I am on several different pagan parenting oriented Facebook groups and I have watched with a sort of morbid curiosity as grown adults quibble, argue and downright explode over the use of Santa Claus or not, as the case may be.
Family Coven, is first and foremost, the way in which each family group decides to spiritually uplift each other. There will always be Family Covens who utilized Santa Claus as part of their spiritual celebration of Yule and there will always be Family Covens who do not utilize Santa Claus as a spiritual part of Yule.
For my Family Coven, as we transitioned from a Christian and secular oriented household into a more spiritually centered household. We observed Christmas Day celebrations every year. It wasn’t until our son began to go visit his biological father for Christmas did we switch to a family celebration on Yule Day properly and start taking that day off so that we could have “our day” and it would not interfere with celebrations his biological father chose.
I had a couple of thoughts about this process. The first was, my boy lives in the South and understanding the message Christians associate with Christmas is important. He needs to understand the story and thought behind Christmas. So for years, until he was about ten, I read to him the Biblical Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve as his bedtime story. At ten, he told me he thought he had the thing memorized and could we stop reading that one, so we did. Further we attended several different denominational Christmas Eve services. The last one was a group sing of Handel’s Messiah which is still a fond memory I have of singing my heart out with my boy while my husband priest looked at the two of us like we had lost our minds. The point was, he learned the story as a myth, which for me it is, and he would not misunderstand all the Christian symbols that abound at this time of year. His point of reference for children who were Christians was also secure because he had firsthand experience with Christmas religious activities.
Of course there were Yule activities to counter the Christian ones we took him too. For years, Yule was greeted with spiritually centered gifts while Christmas was reserved for more secular gifts. My sister Lady Freya still does this with her Family Coven. Yule night gifts are exchange that are more spiritually focused and Christmas is still observed like normal. The last few years my Family Coven has hosted a community production where people descend like groups of wise men and shepherds upon our home all night and then join us for a large breakfast in the morning typically the Saturday before or after Yule. Then we all take Yule Day off and celebrate by just being home with each other and open any gifts we have gotten for each other. No electronics, no fancy meal to cook, sometimes we go to the movies, whatever we decide we decide as a Family Coven and do it together.
To counter the Christ myth that I used to read yearly, I read out of the book The Gold Christmas Treasury: 25 Stories, Poems and Carols the story A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum. What follows is directly from my book Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft (Immanion Press, 2015)
The story starts in St. Nick’s Valley where the North Pole castle sits between the light of the Forest of Burzee and the darkness of the Caves of the Daemons, just like we are sitting between the light of the summer past and the darkness of the winter that has enveloped us on Yule Eve.
St. Nick – now nothing more than the Holly King to me — sets out with his four trusted assistants — Nuter the Ryl, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie and the Fairy, Wisk, for a stroll near the time of Yule Eve, just like all good earth practitioners. After all, who would ever consider a spiritual journey without Air (Wisk), Fire (Nuter), Water (Peter) and Earth (Kilter)?
While on his walk, the Daemons from the Dark Caves kidnap the Holly King and take him back to their hideout. This leaves the assistants to do the job of delivering the toys on Yule Eve. In the absence of the Holly King, Wisk, Nuter, Peter and Kilter journey into the growing dark to toil away as best as they can. They make mistakes, leaving Mamie Brown, the Goddess, without a doll and only a drum, the heartbeat of the sleeping Earth. She beats her drum to remind us that despite the dark and death, she is alive waiting for the Oak King, waiting for the Sun. Life is growing in her and waiting, but without the Holly King she cannot bring it to life.
Charlie Smith, the young Oak King, requires tools that he will need to plant and sew. The elementals gave him thread and needles, not boots for working outdoors. He also has no direction; no Holly King to tell him what he needs to do.
I began to weep as I recognized the Lord and Lady lost without the light of the Oak King and consumed by the death of the Holly King who has been bound, shackled and carried deep into the Caves of the Daemons, deep in the darkness of despair, deep into the underworld, the ‘tween place of magic.
The journey through the darkest night had begun, for God, for Goddess, for man, woman and child, for me and my Family Coven. No magic, no tools to help us grow, only the heartbeat of the mother to assure us things are still progressing as they should.
The elementals manage much better with all the other children but are unable to complete the task in the cover of darkness, a power, of course, only the Holly King could possess. So as the light dawns, the reindeer return to Santa’s Castle, not wholly triumphant or intact, but able to carry on.
This is a reflection of our journey through the depths of the longest night of the year. We question ourselves. Will the night ever end? Will our troubles of the journeys of this past year haunt us even in the light of day? Will we get what we need? How will this be righted, and where is the Holly King? Is he gone from us forever? Only the Holly King has the answers to the mysteries of the night, and without him, the light of the Oak King is welcomed and hollow.
Deep within the caves of the Daemons, the Daemon of Malice approaches the noble Holly King and taunts him. “The Children are waking up, Santa!” his malicious tongue cries. “They are waking up to find their stockings empty! Ho, ho! How they will quarrel, and wail and stamp their feet in anger!”
Suddenly, Tree Bear begins to cry and shoves the book from my hands. Despair is clearly heard, and I am shocked and look to Stone for some explanation. Then I understand, it is the malice we must all face within ourselves, our attempts to taunt others in their times of darkness and to judge and hold ourselves above. Tree Bear sees in himself the behavior of the Daemon of Malice, as did Stone and I. Only after much coaxing does Tree Bear agree to continue.
