“So,” said Jeanine, “tell us some stories about Yule, Sable.”
Our two stepdaughters looked at me and waited; the youngest raptly, the eldest pretending to be more interested in her tablet, since she was obviously above such things at the ripe age of twelve; but she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. I suppose we’re poster children for the modern eclectic Pagan family; Jeanine’s wife Jen is their biological mother and the mother of my husband Erin’s natural daughter also (who was spending the holiday with her other family). Erin was picking up my mom from the hospital to join us on a day pass for the holiday; our other partner Jamie was starting to organize the food. Our dear family friend Steve (who lives with us) was still sleeping because he works the graveyard shift; mine and Erin’s son Dan and his fiance Kayla were coming over later in the day. We were also joined by Steve’s stepson Gareth, our adopted “nephew” whom we hadn’t seen in a year and who was unexpectedly home for the holiday. That was a dozen people we were expecting for dinner. Fortunately on Yule, the stores are still open and we would be able to make up the difference. When my mom arrived, we would open the presents.
So to pass the time I told them about the Holly King and the Oak King; I told them about the Triple Goddess and the Star Goddess of the longest night, and I told them about the rebirth of the Sun King. Twelve-year-old Fae was enamoured of the idea of the Holly King as the Death God and the Horned Hunter of the snow; ten-year-old Kim was much more interested in the Sun King. Jeanine, who is new to the Pagan path, was delighted by the idea of the Triple Goddess in one on Solstice Night.
The previous evening I’d gone to the local community Sabbat gathering, this time hosted by Druids in the ADF style. It was a little long for my tastes but the ritual was well-performed by a friend for whom this was her first experience as a public ritual leader, and we were graced by a promising omen that spoke of the Gods being pleased with our efforts to come together as a community to mend old wounds. There was a pleasant gift exchange featuring items that had been donated to the community to raise funds and were still present at the end of the year. The house was filled with warmth and joy and all kinds of Pagans I knew well – some of whom I hadn’t seen in years – as well as some I’m just getting to know and some I didn’t know at all. I was happy to see it; there was a time when our community was so small that I knew everyone. I was also pleased to see a large group of second-generation Pagans; young adults now whom I remember as little faces and little hands who wanted to light incense and help with the candles.
In the busyness of the season we’d skipped a tree, and we had a garland of fake holly draped around our china cabinet (which is devoted almost entirely to my household altar) and a holiday wreath of greenery, poinsettias and bells made by my mom. We laid the presents in front of the cabinet; there seemed to be a lot of them. Nobody seemed to notice or care about the tree’s absence.
My mom arrived in a whirlwind of babble and cheer wielding a beautiful Yuletide poinsettia arrangement she’d made, and we set about opening the presents. Not much really, just a couple of things for everyone, but they were on target. I felt especially good because the girls loved the My Little Pony figurines and the books I gave them. They’d been carefully selected from the bookstore where I read Tarot; teenage paranormal romance for our eldest daughter; The Hunger Games for our youngest (because I knew she’d be into the strong heroine – and yes, I have lots of criticisms about them too, but there’s not a huge selection, you know? Maybe I should take that on as a writer . . .) My mom was radiant over the dish set. Even the dog was happy with his bag-o-toys.
We had a few minor kitchen disasters. Oil from a previous deep-frying project got spilled all over and consequently, one of the burners lit on fire, even after cleaning twice, which left us two elements to do the whole dinner on. The turkey and the ham got overcooked because the oven got turned up too high, probably when we were dealing with the fire. My mom used hand soap instead of dish soap to wash the dishes and it got all over the place. There were some other incidents that could have ruined things but didn’t; like Fae’s constant attempt to blare pop music out of her tablet, which was just one too many levels of noise for me and which I insisted she turn off. But I managed to separate the dried bits of the ham and turkey (which, along with the bones, made an amazing turkey soup later;) we microwaved part of the food to get the balance right; and with many hands, cleaning didn’t take long, and everybody did their share. We even found time to set out a spectacular snack spread (gluten and lactose free) and to sing Yuletide carols and songs together while I played guitar. Jen sang a song she’d written about Yule and I loved it so much I asked if I could record it later.
Dan and Kayla arrived at about that time. Then the second round of presents. Dan was quite happy with his pipe and tobacco, and Kayla was delighted with the knit cap I’d bought her that was done up to look like a Minion. The girls were ecstatic over the plushy My Little Ponies their elder brother brought.
That’s when Kim approached me. “Mom Sable,” she began, “let’s greet the Sun King after dinner.”
“Sure,” I replied as I slung an arm around her. “Did you have an idea?”
“Yeah,” she went on eagerly, encouraged by my enthusiasm. “I think we should turn off all the lights, and light one candle, and sing chants.”
From the mouths of babes . . . “That sounds awesome, honey! Let’s do it!” She beamed at me.
We woke up Steve to join us for dinner. As a Priestess of the Goddess Jamie asked me to lead the blessing of the food and we delved into it with gusto. There was just the right amount, enough that we had sandwiches the next day and soup the day after that. I was going to make cookies after dinner when I had free access to the oven, but we skipped dessert because nobody wanted any.
“So are we going to do the candle-thing, Mom?” Kim asked in that unique gently persistent way that only little girls can manage.
“Yes, yes we are,” I said. “Okay, gather around guys; Kimmi had this idea . . .”
We shut down the lights; we put out all the Yuletide candles, and we gathered around the cauldron on my kitchen hearth and the single candle burning in it. We sang “King’s Dance” and we sang “Our Lady White.” Together our family honoured the Goddess and the Holly and Oak Kings and we welcomed the newborn Sun.
When I was in Winnipeg this fall on the book tour, my friend Dodie Graham McKay, who writes for the Wild Hunt, was speaking about how everyone talks about “creating Pagan community.” She argued that we have community; we have internet communities and tradition communities and communities that come together in pretty much every place that can call itself a city. She said that she thinks it’s time we start building a Pagan culture. We need art; we need music; we need shared songs; we need shared stories and shared experiences.
I think this experience was the perfect balance. Sometimes the Yuletide season is a little awkward for us Pagans. We often don’t want to buy into the whole secular Christmas thing, and yet not celebrating can make us feel left out and remove the magic from the holiday. So three generations and a mixed family of a dozen people came together, first to do sacred ceremony in the Pagan way and then to do a quiet, private sacred ceremony, burning a candle of faith in the darkness. It was one of the eight Sabbats, no more nor less important than any other Sabbat, and we all went home feeling satisfied that our Solstice had been “just enough.”