Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times for December 2019
The Winter Holidays are upon us, and it seems there are as many different celebrations as there are different kinds of people circle in our Pagan Communities.
No matter what you celebrate, though, it is undeniable that Christmas somehow influences you at this time of year.
Whether you are like me and get sick to death of it all very quickly, and decry the fact it lasts so long, or you are somebody who enjoys it all, it is very much a part of our culture.
One thing that strikes me is how FAMILY centered for so many people it has become. How did this happen? How did this time of year go from being about the scared observances to all about family trips, gatherings, and making that priority over everything else?
I was somebody, who as an adult, has never has the big healthy family to visit, so I have friends gatherings, and or am invited to somebody else’s house. So the family centered attitude made no sense to me. Most especially, when I hear so many people decry how they HATE the travel, and/or HATE their relatives! I hear still other people, look forward to the trips and gatherings, but piss and moan about how much they HAVE TO DO. As if the World will end if the perfect tree is not trimmed or the perfect gift is not given.
I don’t think I even need to go into detail about how many people overdo things for their kids at this time of year. They smother the kids with toys, take them to impossibly long lines at hot, loud malls to get pictures with Santa, and even become news sensations getting into fist fights at stores to buy the last whatever toy is hot any given year. The Holidays become an excuse to spoil kids and teach them a sense of entitlement for some families, unfortunately.
All this bad behavior over something that is supposed to be all about life, light, hope, and love!
To me, this chaos all takes away from the sacredness of what we are supposed to be observing.
So how did all of this even happen?
It’s the Pagans!!!!!
I have to say. It is impossible to discount the Pagan roots. Saturnalia, a festival in Pagan Rome held about the time we have modern Xmas, was all about excess, merriment, and misbehaving. Saturn is a god of agriculture, and harvest, plenty, wealth, as well as liberation. As this was observed many years before Xmas was, and themes were borrowed by Xtians, and are still in use today, nobody can tell me that god is not still influencing things. Equated with Cronus, who devours his children, Saturn was also said to be given sacrifices of gladiators during his festival. There was also “misrule” during these celebrations where things like servants bossing masters around taking place. The chaotic energy from all of this could be one reason why the chaos reigns during modern holidays supposedly celebrating the birth of a sacrificial god of salvation.
So blame us, the Pagans, I suppose. Our holidays being the originals!
Many of us have been to a Heathen Yule, and know modern day Heathens continue traditions the Pre Xtian Heathens started.
The Yule log, for example is a centuries old observance. Today, we think of – partially because it is cold- and partially because of the Heathen use of burning- “chestnuts roasting on an OPEN FIRE”, stockings hung round the fireplace, and waiting for Santa to come down the chimney with gifts. Some of us who were lucky may have sampled a chocolate cake Yule Log as well! The tradition of having fires for the Holidays comes from traditions like burning the Yule log. It was burned over a course of twelve days, and was not completely burned! A bit of it was kept to light the Yule fire the following year.
Ham! Who loves a great Xmas ham? Well, the Germanics had the Yule Boar! The boar was for the god Freyr, and was transferred over to Xtain celebrations. Because who can resist the taste? In medieval times, the pig was whole, and carried in on platter with a gorgeous red apple stuffed in its mouth. Remember next time you are pigging out on ham (pun intended) this is in honor of the god Freyr!
From the Saga of Hakon the Good comes a feast and ritual description, that details eating and drinking a LOT, things modern Xmas celebration still entails.
“It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [sacrificial blood], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs [?aspergills?]. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.”
Who do you take to a feast? Your family, for sure! Realistically speaking, ALL people make a feast central to celebrations. The people you love the most are going to be the ones you spoil most!
Perhaps the ones who deserve more of the blame for all of this than us Pagans and Heathens are the Victorians. They made major changes in how Xmas was celebrated, and todays celebrations are due in large part to that. According to a BBC article, in the 1800’s, businesses did not really consider it a holiday! (Jealous) They certainly got the ball rolling to get that d0one. In 1870, President Grant made Xmas an American Holiday, and in Scotland it was made one in 1871. Keep in mind at 0ne point i9t was outlawed, as it was considered too Pagan for Xtians to celebrate. In 1659, it was banned in Boston, and reinstated in 1681! The Victorians made Xmas fashionable after all of that.
