Y is for… Yule*

*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.

6 thoughts on “Y is for… Yule*

  1. Wow! I started editing my Rewrite of the Yule chapter of my book BEFORE I saw this! Lol.

    I don’t actually agree with the ‘Reborn Sun Child’ model supposedly called ‘Mabon’ because Mabon comes from a different story (yes he was imprisoned in a cell, possibly in the dark but he doesn’t and didn’t represent the Sun). That and I think it is an image that is trying to Paganise the Christ myth… what’s the point. You are right though, considering Christ’s birth was more accurately equated to March (Pisces, fish symbolism, see what I did there) so the Christian attempt to claim the solstice is futile. I’ll get off my soap box now…

    • Well, it depends on your perspective. There are many myths that *could* be linked to the solstice, since so many of our seasonal myths come to us in degraded form. Mabon is imprisoned for three days, after all… But I don’t personally associate the reborn sun with Mabon – it’s more an archetype for me than a personification (although I quite like the Oak King myth). We have passage tombs and stone circles all over Europe that celebrate the return of the sun. What’s wrong with encountering it as something that either tallies with one of the myths, or doesn’t, but still celebrates the Returning Sun? Oh and my point about Christians and the solstice was that they never DID try to claim it. It’s Pagans who yell about stolen holidays. Christmas was dated by being placed nine months after the Annunciation – which is very logical, really. And had nothing to do with seasonal cycles. And especially not European myths. We European Pagans tend to forget that Christianity was born in the Middle East… :P

      • I consider myself served! Haha. I totally read your original point the wrong way, so sorry. Me and my impulsiveness, eh?
        Pagan celebrations, Christian celebrations they all now take influence from each other: swings and roundabouts. There is no problem with tallying with myths or not, its just my pedantic tendencies making me an arse.

      • Hehe. I’m pedantic too. It’s why I get irritated about the Pagans shouting about the stealing of Christmas, so I do understand. I guess there are some things I’m a bit of a fundamentalist about, and other things where I’m really not. Hmm, I wonder why some things more than others? Anyway, you’re right that Christian and Pagan elements of the season are very hard to attribute, because of how much they’ve borrowed from each other. I kind of like that, though. Makes it a festival that’s about more than faith!

      • Agreed, because despite our differences its interesting how we can look at the same thing in other perspectives. Its also interesting that of all the celebrations it is either solstices that are universally recognised and are in fact the oldest celebrated events…. and they are totally natural phenomena. I love that. ;)

  2. The “bleak” midwinter is definitely story time, whatever your stories are. I was raised militantly Protestant and celebrating Christmas as anything but secular was highly frowned upon–observing the solstice was expressly forbidden. But I did it anyway, and still do. It’s a part of my culture and my personal practice.

    I love mythos, I love stories. Especially seeing Christianity as a Middle Eastern religion, I see the importance in understanding the emotional and spiritual impact of observances, over self-righteous debates on accuracy and what properly belongs to whom. Sharing that very primal human need to find a reassuring hope and the blessing of a world renewed and in salvation for another year is something beautiful.

    Also, that is one of my favorite Christmas songs, hands down. I drink to it regularly and happily.

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