Practically Practical - Blended Holidays
Now come out from behind the sofa, you can’t hide there.
And no I will NOT send your meals to your room so you can hide out until
I know that some of you are breaking out in hives and hyperventilating, but you
can’t avoid it - the holidays are soon to be here. We have already descended in
the madness that is referred to as the shopping frenzy, where normal, semi-sane
people are reduced to a tug of war over a child’s toy, where children’s eyes are
bigger than their toy chests, and they find and interest in items that normally
would never peak their interest. It also brings a different type of potential
stress - that of the Pagan who lives in a family that celebrates Christmas, and
vice versa for the family, if they happen to be aware of your faith.
You know, it doesn’t have to be a time of wailing, nail-chewing, and woe - it
can be a time where you get down to your roots. Connect with your family in a
way that has never been experienced before, learn the rich history behind BOTH
of your celebrations (oh yes my friends they hold a common ground!!), and of
course have some fun!!!!! I personally like the holidays, but then again I do
the bulk of my shopping online and hand-make what I can, so I can avoid the
malls and department stores. I love the music (yes even the traditionally
Christmas Carols), the mood it invokes. How it, to me is a time to turn inward
and examine myself and see where I have traveled from over the last year and
where I would like to go to in the next. I absolutely ADORE baking and making
candies (to my dear friend Aengus - when I make the fudge, you will get some, I
promise), and making decorations and playing holiday related games, but I
realize that not everyone is as nutty as I am about the holidays. I am also
fortunate in that most of my immediate family is aware an open about my faith,
and are somewhat curious as to what the holidays mean to me. I know that this is
not always the case, so I will do my best to give some options for your own
blended holiday celebrations.
We sing about it but do you know what it is?
The word "wassail" (pronounced either "woes-ail " or "woss'l") comes from the
old Anglo-Saxon toast wes hal or waes hail, meaning "be whole" or "be healthy!"
This was originally a general greeting but by the twelfth century it had become
more specifically used as a drinking toast. Traditionally, toasts made at Yule
were drunk from a communal wassail bowl. Think now, how many times do we see
toasts raised at Christmas time to wish, health, prosperity, and happiness for
the coming year. We especially see this just after Christmas, on New Year’s Eve.
The most common form of wassailing was when a group of people would go from
house to house with their wassail bowl, singing traditional songs, and then
toasting to the health of the home’s occupants. Sounds a little bit like our
Christmas caroling doesn’t it? One of the traditional wassails was hot ale,
nutmeg, and sugar, known as "lamb's wool." Sometimes eggs and cream were also
Here is a Wassail recipe for you:
1 gallon cider (hard or non-alcoholic)
6 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons allspice, whole
1 teaspoon each clove and ground nutmeg
Put clove and allspice in a mesh bag or tea ball. Place all ingredients in a
large pot and heat until the apples burst.
Because fire melted winter's chill and was thought to encourage the Sun to
shine, it was always an important part of the ancient winter festivals. Candles,
however, are thought to have originated with the ancient Romans who gave them to
each other as Saturnalia gifts. Their brightness was thought to chase away dark
winter demons and urge the Sun back into the sky. In later years, the Christians
embraced them as symbols of Christ, the Light of the World; hence they became a
large part of the Christmas celebration we know today.
We know that the symbolism of the candle is seen quite often in both Christmas
and Yule celebrations - and here is a way that you can incorporate both the
candle and an evergreen wreath (also known as an Advent Wreath) in your blended
celebration. Take one wreath of evergreen boughs/branches (it can be bought
freshly made, artificial, or if you are enterprising you can put one together
with a round wire form and florists wire to bind the pieces of evergreen to the
form), and mount 4 candle holders to the 4 “corners” of the wreath (so that they
are equi-distant from one another). Place candles in each of the holders (you
choose which type of candle appropriate for the type of holder you placed on the
wreath) and light one for each week preceding the holidays.
CAUTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NEVER EVER LEAVE BURNING CANDLES
Especially in this case….if you use fresh evergreen then you have the resin from
the branches to aid the wood in burning. You hear about tragic holiday fires due
to faulty, or unattended decorations (candles, lights, etc), so please take care
and use common sense so that you aren’t one of them.