The illustrious Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert, and he brought with him the holiday tree! Soon, everybody else in Britain had to have a tree as well! There was a time the “gifts” for Xmas was things that could fit on the tree, as a matter of fact. Sweets, nuts, and other snacks as well as small toys for the children to pick off the tree long before wrapped gifts like we have today became common.
Keep in mind how Industrialization revolutionized pretty much every aspect of life, and things could be had that other people also had. Christmas cards, for example became popular during this time. Too expensive to buy for many at first, people made their own, but soon, people were buying and sending paper greetings to loved ones as they became more affordable.
The Xmas Cracker was created by a British confectioner after seeing something similar abroad, and they are now very popular around the world.
Lots of little things like this became more popular during the Victorian Era, but the number one thing they did was make the family the center of everything. The preparation of the meal and gift giving became central to the celebration.
Those American Folk!
Further changing Xmas were postwar United States Citizens. A time of economic prosperity ushered in more spending and focus on material things. People whose parents could not afford hardly anything at all were suddenly owning homes, and buying things they never could have dreamed of. Who do you buy for when you have money? Your loved ones!
Let’s explore a few things changed in this era we still see today!
While the Yule Log was popular with Heathens, and the British Victorians started having trees, few Americans had trees in the house for Xmas by 1900. By the 1920’s and 30’s, more and more people started bringing home real trees, but by the 1950’s and 60’s, artificial ones became more popular. The aluminum, tinsel trees and trees covered in artificial snow started appearing. The variety was wonderful, and today, we have more and more options seemingly every year. What child does not love a beautifully decorated tree?
Prior to the wars, the US imported a lot of toys from Germany. Afterwards, we became more independent, and started manufacturing our own. TV advertising started appealing directly to kids. Toys like Play-Doh, Candyland, Barbie, and Hula Hoops became popular. Of course, today, there is much less manufactured in the US, and we get most things from overseas, but these things that became popular in Postwar America are still popular today.
Campbells’ soup became more popular, and housewives were looking for easier ways to cook. Who hasn’t had the ever-famous green bean casserole made with their cream soups? This became popular during this era. Chex Party Mix became a sensation in 1955, and cookie cutting became more popular than it ever was before. These things are a staple in many American homes during the holidays today.
Some of the most famous holiday songs were composed during this time. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silver Bells, The Little Drummer Boy, All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, and Frosty the Snowman were hits composed during this time. These songs appealed especially to parents and children, and are still well-loved in family settings today.
The Holidays are not due to ONE celebration, or ONE group of people. They are not based on ONE religion, and mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Many make family and children the center of their gatherings, and it’s because human beings need the feeling of special times with their most special people.
But this time can also be difficult for people who either do not WANT to deal with their family’s drama, or want family, but just don’t have any! Beyond this, what do you do if you don’t like all of this, and you would rather celebrate otherwise? Well…I have done this many times, myself, and instead of a magical working or Solstice/Yule rite, I will share some suggestions you might like.
Saoirse’s non-Family centered Holiday Celebration Ideas
- Hole up, and avoid everybody and everything holiday themed as much as possible. I have done it plenty of times. Don’t buy anything except necessities close to the holidays, avoid Black Friday, the mall in general, and do your shopping during times when most people don’t like to shop. I find weekday mornings right upon opening, or the hour before the store closes to work best. OR you could shop places like Wal-Mart or Meijer that are open 24 hours, and just go after 10 P.M. Stay off the road during busiest shopping times, and have things shipped in from groceries to things off online sites if needs be. You don’t have to celebrate, show up to parties or meals, or even have to give gifts if you don’t want to, or can’t afford to, and that’s just how it is!
