“From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.” –Katharine Whitehorn
As with all things that matter in this Dark Age, the essence of our ancient holidays—our ancient holy days—has been superseded by the contemporary image of the holidays. “The holidays”—the term seems to point to a number of days, any number of them, but alas . . . the calendarical/commercial point of “the holidays” for the vast majority of Western Civilization’s present generation is one day, which used to be part of our sacred time of Yule.
December 25th—Christmas Day. Now called the holiest of holy days. The birthday of the Son of God, who happens to be the flesh incarnation of God Himself. There is no human measure that could possibly estimate what sacredness of this day of days for our Christian comrades. A day, they tell, of high spiritual import, a day of great significance—not just for the world, but for eternity itself. It is, in no exaggerated words, a matter of each Christian’s immortal soul to acknowledge and observe this day in a way that befits the miracle that is a god enfleshed and born to save human souls. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Forever.
Bring on the animatronic reindeer.
But count me out. I can’t stand the commercialization, the desacration of Christmas. It makes no sense at all, least of all to a heathen like me. But I wasn’t born heathen. (Not in this life, anyway.) I was raised with all the trappings that come with Christmas in a mid-’60s house—the made-in-Japan plastic manger set of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and some farm animals, the carols, the fake tree with real foil tinsel and real glass ornaments, the stockings, the reindeer, the TV specials, the Elvis Christmas album, the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Wish Book Catalog, the J. C. Penney Christmas Wish Book Catalog, the candy canes, the kisses in red and green foil, the red and green mints in little dishes, the sugar cookies shaped like reindeer, snowmen, Santa’s boot . . . the Christmas party at school where we all brought wrapped gifts marked ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ . . . the lists of what I wanted “from Santa,” which progressed from dolls to make up to books as I got older . . . the eggnog in waxed cartons in the fridge behind the nut-studded cheese ball and the party olives. Ah! Nothing says holy like those things, huh? And those were the good old times, in terms of over-materialism, for the holidays.
Like I said, count me out.
I do not celebrate or participate in desacralized holy festivities. Not even in barely recognized shadow forms. My Yule holidays—holy days—are not made or unmade with candy canes or fishing line card swags hung fetchingly between a chopped down parking lot sale pine tree and undocumented-laborer-made evergreen wreaths. I look back on my childhood and on my Christmas times past and it is not a holy or reverent feeling that comes to me. Sure, it is a merry feeling to some extant because for me, as like for all children, it was very, very merry to be given things, to have special things to eat, to see pretty lights and hear festive songs and know nothing of how your folkway and your folksoul are being strip-mined, robbed and cut away from the very roots that are supposed to be holding you securely in life. I harbor little doubt as to why it is especially to children that so much of today’s modern ‘holiday’ experiences are devoted.
Make no mistake, and call me the Grinch all you want. No, actually, don’t. I resent that anyone who no longer will participate in the orgy of modern Christmas-time is called a Grinch after a mass marketed children’s book anti-hero, which became a television special, and then was turned into a Hollywood film and subsequently a multi-million dollar industry replete with collectable plush figures, coffee mugs and T-shirts. We have lost something extremely special with the crass commercialization of our holidays. We lost quite a lot of our indigenous holy focus when Yule was absorbed into Christmas, but we still clung to the holy tide of the time of the winter solstice, and our spirits were fed by the observances we made as our bodies were fed by the feasts we held within walls decked with boughs of holly. Feasts that didn’t involve holiday house light shows which people started putting up months earlier.