You may use any color candle you like - red, green, and white being the
traditionally Christmas colors, but here is a twist on that idea:
You can use the symbolism of the candles and the wreath in this way. The wreath
represents the wheel of the year, the flowing of one season to the next. At this
time, pagans use the candles to “coax” the Sun God and his warmth back to the
lands. Why not use candles colored to represent the four elements or four
quarters? Green for North, Yellow for East, Red for South, and Blue for West??
You can light one each week to call forth to that direction for the warmth,
blessings, and qualities that the particular direction/element holds for you in
the coming year. This can be adapted for a Christian home also, as red can
represent the blood of Christ, blue the waters that cleanse, yellow for the gold
in his crown, and green for abundant blessings throughout the year.
Here is another way to view the wreath - for Pagans, Yule is the time that the
God is born anew from the Goddess, which was adopted in the Christian faith to
be the birth of the Christ-child from his mother, Mary. The wreath as a circle
is a feminine-type symbol, representative of the womb that nourished and held
God/Christ-child until his imminent birth. The candles are phallic symbols, and
as such can represent the God - in the Christian faith, they can be viewed as
God the Father’s love and divine power pouring forth from heaven to fertilize
and nourish the Christ-child in Mary’s womb. Each week a candle is lit, and it
can be viewed as a developmental stage in the “divine pregnancy”, culminating in
the birth at Yule or Christmas (yes, I am aware that historically the Christ -
child is said to have been born prior to Christmas, but in the interest of the
celebration timetable, I thought this appropriate).
Peppermint leaf and peppermint tea has long been part of Yule celebrations for
Pagans with its coolness symbolizing winter and its heat symbolizing the Sun.
The candy cane, however, was invented by an American confectioner who based its
form and appearance on Christian roots. He formed it of white candy to signify
the virgin birth, then shaped it in a "J" to represent Jesus. The never ending
red stripe was to have symbolized the bloodshed on the cross. In spite of the
inventor's painstaking creativity and religious devotion, though, the cane
somehow wound up as a common holiday symbol and treat devoid of all Christian
testimony and witness.
Why not take a candy cane and attach it to a decorative card with the history of
it’s creation and if you think appropriate, add the significance of peppermint
in Yule celebrations? If you think that both sets of information would not be
handled well, then by all means do two sets of cards - its totally up to you!
Then you would have a neat favor to give out at a get together, or even use as
place cards at a dinner. They can be especially useful as peppermint is good for
stomach aches and we all know that at some point someone will get one.
Santa Claus & Elves:
There are several reasons why elves may have come to be associated with the
winter holidays. For one thing, the land of elves (Alfaheimer) was inhabited by
the spirits who created the Sun, and including these beings is the festival
would certainly encourage them to rejuvenate the Sun and make it shine again. A
more Yule-ish theory, though, has to do with Odin the Elf King, whose magical
capabilities were incorporated into the Santa Claus we know today. More then
likely, the elves were thrown in for good measure to complete Santa's persona.
After all what's an elf king without elves?
Thought to have originated in Babylonia with Zagmuk, the tradition of gift
exchange gained great popularity during the Roman Saturnalia festivals. In later
years, the Christians took up this custom as well, but attributed it to the Magi
and their bringing of gifts to the Christ child.
You know that Elves and Santa Claus are very prominent symbols of the holiday -
and with that comes the gift giving. At both Christmas and Yule, we look forward
to the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer, causing nature to
rise once again from her slumber and show her glorious gifts to us. Although we
most often think of elves and Santa Claus bringing presents that we open on
Christmas morning, we can also recognize them as the bringers of the light and
warmth of the Sun that nature needs to do her work. You might also wish to give
gifts that are symbolic as well. Body mists and splashes made with lavender and
peppermint can evoke feelings of calm and rejuvenation, and might be just the
thing someone needs in their life. Even giving a child a toy car, is in a way a
representation of what they might want later on, and in some ways is a very real
vehicle for their imagination.
Since holly sports vibrant green leaves the bright red berries during winter's
deathly chill, it provides an excellent symbol of rebirth. The prickly shrub was
a favorite amulet among early Europeans, and they often placed it in their homes
to rid themselves of negative entities and nasty weather. The British have their
own holiday tradition concerning the plant, though; since the thorny leaved
plants are considered male and the smooth are known as female, the variety first
brought into the house during the holidays determines which gender shall head
the household during the next year.
