The season between Samhain and Yule is traditionally one of contemplation and of rest. Crops have been harvested and preserved, hay is in the barn, herds have been culled and moved to Winter pastures. The hard work of farm life is mostly done for the year and the worst of Winter is still several weeks away. We quietly look forward to the rebirth of the Light at the Solstice.
Or at least that’s what happened in a pre-industrial, pre-consumerist agrarian society.
Over the past few days I’ve read or heard several prominent Pagans calling for quiet contemplation in the season leading up to Yule. They’re not wrong. But the last six weeks of the year is anything but restful and contemplative in contemporary American society.
The days before and after Thanksgiving are the busiest travel days of the year, as many of us go over the river and through the wood to celebrate with family. The feast has to be cooked and the groceries have to be bought and somebody has to wash all those dishes. Even if you don’t participate in the absurdity of excess that is Black Friday, most of us still have people we have to buy presents for.
Then in December there are special religious services, semester exams, office parties, football bowls and basketball tournaments, more travel to family, more feasts, more shopping, cooking and cleaning. There’s take-stuff-back day (aka December 26), mid-winter vacation, New Year’s Eve parties and more football to cram in before starting the long, cold grind that is January and February.
How much of this can you avoid even if you try? How do you experience the dark when the whole world is strung with lights? How much quiet contemplation can you do with carols and jingle bells in the background?
I’m all for reclaiming the Winter holidays and for refusing to participate in the insanity of commercial Christmas. There is great value in participating in a Solstice ritual that celebrates the restfulness of the Dark and the rebirth of the Light. And since long before I became Pagan I have set aside several hours on or around New Year’s Day to review the past year in detail and set goals for the coming year.
But is this really the best time for a season of reflection, contemplation, and silence? How much swimming upstream are you ready to do?
In our contemporary Western world, Imbolc is the season best suited to quiet contemplation. The busyness of Christmas and New Year’s is past. The party is over and it’s time to go back to work, back to school, back to the gym. We’ve celebrated and done what we wanted to do, now it’s time to go back to doing what we have to do. The weather is bad and even in Texas we’ll be spending most of our time indoors. January and February are to us what November and December were to our agrarian ancestors.
So enjoy the Winter holidays, Pagan and Christian and secular. Enjoy them in moderation and in reason – participate in what’s meaningful or just plain fun for you and don’t be afraid to say “no” to the things that aren’t (I haven’t attended an office Christmas party in 10 years). Take some time at the Solstice to honor the dying Sun and to celebrate the reborn Sun.
But plan on a time of extended contemplation and introspection from Back to Work Day (that’s January 3 for me) until the celebration of Imbolc (January 28 for Denton CUUPS). Your dates and your duration may be different, but most of us will have a least a few suitable days early in the new calendar year.
We don’t live in an agrarian society any more. Let’s set our spiritual calendars to our lives as we live them here and now.