I packed up my remaining Yuletide decorations last night. I swear I didn’t cry or anything, but it always makes me a bit melancholy. The “humble Bumble”* I was so excited to get two months ago is now wrapped in a festive table cloth and hiding in a box down in my basement. I wanted to let the Holidays linger a bit longer but our house was the only one on the cul-de-sac still clinging to Christmas so I thought it was best to let it go, but for what?
Our culture always seems to be in such a hurry to “start” things that it often feels like it ends them prematurely. I’ve never understood why stores take their Christmas decorations down before New Year’s Eve (it’s “The Holidays” right?) and I swear I’ve seen displays for Valentine’s Day at the end of December. I just don’t get it. So much of the world seems to be in such a rush to get to the Midwinter Season and then it’s discarded just as quickly.
Taking down the Yule decorations always leads me to the quandary of trying to replace them with something seasonably appropriate. My wife and I have “three altars” in our living room; two are on the tops of bookshelves and one adorns our fireplace mantle. They aren’t “working altars” but they are all usually symbolic of where our spirituality is at during any given season. In March and April the young Horned God chases the Maiden through strands of flowers and this past October/November Cernunnos guarded the entry way to the Summerlands . . . . But how does a Pagan decorate in January?
To start with I’m dead-set against pretending it’s spring barely three weeks into Winter. Several years ago I got a work email from someone in our corporate office that ended with “Think Spring!” The date was December 27. Decorating with flowers in January just feels dishonest, and now that I live in Northern California where it doesn’t snow, decorating with snow is out too.
I could start my Imbolc celebration early (my wife suggested putting our giant Brigit statue up in the living room) but that also doesn’t work for me. Imbolc is meant to be a starting off point, decorating for it the first week of January feels like I’m trying to rush the season in and it reminds me of the futility of “think Spring” in December. Generally the feelings that stir me at sabbat celebrations last long after the circle is open. They always feel like new beginnings, not endings, but since Yule is so close culturally to Christmas it’s become an exception to the rule.
My January altars tend to have two themes: clean and dead. This always feels like such a “sparse” time of year and I like to reflect that on my altars. This is not a time for my altars to be full of stuff, there should be lots of space between things. I also like “clean” colors, most especially white. This probably has something psychological to do with snow, but with the start of a new calendar year, I like to think that I’m moving forward. It might also be representative of a blank slate.There’s one hold over from Yule, the clear lights (you can see those on the second picture in this article). Many of us celebrate the “return of the sun” at Midwinter, the return of the light and longer days. The festival of lights many of us associate with the Holidays doesn’t accurately reflect that return. It’s too much, it’s like the Goddess gave birth to a twelve year old. My January altars always contain lights, but less than what was up just a few days ago.
All of my altars have decorative grapes on them right now, and I’ll admit that most of them aren’t very seasonal, but they are there for good reason. Part of it is just to celebrate the return of Dionysus to my a main household altar (he and Aphrodite get pushed out by Bachus-Santa Claus every November), but it’s also representative of new starts and new beginnings. The grapes are a reminder of all that is to come the next 12 months and remind me that Winter was a “drinking time” for many ancient pagan cultures. With two large festivals on the way the grapes are also a reminder of that upcoming fellowship (and that I’ve got some workshops to dust off).
For Yule my wife got me a statue of Danu (“Celtic Mother Goddess with Child”) that seems perfect for this time of year. She’s a great companion piece to my Cernunnos bust, but with the babe in her arms this feels like the time to celebrate her. Even in the darkest times, life persists and goes on . . . . Surrounded by dried grasses and branches she currently “owns” my living room in a way few other goddesses do throughout the year.
I’m starting to think that how I decorate in January more accurately reflects the Winter season than most of the “Yule decorations.” This is a quieter time of year, perhaps it’s for the best that things seem to slow down. The bustle of the Holidays is over along with its orgy of lights. Much of the world feels dead and a blanket of snow covers many of the fields I’ve played in over the years, though life stirs beneath.
How does on find Pagan space in January? I celebrate this time of year by looking inward and finally getting to take the cleansing breath that was promised to me at Yule. I find the Lady by seeking out the light in dark corners. I toast to the good health of you and I with Dionysus at the start of the solar year. There are lessons to be learned in January and sometimes they can only be learned when you return some of your favorite things to a box in the basement.
*The Bumble is the snow-monster from the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Cartoon.