“Sam Bilas has one of the most impressive and ostentatious Christmas displays in all of Brooklyn, and he starts decorating in September. But Fred Loya starts even earlier – in the dog days of summer. “We start planning for it in July,” Loya said. “Right around the beginning of July we plan the music. And then we start putting up the lights in August. October and November then is dedicated to the computer programming.” (abcnews.go.com)
What we have lost since Christmas has fallen into the hands of the capitalist marketers is heart-breaking. We have lost sight of an important aspect of ourselves—our ability to have faith in something outside this mundane grind that we call life. Our ability to believe that we live for a more important reason than making money to buy Christmas stuff. Our ability to see the beauty in the transcendental, in the unsubstantiated, in the esoteric, in our own faith. Our sense of completeness, our sense of peacefulness, our sense of wholeness. Who can be whole when you know that next year a new animatronic elf will be offered . . . and you don’t own it yet. And I am not talking about only Christian folk; I am talking about all of us children of Europa. We once celebrated a sacred and holy time in December, each in the manner of our faith; the nature of our paths is not relevant in the face of what we have lost collectively by losing our holiday season, our holiday focus, our holiday traditions, our holiday sensibilities, our holy-day itself to the forces of a dark and hateful culture bent on destruction of all that we stood for and might yet stand for.
I understand that some might find such statements hyperbolic. After all, Frosty the Snowman never did anything to anyone. Or did he? I bet that for all of us reading this piece, Frosty’s place in our December memories is well sealed. As is Rudolph’s. As are the Whos down in Whoville. And Christmas shopping. And stress. And overspending. And having to get one more thing. And having to buy wrapping paper. Don’t forget the tape. And don’t forget to get the stocking stuffers. And don’t forget to see if you have enough on any of the cards. Whoa, you needed to order that yesterday if you want it by Christmas. They don’t have that in stock here, but you know how much the kids want one. Keep looking. It’s expensive, but it’s Christmas. You need new lights. You need to get the tree. You need to pick out cards. You need to pick up stamps. You need to stand in line to try on that sweater you know will fit her if it fits you. You need to buy walnuts and cranberries and cookies. You need to find tapered candles that match the dinnerware. You need to fix the lawn display because it broke down again. You need more lights. You need to see more lights. You need to take the kids to see the lights. You need to give a buck to the Salvation Army guy again because you keep going to the stores because you keep needing to buy presents because you didn’t buy them during the year and now you need to buy them all and . . . there is no parking, you have to park over there, and it’s raining, snowing, hailing, crowded, getting dark, you are hungry and you have to pick up dinner now and tomorrow is the office party and you need to bring something to that too. You need to buy the 2013 Hallmark decorative ornaments before you forget them too. And the kids want. And you should have. And you just need. And you have to. And there’s a million things to do still. Just get through it. December 26th cannot come too fast.
Quick, tell me what the weather was like on the solstice last year. Quick, tell me about the last gingerbread (not graham cracker, not decorated milk box) house you made as a kid. Or with the kids. Quick, tell me the last time you read from a spiritual book while conducting a spiritual activity at home with your family anytime between Dec 21 to Jan 1. Quick, tell me what any one of these terms means: Krampus, Sol Invictus, dickbauch, Frau Holle, wassailing . No, you can’t—because those things are not in your December memories—they should be, at least one of them should be right there in the front of your mind—but it isn’t, they aren’t. And you don’t notice the hole because there is no hole, our holidays are not not-celebrated . . . instead, they have become celebrated as twisted facsimiles of holidays, but because you were raised in a distorted world, you don’t know that the facsimile holiday is a facsimile, and that it is a twisted version of a remarkable one besides. You no longer have a holiday, or holidays, what you have is this:
“Today, Christmas is a huge gift-giving bonanza for retailers far and wide.” (http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yuletraditions/tp/Ten-Christmas-Customs-with-Pagan-Roots.htm)
“Amazon’s UK website said it had seen sales on Christmas Day increase by 263 per cent over the last five years”. ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2253038/Christmas-sales-Online-shoppers-spend-spend-spend-today-blow-2-4bn-tomorrows-Boxing-Day-rush.html#ixzz2mfGPkPXP )
“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was apparently willing to risk being labeled a Grinch. The Republican, who survived a contentious recall campaign and is up for reelection next year, recently asked parents to donate to his campaign instead of going Black Friday shopping for presents to put under the Christmas tree.” (http://nation.time.com/2013/12/03/this-politician-asked-parents-to-give-him-campaign-cash-instead-of-buying-their-kids-christmas-gifts/)
And nothing more.
