Friday, December 6, 2013

Y is for Yule

Yule - perhaps the most recognizable of all Pagan holidays.  In my opinion, it features the easiest celebrations to translate from secular to religious.  Especially for me as a Heathen living in America, many Germanic traditions have made their way into our celebrations of the holiday.  Christmas trees, Christmas hams, and warm fireplaces - all leftovers from or inspired by pre-Christian Yule celebrations - were childhood staples for me.

Today, my family and I celebrate Yule as twelve-day festival full of family, food, and fun.  The first celebration falls the night before the solstice, known to the Anglo-Saxons as Mōdraniht; it is a night to remember our female ancestors, called the Idesa.  We celebrate this night with a feast featuring family recipes, talking about our lineage and memories of relatives recently lost, and leave portions of the food out for the Idesa.

The next night is the Solstice, on which I try to keep on all-night vigil to wait for the sun.  The Wiccan coven I'm learning from hosts a Solstice ritual at the local Unitarian Universalist church.  At dawn, I will hail Sunne and make offerings to Her to thank Her for the return of the warmth of the sun.

The next few days (depending on how close the Solstice falls to Christmas) are a rush of baking cookies, last minute gift construction and wrapping, and card-making.  Some local Pagan groups also have their own celebrations around this time that I like to attend.  Another special thing that I usually like to do three days following the Solstice (though this year, due to Christmas Eve, it will only be two) is an adaptation of the Yule ritual described in Heimskringla by Snorri Sturlson.  I cook a large feast, sprinkle the kids with a bit of gravy, and we drink toasts to Woden, Ing-Frea and His father, and the ancestors.

Then comes Christmas Eve!  Traditionally, my father's family has a get-together with all my aunts and uncles and cousins (who are steadily increasing in number!) - it's becoming quite the gathering.  This is a big family celebration we've been doing since I was very young.  In ADF Druidry as well as Heathenry, spending time with folk and family is as important to our religion as prayers and devotions.

We usually celebrate Christmas morning with my mother and siblings, and Santa always makes a visit for my children.  The next few days are a fun blur while going to parties, seeing family, and this year helping out with the Prairie Shadows Protogrove (ADF) ritual on the 28th.

Then on Twelfthnight - which this year coincidentally falls on New Year's Eve - the season comes to an end with another big feast.  Since my family is pork-free, I will often make bread or cake in the shape of a pig, and we'll make our New Year's resolutions over it.

All in all, it's a pretty full religious calendar - but since much of it is 'secular', emphasizes family and social gatherings, and includes holidays also celebrated by mainstream culture; it's easy to incorporate it into the season's busy schedule.  To me and my family, not surrounded by a large Heathen community, that mix of 'secular' and religious is what makes the holiday season.

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