*Not in the traditional Norse sense – in the neo-pagan sense. Sorry – it worked better for a ‘Y’ post than Grianstad an Gheimhridh…!
It’s coming. Chanukah has been celebrated with many lights. The ChrisYuleNukkah tree is up (plastic, so that the cats don’t eat it – they’re trying anyway, though). I’ve heard the song that is my seasonal divination omen (I may have channel-surfed the radio for some time in an attempt to find it).
This is what I posted at Facebook earlier this week:
Just so we’re clear, I will never be wishing anyone ‘happy holidays’. In the UK, the holidays are what happen during the summer when children don’t have to go to school – nothing to do with the winter festivals. I grew up in a mostly-secular home (at least after age 7 – my parents were a new ager and an agnostic). Christmas was about waiting for Santa, surprising family with little hand-made gifts, baking cakes and mince pies, hanging out in the kitchen while dad cooked, and most of all, STORIES – the most wonderful stories. (Often ghost stories!) I know how lucky I am to have good memories of this time of year, but I’m not going to pretend I don’t. (It wasn’t all good, but that’s another story.) I celebrated Christmas in a secular way then, and I celebrate it in a secular way now.
And of course, it’s only part of the story. (All the stories we tell are only ever part of the story.) My home was secular, and most of Christmas was secular, but I was religious. I can’t deny the power that the myth of the Christ child had, as part of my midwinter, get-me-through-the-dark celebrations. As soon as I was old enough, I would go to Midnight Mass – usually alone (but occasionally I dragged along my dad, who sang enthusiastically in a choral baritone and had fits of giggling at inappropriate lyrics in carols). I remember so much light in the dark. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great Light…”
It wasn’t till young adulthood that my memories of this time of year would be interrupted by a family member’s suicide attempt on New Year’s Day.
We don’t know what the pre-Christian Gaels celebrated at this time of year. An awful lot of cultures have a way of marking the Solstice or another festival of the deep midwinter. Newgrange, where the Winter Solstice sun floods the passage tomb with light, might be evidence of a celebration of the solstice – at least at some point in the history of Ireland. But I don’t think it matters so much what they did. What connects me with my ancestors is the need we all have, for something to carry us through the dark.
Every year, I get highly irritated at inaccurate claims that Christians dated Christmas to coincide with the Winter Solstice. (They didn’t, and I can link you to a detailed discussion of why not, based on church history.) I forget, in the process, that people claiming this are really just doing what I do – looking for points of connection, whether with our ancestors or with many other cultures around the world. They want it not to be forgotten that many peoples have celebrated the longest night and the returning light, and that modern Pagan traditions are part of that line of ancestry, stretching back.
I, too, still need my irrational myths. Irrational like a Pagan celebrating the birth of the Christ child. I’ll be seeing if I can still find the Light of the World in a manger this year, just as I can find it in the Reborn Sun of the solstice.
The stories are still important. All of them.
Whatever you celebrate, may the stories get you through the long dark.