We know that Pagans had Yule and Winter Solstice long before the Christians stuck Jesus in the middle of it. For a long time, Christmas was a big festival of debauchery and the earliest Christmas music was a collection of drinking songs. (Have you ever heard “I Saw Three Ships” at a rapid tempo? Drinking song. Drinking song.) These old songs were likely influenced by even older songs focused more on Yule aimed at keeping spirits lively in the dark days moreso than celebrating the Christian faith. As Christmas got commercialized, the music got tamer and crappier, so much so that it actually depresses people rather than make them merry and bright. Pagans try to wrest their Yule music back, but while “God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk” is cute, it doesn’t quite replace the Yule spirit of old.
Yule music, in its natural spooky form, is awesomely Pagan.
Here are some artists making technically Christmas music, but is pulsing with Pagan vibes–great Yuletide tunes to spice the right mood at your Winter Solstice ritual or just when you’re sipping mead at home.
Annie Lennox owns the spirit of a good, Yuletide wassail song, but the gem of the album is the final track “Universal Child.” It’s a song about believing in your loved ones and shining light on them at a tough time. I dare you to listen twice without crying.
Flashback briefly to the 90s when medieval style influenced pop music. It never should have left. Thankfully, Gregorian has put out a number of Christmas albums heavy with old-school Yule energy, the best of which is Christmas Chants. My favorite song on the album is “Moment of Peace,” which has all the presence of Winter Solstice, but without the religiosity. The album also has their sick version of “Mad World.”
This Pagan band with combines their Renfaire sound with beautiful version of classic carols, but takes some liberties with the religious talk. In their version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” they sing that “peace has come to Bethlehem.” I’ve recommended this album to nonreligious or interfaith families looking for holiday music with a familiar vibe, but without too much religion. Their version of “Lord of the Dance” feels as though they’re talking Beltane more than Yule, which is a nice lift of the heart during short, dark days.
As a witch who came of age in the 90s, Loreena McKennitt is what practically made me a Pagan (Loreena and The Craft, I should say). She’s our trusty Magickal music standby and this album is packed with the spirit of the Longest Night, peppered with old-timey Yuletide classics. The track “Snow” is hauntingly beautiful, and a great piece to listen to when you need to unwind after your Christmas dinner with your conservative Christian family side of the family.
UNASHAMED TORI-PHILE, HERE. GET OVER IT. This one plays in my house almost everyday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. When I was running my Coven, I had someone sing “Winter’s Carol” at every public Yule. It’s basically the official anthem of Winter Solstice…or it should be, anyway.