I realize that most people don’t reflect too much about the term “holidays.” But I do. Holidays are holy days. Not vacation days. Not festival days. Not memorial days. Not days off. Here in my family, we observe our holidays the good old fashioned way. This month (December, for those readers checking out this piece via archives) the holidays (holy days) we observe are Yule. Like our ancestors have done since time unrecordable, we hold Yule to be comprised of 12 holy days, which start at the winter solstice and end at about New Year’s.
Heathens that we are, we understand that not everyone who shares our love of our folk follows our path, and that Yule has been for a long time looked upon as simply a nickname for that other holiday that happens in December, but it doesn’t really matter and, honestly, except for the fact that we can’t drive anywhere without dodging the hordes of Christmas shoppers out and about in their Prius sedans and minivans, and the bother that we can’t even grocery shop without being aurally hit by obnoxious holiday (this time it is not holy day) muzak, Christmas as it exists here and now wouldn’t rate a blip in our lives. Our holidays are naturally inwardly realized, as all holy things are.
Not to say that we don’t outwardly participate as well, while we particularly acknowledge the holy part of each of the 12 days that make it up, we enter into the Yuletide spirits with whole heathen hearts. We absolutely celebrate Yule, but we don’t modernly celebrate it, and there, dear readers, lies the essence.
We did, when we were newer parents, think it would be good not to be too far out from the norm in some things (we were very new parents) and duly ruined Yuletide with 12 days of ribbons and wrappings and presents and stress. There is nothing like 12 whole days of blatant consumerism in the form of unwanted goods purchased in crowded toy stores flowing into the house (that you have to wrap) to make you stop and realize that there is nothing remotely sacred about the act of giving factory made crap to a child (no matter how much you think that Lego sets will make them happy).
And it doesn’t stop there; the consumer ‘gift buying’ mentality pervades every inch of the Holy Tide of Yule for too many of our folk. There is no spiritual benefit, and only detriment in so many ways, in having a Julbok at a Yule Blot hand a heathen child a Chinese-made Dollar Store toy wrapped in Chinese-made Dollar Store Christmas paper. Happy Yule, Son, from the Sun Lee Corporation, the Ikasawa Shipping Lines, the Pacific Truckers, the cardboard manufacturers of the outer Chinese provinces and all of us at the Dollar Stores, where your bucks go further. Oh, and Hail Thor.
Enough. There is enough of this sort of spiritual pollutant in mundane life that we have to constantly be on guard for, surely it is most unwelcome at the time of our highest spiritual activities. Surely.
We do not let the mundane world dictate our holy experiences. We do not let the materialistic system interject its self into our most inner sanctums of spirit. Full stop. End of story. We do not let it happen.
We do not partake in the modern world’s holiday exercises and excesses. It sounds crazy, zealous, over-reaching, and, almost, unbelievably mean spirited. I mean, didn’t we all know that family who were ‘that religion’ and didn’t put up lights or give presents to each other . . . didn’t we all say to ourselves: those poor kids, they don’t get Christmas presents or anything? Sure we did. And, you know what, we were dumb kids. Those folks were on the right path. They celebrated their holiday as a holy day.
The system didn’t make a buck off of them. The power company didn’t. The grocery store didn’t. The thousands upon thousands of gift stores, boutiques, toy stores, clothes stores, book stores, gardening stores, pet stores, department stores, malls, card companies, the US Post Office . . . you name it . . . didn’t make a red cent.
And there you go.
We know many heathen folk who celebrate Yule by simply replacing the word Christmas with the word Yule. Santa Claus even comes on the 25th to fill their heathen stockings. They spend the same amount of money, the same amount of time, the same amount of stress, the same amount of energy, and—yes, I am going to say it—the same amount of spirituality on their ersatz holiday as the Christians spend on their ersatz one. It makes no difference to the system which words you use when you buy the stuff, just so long as you buy it. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it. Spend all your time dealing with the mundane materialistic aspects of it, leaving only enough for a quick lip service to your faith. It’s no way to honor your beliefs, if they truly are your beliefs.
