It’s Yule. (or, it was… you know what I mean) and our family celebrated.
Like everyone, this year’s holidays were different than normal, but a few things stayed the same.
We did our version of Yule. We did our version of Santa. We did our version of Christmas. Many people have asked us, over the years, why we do all three and how we do all three… so I thought I would try to explain it a bit.
Full disclosure, I was raised Christian, spent some time being Pagan (like serious time getting trained to be a priestess), and am now firmly in the agnostic/skeptical camp but I retain a few of the Pagan trappings and occasionally utilize some of the UU teachings.
Let’s start with Yule. It’s all symbolic.
As humans, we are drawn to the idea of marking time and acknowledging pivotal moments. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, special days, etc. Some of us acknowledge or celebrate the seasonal change dates as well.
The 8 Pagan holidays are the 2 solstices, the 2 equinoxes, and the 4 midpoints between them… it’s like a calendar that many of us find comforting.
The 8 Pagan holidays are the 2 solstices, the 2 equinoxes, and the 4 midpoints between them… it’s like a calendar that many of us find comforting. Hey look, the wheel of the year is still turning. What goes around comes around. Here we are just chugging along. Hey look, there is something to look forward to in only 6 weeks. Etc (It helps that the “official way” to celebrate most Pagan things is with bread and sex. Ok, maybe that’s just how we do it but trust me… my atheist non-Pagan husband has zero complaints about this calendar.)
The solstices are especially big and important. Not just for Pagans, but as moments in time. We all have moments where we mark time. It has been 5 years since we bought this house. 14 years since our first date. 10 years since we planted that tree, took that trip, made that decision, moved to that city, etc. Solstices are easy points to point to on the calendar because they are the longest and shortest days… and because we humans like to find meaning in everything and love ourselves some symbols, we ascribe importance to those calendar points. (Just like birthdays)
You know the drill. It’s the longest night. And from a practical standpoint, it is the beginning of “less night”
You know the drill. It’s the longest night. And from a practical standpoint, it is the beginning of “less night” That stuff is RIPE for interpretation for symbolism but at its basic level, we (as a community/world/family/whatever) have made it through the darkest part of the year and now things are going to get brighter/better. It’s a relief. And we don’t need magic to feel that way. It’s nature or, at the very least, natural. The season change. They don’t care about us, they just keep going and we are along for the ride.
So we celebrate. Whew! We made it! The days are getting longer! The winter months are half over! Spring WILL come again!
Yeah, that could be all about crops and not being dead in your cave somewhere… but it is also about hope (another thing we humans really like). And another thing we can get, acknowledge, and celebrate without religion.
In my family, we do a few Pagan things, and one of those things is that we teach our kid that holidays in December, are not religious. So we do Yule and Secular Christmas (more on that in a sec).
Yule is celebrated quietly, calmly, and with only a few people. This year we broke it into two events: dinner with our Bubble Family (who also celebrate Yule) and then our family Yule Day. With our Bubble Family we did a big meal, the kids did a craft, we exchanged a few gifts and we talked about how glad we were to be done with the darkest part of the year.
For family Yule Day we opened the gifts we had gotten for each other. We ate cookies. We snuggled. We lit candles and told each other Thank You for being there through the dark times.
One of my darkest times this year was my eye surgery. I thanked my family for being there for me, helping me, and taking care of me. I thanked my husband for continuing to do a job that is very stressful that provides us the insurance so that we could afford that eye surgery. Ella thanked us for helping her with her distance learning issues and teaching her how to type. Matthew thanked us for supporting him and trying to find ways to make working from home manageable. Etc.
Note about gifts: They are expressions of love. It is our way of saying something like Hey you, yeah you. Let’s celebrate that we made it this far and say thank you to the people that helped us make it! Thank you for being part of my community and helping to make the dark times a little less dark. Here’s some food to celebrate!
The candle lighting and stuff… well, that lends itself pretty easily to symbolism too. Look. Here we are controlling fire. And not being dead! Here, I will use my candle to light your candle. Hey, look! We are sharing fire, life-giving, darkness defying, fire, and double bonus, it took nothing from my flame to share it with you! Damn dude! That’s beautiful!
Double bonus, it took nothing from my flame to share it with you! Damn dude! That’s beautiful!
Back to birthdays. We blow out candles on cakes to celebrate. Are we maybe heralding our own life and victory over things that could hurt us? “Take that fire! My breath KILSL you! I’m Still Alive! Muhahahahah!”
Or maybe they are just pretty. It works either way.
So to sum up. Before there was organized religion, there were people watching the seasons to not starve and those people marked the points in the seasons where it was time to take a collective breath, have a second of relief and hope, and then plunge into the next cycle/circle/year/part of life.
And so, I think that you can still do that without any of the religious stuff attached. But if you want to find religion (aka symbolism of your personal spirituality) in it… you can. It works either way!
TLDR: You can celebrate Yule and not be religious.
But what about Secular Christmas?
It’s a thing! We do Santa. Our kid has always known that Santa is a fun game people play when they gift each other tokens of love in stockings. This year our kiddo got each of us a Yule gift and then a few things for our stockings. It was so very sweet. So yes, we do stockings and we do them on Christmas morning. Then we open the non-immediate-family gifts and a few extra Santa under the tree gifts. And we stretch it out, take breaks for food (and a movie), and then eat Chinese food.
It was… not gonna lie… super awesome and chill.
In years past we have been with family.. This year we had a few chaotic zoom calls. It is 2020 after all.
Anyway, whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, I hope you were able to take a bit of time this cold and dark December to think about all the good things in your life and all the people that help make your life a little brighter.
And I hope you all got some sort of “bread.”