I skip over the rest of Malice Daemon’s speech to Santa’s response, which is silence. Just like Christ to the taunts of the demons, and the Buddha to the rails of an angry man, the Holly King speaks nothing. Yes! In this dark when the taunts of impending doom ring in our ears, we quietly rest in the knowledge of the elements we work with and are silent because even we cannot know the magic that is being worked on our behalf.
Malice leaves dejected and in comes the Daemon of Repentance. As he taunts our Holly King the Daemon of Repentance moves further from a place of ill will into one where he begins to understand that the Holly King must be free work his magic. He releases The Holly King and begs forgiveness claiming, “I am not really a bad person, you know.” The Holly King in his wisdom says, “I bear no malice.”
This darkest night that presses around is saying to us “I am not really bad you know.” It isn’t. The darkness forces us to a night of reflection and consideration of the year that is sliding away. Can we look upon ourselves and our decisions and others and their impacts upon our life and bear no malice? If you can, the Daemon of Repentance will throw open the door, and the Oak King will come upon you as the dawn finally rises. You will walk and whistle back to the castle, the tween place of magic to prepare for next year.
The Holly King is greeted by the elementals who have mustered many more magical creatures in the attempt at a rescue. When the Holly King hears about Mamie and Charlie he quickly dispatches Wisk to set right the wrong, the Goddess bears children again, and the Oak King is set loose on the hunt.
So too, can our minds, the air within us, be our ally. Through study we find the Goddess and God and understand their places in our hearts. It is also our minds that remind us that the Dark King, the Holly King, has slipped into the underworld, but he is not gone, not lost but simply preparing for next year, to lead us through the darkest night.
This night is when the Family Coven should get together and sleep with one another on the floor of the family room. They are celebrating that moment of conception of the children in their lives and they are celebrating the moment of conception of the relationships. Because of this, more than any other Sabbat, a Family Coven should stick together and stay together. Through the longest night, keep a lamp burning and sit up in shifts. Meditate on the newness that is the moment at dawn when the Oak King is reborn and all the moments of newness that have brought your Family Coven together.
Then move the family out of doors, bundled up and ready to wait for that moment of newness when the Sun King rises and is reborn. Shout, “Happy Birthday, Sun King!” and return inside to eat a hearty breakfast and open presents together. Then lay back down on your makeshift womb and sleep. Sleep in assurance that life has begun again; you have celebrated and renewed your connections as a Family Coven.As parents we have a unique ability to really understand that children stories – all children stories – have wisdom and messages that are relevant to pagan parenting. Santa Claus is a myth – a story – that for me truly reflects the aging Holly King. In the Muppets Christmas Carol – the ghost of Christmas present starts off young and vivacious and before his time with Scrooge is up, he is old, white haired and fading. That is the Holly King to me – the real story of Santa Claus. It isn’t in competition with my pagan beliefs or some fantasy that my child will believe in to his detriment.
There was never a “Santa Claus isn’t real,” there was – your two parents bring Santa Claus gifts in the memory of the dying Holly King and in honor of the Oak Kings birth or your other two parents bring you gifts from “Santa Claus” in honor of a secular tradition that they want to participate in.
There was never, “We aren’t Christians so we don’t do Christmas.” There was “We celebrate the birth of the SUN and Christians celebrate on the birth of the SON – their Jesus Christ which coincides with the birth of Mirthis as the SON for the Greeks and Romans back when the Christ Church was on the rise.”
I think what confounds me the most about arguments like these amongst pagan parenting partners is the idea that there is ONE WAY. Having left Christianity and its inundation in our society that they have the one true and right way, I see pagans fall again and again into the same trap. One Family Coven pitted against another Family Coven because they celebrate this holy season of Yule differently.
When my son was six, he came home from school angry. I asked him why. He told me that some girl at school had told his Hindi friend that he was going to hell. My boy defended his friend by asking if the girl believed in Santa Claus. The girl said that my boy was going to hell if he believed in Santa Claus cause everyone knows Santa Claus is not real and people should only worship Jesus, because Jesus was the only one that was real.
“I told her, mommy,” he says with complete exasperation, “Santa Claus was just God dressed up like the Holly King who is a God. Didn’t she know that all gods were one god anyway so no one was going to hell because everyone believed in God in their own way?”
“What did she say to that, honey?”
“She stomped her feet and screamed and ran away,” he said.
I have observed a lot of pagans these days, stomping their feet and screaming because another pagan doesn’t concur or believe or agree with their view or vision of god, goddess, or pagan practice. Stop it. Discuss, debate with respect and learn from the many wondrous paths that Divinity has unfolded for others. Don’t let those discussion, respectful debates, and sincerely held beliefs of others affect you. They do not, after all. The manifestation and beliefs you hold are sacred, pure and right for you and your Family Coven – within the boundaries of your Family Coven Virtues and the law of the land.
Just because others may view that differently does not invalidate the sacredness, purity and rightness for you and your Family Coven.
Besides, isn’t the end goal to have accepting children who are tolerant to all paths? What better way to achieve this by exposure to many paths.
This year, my son (now seventeen) came to me and said, “Just because I am Shinto Buddhist now, doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate Yule with you and Stone, okay? I want to come to your ritual and honor what you believe. At the same time, I am going to need some things before the first of the year to celebrate the New Year the proper way and I want to make a family date for January 1st in observance of the Shinto Buddhist traditions and I need to go on New Year’s Eve to the Shinto Temple. Is that okay?”
“Can I make offerings with you at the temple?” I asked.
He smiled and hugged me and we just stood in my kitchen two spiritual people who support and love each other and are connected by that magical thing that had created us both – Family Coven.