So we do not celebrate our holy days that way. We consider Yule to be a time of special spiritual significance—as it has been considered throughout the ages of Europa’s people. We maintain a distance between our Yule observances and the rest of our everyday lives. Yule is a time of peace, a time of reflection, a stepping back space at the beginning of a new year (the ancient calendar years began at what is considered Halloween now) – the winter solstice marks the passing of the coldest times, the sun’s light is once again returning to our world, and the potential for renewal and growth lays just outside the rim of frost.
We prepare for Yule simply. A yule log that fits our heath is cut and twelve candle holes are drilled. The only purchase specifically made is that of candles. We buy Europe or US made exclusively, with Dave and me preferring beeswax but the children preferring interesting colors. We buy 12 of these for the Yule log and a few more for the Julleuchter and the altar. That’s it.
We decorate the house with nutcrackers (real ones that work and wooden ones that don’t), nisse, elves, lovely antique European ornaments that grace a tree we find and cut ourselves (or just a fallen bough if we don’t find a tree with the right spirit). We’ve gathered our folkish decorations as we find them, unstressfully, from heathen fairs to old barn sales, some of them have surely hung up in December for longer than any of us have been alive.
We use lots of evergreen boughs and holly boughs. First because they are traditional, and second because they bring the outside in—which is important. Our ancestral faith is not an inside faith, it is a faith of forest and sky and mountain and stream—a faith of the natural and the supernatural world. A faith that smells not of incense and peppermint but of green freshness and of life. Both evergreen and Holly boughs are freely abundant if you care to grow and to gather them (and I’m not just saying that, we have a holly tree, they are lovely magical trees that grow fast and grow straight, feed all manner of birds and spirits, protect our property . . . and our Yule decorations are nicely centered on branches and berries we collect from them and the ever present, ever overhanging evergreens that populate every Pacific Northwest suburban yard).
Every family will find their own way to honor Yule, our way is our family’s way. Note that I used the word ‘honor’—that is the point. We must honor our spiritual season, with high holy ways that echo what we think of when we think of our faith, our path, and our eternal indigenous way that is beyond this world we exist in now.
The holy must always be separate from the secular. And so must we at certain times, if we are to honor what is holy.
We here, at my house, spend the 12 days of Yule apart from the day to day world. We make extra special meals, and leave a plate every night on the hearth, as an offering. We light candles, one by one, in the hearth. We light our Julleuchter on our altar and we read from spiritual books. Because there are children in our family, our readings can also be lessons—and we incorporate the booklet “The Twelve Days of Yule” by Stephen McNallen into our ritual. Every evening one of our children reads a page aloud and lights a candle in the hearth.
Because we are modern, I take photographs of our hearth, of the children, of the altar.
We do not exchange gifts. The children do not hang stockings. There is no sense of distress or being deprived. Because they know they can obtain things all year long, there is no need for them to concentrate on this one time of year in which to focus their longings, or wishes.
We attend Yule events, we sometimes hold them. We leave special food out for the land wights, the house wights, and the birds.
We have no sense of stress, no sense of urgency, no sense of failure or impending obligations (if a Yule event we are invited to seems to bring with it a sense of stress, we graciously decline it—Yule is not a time for sinking spirits or wishing to be anywhere else)—there is, instead, contemplative joy, a sense of contented detachedness, and a ethereal quality of sharing days in sync with the holy ways.
It is not hard to break away from the crassified unholiness that mocks every part and second of the formerly spiritual holidays. It takes nothing much at all, really—and that, I think, is the essence. It takes nothing much at all. And it gives back an entire world way.
As a last note, because this one particular note encapsulates every reason that I say the holy days have fallen to the system, and as such can no longer be participated in by folk with a sense of tradition, of honor, of racial and cultural self-worth and of spiritual understanding, here is what Christmas (and subsequently Yule for many folk) has come to: http://www.redriderleglamps.com/productDetails.cfm?merchID=110213221333567425&category=100331152225738567&position=1
I don’t know if a Chinese-made plastic yellow cookie cutter depicting a lamp shaped like a prostitute’s fishnet stockinged leg that comes from a scene in a Hollywood movie evokes a time of holiness, the birth of Christ, the return of Balder, or anything to do with sacred, beautiful faith and wonder to anyone . . . it doesn’t to me.
And it never will.
Happy Yule. May yours be radiant.