I used to really struggle with the idea of celebrating the holidays on the pagan wheel of the year. In fact, aside from the holidays that corresponded with what my culture at large celebrates (Halloween and Christmas) I didn’t feel a connection at all, and in general, I still don’t. My family stopped going to church when I was still fairly young. Christmas was a largely non-religious celebration in my family, except for the occasional midnight mass with my grandma and being in nativity pageants when I was in elementary school. Midnight mass and nativity pageants are my palest memories of the season. Christmas has always been about the magic. The magic, and the sugar.
As a child coming home on Christmas Eve nights from my grandparents house my parents would pause in the crisp night air and ask, “did you heart that? The sleigh bells?” Evoking awe and wonder about the arrival of Santa. Sometimes my mom would say she saw elves at the windows and my siblings and I would run to look. Christmas music and movies and holiday baking were a huge part of our tradition, with my mom filling old ice cream tubs full of cookies and fudge while something festive played in the background. There were advent calendars filled with chocolate to count down the days and build anticipation. There was a general magic in the air all of December most years that was absolutely palpable. I’m certain I’m romanticizing these memories to some degree, but the kernel of truth of how this season made me feel is the point. There’s no substitute for feeling the magic.
When I first began to truly walk my path I yearned for traditions to step into that reflected my spiritual beliefs. I felt that I should have a way to renounce entirely the traditions I grew up with to signify the line in the sand that separated me from Christianity. I felt quite isolated by the fact that no one around me shared the same spiritual proclivities, that I had no traditions to step into that felt right and solidified the spiritual ground under my feet. I mourned a loss of culture that occurred well before my time. This struggle was difficult in part because I’m not into reconstructionism at all. In my mind, we can’t go back. Life is much different now than it was before the people of my heritage gave up our gods and the gods went to sleep in their own way. I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to find a way that fit the time I was living in. No one can really tell you how to do that through a book or through postulating with nostalgia, no matter how romantic the notion is of a time when people were more in tune with the earth.
I don’t think a winter has gone by where I haven’t seen the argument around Christmas actually being a pagan holiday. It’s true that the roots of how this holiday is celebrated are pagan, and there’s a wonderful book by Linda Raedisch called “The Old Magic of Christmas” that delves into the pagan history of many of the Christmas traditions, but Christians found a way to attribute new meaning within their religious context to the many aspects of the winter holiday. This has made Christmas very Christian to those who believe in Christ. Jesus is the reason for the season for Christians, but pagans have always been the reason the season was celebrated at all. It’s taken a lot of years for me to find the life within the pagan roots that resonates now. I had to find a way to unify all parts of my past and my heritage to make it so.
My Yuletide observance has formed into what it is now over time. Last year I didn’t do much more than give offerings and spend time with family, but usually the celebration begins December first, culminates the night of the Winter Solstice, and extends through February. December is spent decorating, baking, wrapping presents, listening to Christmas music and watching holiday movies. On the night of the Solstice my husband and I share a special dinner and exchange presents and give our animal companions their gifts. We watch movies (the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Winter Special is a new tradition as of last year), play games, and generally just enjoy the hygge atmosphere we’ve created in our home. This year I’m participating n a Cailleach ritual with my online coven as well.
I give offerings to my ancestors, to Hekate, and leave out offerings for the fae as well on this Solstice, including Santa. To me, Santa is a less scary version of Odin on the wild hunt, coupled with the attributes of Saint Nicholas. I believe he still rides in the sky, even over my town (yes, you read that right: I believe in the spirit of Santa). These offerings are a showing of gratitude for the relationships I have with the spirits and for their work in my life. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we spend time with our families, and if we’re lucky we get to see our friends during this time period as well. We keep our tree up well through January.
Most of what I do for the season is a version of what I grew up doing, but with my own flair. I incorporate magick into all of the the baking and decorating. Adding our own flair to the traditions we love is how they evolve and become what we need them to be. I didn’t have to give up anything, really, for the season to have meaning according to my own path and connection with the ancient powers of the indwelling earth spirit, and I think that’s the point. I didn’t have to go backward to find the magic because this magic has always been and will always be no matter how our understanding of it evolves. There doesn’t need to be a hard line of separation because there are no hard lines of separation within us. There’s nothing to prove, no box to fit into. Take what works and leave the rest, and don’t make a fuss about it.