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Old 12-07-2006, 08:36 AM
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Jeff...here is your answer about Yule.

Reclaiming the Season: Yule
- by Jehana Silverwing -

The days grow shorter; the nights, longer. Stores and shopping centers increase their hours. Traffic increases; tempers flare. Everyone, it seems, talks about how they plan to spend their Christmas. It's a landmark date -- everyone, except those working in continually-staffed service-oriented professions, has the day off. It is the fulcrum point of the year. To some, it is a date fraught with spiritual significance. For others, it is a date stripped of the spiritual; special only for the fact that the entire nation seems to lead into it as a merchandizing zenith. For others -- perhaps a combination of the above. And for others yet, whose religious paths do not mention Christmas per se -- it can lead into a sense of uncertainty. How do we celebrate? Why and what? How do we deal with Christmas when our children ask about it? Should we, as Pagans and as Witches, merely content ourselves with removing the crêche, while leaving the other accoutrements alone? How do we bring in our own understanding of the spiritual, then? (Or shall we merely be content to worship the great god of charge cards as an easy alternative to ignoring Christmas altogether?)

It is well-known that much of the Christmas accoutrements come from a conscious effort of the early Church to co-opt Pagan Yule and Midwinter celebrations -- going so far as to choose a date for the birth of Christ that nearly coincides with that of the Winter Solstice. The tree, the log, the mistletoe, the holly. All of these are symbols of Pagan origin. All of these are considered by most Christian sects these days to be superficial; not part of the true spirit of Christmas -- but somehow (since something about the season has to be) associated with the more crass and commercial aspects of the season. Never mind that the old Pagan Yules were not in and of themselves crass or commercial.

The situation which presents itself for current-day Pagans and Witches at this season is multiple. On one hand, we share with the Jews the difficulty of raising our children in a culture geared more to Christmas than to our own specific holiday. And on another hand, we see that the elements most used to promote prolifigate merchandizing are also usually the most Pagan elements of the season. While having nothing against merchandizing per se, it seems to me that the symbolic connections we make in our own religions are sometimes Pavlovianly cross-circuited with the symbols of greed.

Somehow we need to reclaim meaning for ourselves and for our children in those specifically-Pagan elements of the celebration. We should do so in such a way that does not take from Christians their secular enjoyment of these same symbols -- else we become no better than that rare Christian sect which denounces the tree and Santa and the Yule log as merely heathen and hence forbidden and anathema to any true (by their own definition) Christian.

To reclaim this meaning, we need to accentuate and reaffirm the positive. To dwell on the negative aspects of the season (those imposed by the overlying current societal ambiance around Christmas and Yule) is ultimately to defeat our perceptions of the Winter Solstice and Yule. What, indeed, is Yule? For some Witches, it is the beginning of the new year. For most, it is the time where light defeats night; the signal of hope amidst the necessary fallow period of snow and cold that the cycle would turn once again -- the farmers could count the few months left until crops could be planted.

What can we do with this? What can we do with this against the prevailing folk-wisdom that the Christmas season is about money and gifts and money? Jews have been faced with this problem as well -- many have decided to turn this season into an exchange of gifts. It is hard to explain to children why their neighbors have all this stuff awaiting them under their Christmas tree, while nothing awaits them. Chanukah in the Jewish calendar is actually a very minor holiday. It is now one of the few most Gentiles can name, holding its own in a close race with Passover.

Winter Solstice is a time of celebration, however -- the nights will grow shorter, and that in itself was cause enough for celebration in the olden days. Celebrations and festivities may well have included gift-giving. The Earth was coming round full cycle, and life would go on. The worst parts of winter might lie ahead, but no matter -- the days were getting longer. We can retain this aspect, reclaiming it from some of the commercialism of the way this season seems to be treated today. Consider each gift you bestow, especially upon children, with care. Something special; perhaps handmade, perhaps a service rendered. Something which requires thought; something which comes freely from the heart; not given because it is required.

We can reclaim, also, by giving to the Earth. Perhaps this is the season to begin to open up awareness towards Earth needs. Or to extend that awareness. Such gifts are without immediate tangible reciprocation -- perhaps this is the message many of us may wish to pass on to our children at Yule. The celebration itself; as well as the sharing of that celebration. Such gifts, also, need to be free (especially from guilt) and from the heart to have spiritual significance.

The symbols we use have importance, of course. I notice in more and more towns the tendencies to do away with town displays of crêches and infant Jesi. Some may applaud this, saying that such displays were offensive to non-Christians, whether they be atheists, Pagans, Jews, or Buddhists. I find such decisions more than a little sad -- that we are reduced to the level of political committees to decide what is or is not appropriate for a town to display at Winter Solstice, Yule, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas. No, the crêche is not my religious symbol, but that tree standing there proudly bedecked is. By removing all but the Pagan symbols, we are allowing towns to declare that the Pagan symbols are NOT spiritual/religious, and have no more than passing associations to the season. To be fully honest in the desire to remove all religious connotations in their displays, towns would have to drop the idea of having a display at all. Perhaps a better alternative is to encourage that public displays show seasonal referents for all the religions that they can be made aware of (or at least which have adherents living in their area).

The cross-cultural fertilization would certainly be worthwhile, and far better than our current societal tendency to make everything superficially "safe" in our efforts (effectively) to offend by omission and homogenity rather than by inclusion. (This leaves the problem of how to respect atheistic wishes as a very real exercise, however -- what symbols could they include in a winter's display?)

These have been just a few passing thoughts to welcome in the Winter Solstice. Blessed Yule!
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