- Rally around your friends who are either not able to travel to family, or don’t have families. Plan gatherings you host, or help whoever wants to host to organize. While the mainstream focuses on people who have kids and large extended families at the Holidays, a LOT of people don’t fit into this category, but still want to be with loved ones. So, host, or offer to help host!
- Just because you are helping organize does not mean you have to do it the traditional way. Lots of restaurants plan for holiday groups, and you and your loved ones can book a table someplace nice whether it be fancier food, or simpler fare.. You can do a frozen pizza and snacks gathering and wear pajamas and watch movies, even. You can do a non-meal gathering as well. WE all know about BYOB!
- I say this all the time. Potluck it. Save yourself the expense and time, and have everybody bring something. I DO love good food, as do most people, but everybody knows the point of a gathering is not so much the menu as it is the fellowship. Potlucking takes the stress off ingredients, and lets everybody contribute.
- Only attend Sabbat/Mosque/Temple/Church, and do nothing else. Yep. It’s allowed if this is what you prefer to do. JUST focusing on the sacred, and doing nothing secular is 100% okay no matter what your faith tradition is.
- Lie. That’s right. Go ahead and lie if you want or need to. I KNOW it is not socially accepted to do so, but unfortunately, overbearing family members make it necessary sometimes, and quite frankly, the “Thou shalt not lie” is not a commandment of mine, so I am telling you that it is okay to go ahead and lie. Tell them you have to work even if you don’t. Call in sick. Cough and say you have strep, and do not want to expose the children, who you were REALLY looking forward to seeing! Go ahead.
- Flat out say no. If you are not one to tell “little white lies to keep the peace”, rock their world and tell them you just don’t want to come. “I hate your gatherings, because all you serve is junk food, dear. I get sick every time, and it’s not worth it.” Or, “Your brats scream and throw fits the whole visit, and ruin the holiday each and every time. Don’t invite me back, because I am not coming.” Or, “I am not spending hundreds of dollars to take time off work, and fly cross country to your house during the holidays. You know I can’t afford it.” Or, “I am not going to come and pretend everything is alright after (insert whatever happened). We have to work things out first, because I’m not comfortable.” Or whatever the reason is. Go ahead and spell it all out for them.
- Spend the holiday volunteering instead. Sign up early at your favorite place, because slots fill up- fast. Nursing homes, animal shelters, homeless shelters, and religious gathering places need bodies to help serve the meal or officiate ritual. Some organizations watch out for people who would otherwise be alone, and who don’t want to. I have known people who make volunteering an annual tradition, and families can’t talk them out of it. Some families actually do this together!
- Have a gathering for JUST people you know who don’t have kids. Yes, it’s allowed.
- Do what works best for you, each and every year, no matter what other people have to say about it. If anybody gets snippy with you about it, say your witch friend Saoirse gave permission, and a Witch’s permission is all you need!!!!!
No matter how you celebrate the Holiday, may it be the perfect celebration for you that makes you feel either closer to deity, and/ or the people you love. If you are like I have been some years, and the peace and solitude of NON celebration is what you want, may that be perfect as well!
About the Author:
Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.
A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.
Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!
Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.
All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, and is still studying for Third Degree, making it to Second Degree thus far.
She is a gifted tarot reader, spellworker, teacher, and was even a resident Witch at a Westerville place dubbed The Parlor for a time.
Aside from her magical practice, she is a crocheter, beader, painter, and a good cook. She has been a clown and children’s entertainer, a Nursing Home Activities Professional, a Cavern Tour Guide, a Retail Cashier, and a reader in local shops. Her college degree is a BA in English Writing. She tried her hand at both singing and playing bagpipes, and…well…let’s just say her gifts lie elsewhere! She loves gardening, reading, antiques, time with friends and soul kin, and lots and lots of glorious color bedecking her small home!
On the encouragement of a loved one several years back, she searched for a publication to write for, and is right at home at PaganPagesOrg.
She is currently residing in Central Ohio with her husband, and furbabies.
Saoirse can be contacted at [email protected].