle in a particular Sun candle holder, when we talk about what Winter Solstice means, and discuss gratitude for the past year and what we want to achieve in the next 12 months turning of the seasons. We also give thanks for our abundance and remember those who are not so lucky, and plan what we can do to give to others less fortunate.
Decorating of the home is great if you are lucky enough to be able to use a more natural look. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, or any evergreens you can find. Pine cones, red berries, but make sure the berries are kept away from inquisitive children, as many are poisonous and yet look temptingly edible. Keep it safe!
Depending on what depth you want to go to, there are particular incenses you can use, Yule Log traditions. There is much information available on other websites.
On our Yule tree, we don't have a star, rather we have a Sun which is more in keeping with what we are celebrating. We give gifts to each other, but try to make some of them home made and try to keep consumerism to a minimum. Last year we gave family a goody box consisting of jams, pickles and chutneys all made from our allotment. Gifts that celebrated the season and abundance. They went down very well!
Whilst Paganism is about celebrating and understanding the changing seasons, the Wheel of the Year and how this affects Mother Earth and ourselves, I would suspect most of us celebrate this wonderful time of the year in a very similar way regardless of our beliefs.
The custom of 'Christmas' cards started in Britain in 1840 when the first Penny Post Service began. As printing methods improved, so too did the production and popularity of Christmas Cards to the point that now over a billion cards are sent in the UK each year! Think of the trees! Having a great respect and care for Mother Earth, many Pagans and indeed anyone who cares about the environment choose to either send fewer and smaller festive cards or simply make sure they see people over the festive season in person. Social media and emails are also a good way of sending people electronic greetings.
The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred long before the 'birth of Christ', as the evergreen tree is seen as a symbol of everlasting life – which is what the Wheel of the Year is about – a cycle. It is also a sign of renewal, which is exactly what the coming of the sun does, sunshine over the seasons making the earth green once more. The tree decorations were also no doubt symbolic. We now have chocolate coins, but in days gone by this may well have been real coins used as symbols of prosperity for the coming year. The use of fruit and nuts in gratitude for the abundance and hopes for the following year to give a successful harvest.