Also I have seen in Christian traditions, that the spiky green leaves represent
the nails in Christ’s hands and feet in his crucifixion, and the red berries
representative of the shedding of his blood. In some tellings where you have two
green leaves and a grouping of red berries, it can represent their holy trinity
: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Decorating with evergreens dates back tot he earliest winter festivals. Because
the green never faded from their branches and leaves, evergreens were thought to
have power over death and destruction enough power to defeat whatever winter
demons roamed the Earth, and enough tenacity to urge the coming of the Sun.
Again this is also a common thread in the Christian faith - birth, death, and
rebirth/resurrection is a cornerstone of their beliefs, as well as eternal life
(the “eternally” green branches) - but one cannot also deny that their fragrant
odor is also a welcome addition to any holiday celebration!
Even though the use of evergreens dates back to the Greeks and Romans, the use
of the holiday tree is said to have originated in eighth century Germany. Legend
has it that the Christian St. Boniface was trying to convert a group of Druids.
Try as he might, though, he couldn't convince them that the oak tree was neither
sacred nor invincible. In desperation, he finally cut one down. When the tree
fell, it crushed everything in its path but a single evergreen sapling. Boniface
declared it a miracle, then proclaimed that the fir tree belonged to the Christ
child. After that, trees were brought into homes as holiday decorations. It
wasn't until the sixteenth century, however, that the Germans thought to
decorate the branches. Some historians say that the first ornaments, fruit,
nuts, and cookies were used as offerings to thank the spirit of the tree.
The Germanic peoples originally decorated their trees with fruit, candy,
cookies, and flowers. These ornaments symbolized the abundance to come when the
Sun shed His warmth. While a lovely custom, the decorations were heavy and
difficult to keep on the tree. After a few years, the area glassblowers put
their heads together and came up with a solution: They could decorate trees with
the lightweight glass orbs they produced. The use of the orbs made tree
decorating an easy process. Even better, the round, three-dimensional shape of
the ornaments replicated the shape of the Sun; this provided Pagans with a
simple way to honor it, even in the Christian world.
It is also an interesting piece of imagery that the traditionally Yule/Christmas
tree is one that is cone shaped - its tip is a point facing upward. In the
Christian faith it can be viewed as reaching forth to God, to give him honor and
praise. In a Pagan household it can also be viewed as a reaching out to God - in
this case the Sun for its warmth and restorative powers. Also as the tree comes
to a point, it is as such a phallic-type symbol that is also representative of
Adorning a tree can be an activity full of Symbology for both faiths - but for
the Pagan can be a form of sympathetic magic as well. Placing a string of
popcorn on the tree can show that the person wants to ensure that they have food
for the coming year, but it can also show that the person wishes to transform
themselves, or acquire/bring forth a talent or quality not yet apparent in them.
Think about it - the pop corn starts as a kernel that is then heated with oil
and caused to “open up” or pop, showing an entirely different form! Cranberries
too can represent the drops of Christ’s blood, and in the Pagan path, the God
being born of the Goddess at this time - rebirth. Cranberries are traditionally
harvested in bogs that are filled with water (the feminine principle - Goddess),
and since they are red and round, also represent the God (red) and the Goddess
(the round shape). Lights on the tree illuminate and give knowledge or
information towards a situation, in effect “lighting our way”, and even bows
have significance! They are used in magic to bind, hold to, or secure a goal,
and would be perfect to use in this matter. Just suspend, or glue a charm of
what you would like drawn to you - dove for peace, heart for love, coin for
abundance, and so on. No one need know why you are doing this, unless you wish
Smells of the Holidays:
Finally, I want to touch on the smells of the season. We all associate
gingerbread, peppermint, baking cookies, cinnamon and so many other smells to
this season, and I think that it might be useful to have a short list of smells
that I know I look forward to, and what their significance might be:
- Cinnamon - Use to gain wealth and success
- Frankincense - Draw upon the energy of the sun to create
sacred space, consecrate objects, and stimulate
- Myrrh - An ancient incense for protection, healing,
purification and spirituality
- Pine - Burn for strength, and to reverse negative energies
- Sandalwood - A delicious all-purpose scent used to heal and
protect, also for purification
- Spice - A fiery scent to be charged for any magick
- Vanilla - Stimulate amorous appetites and enhance memory
And here are two ways to use some of these scents!
Sabbat oil 2
2 dr pine
1 dr ginger
1 dr cinnamon
1 dr sandalwood
Add to any oil base. Wear as above.
2 Parts Frankincense
2 Parts Pine needles or resin
1 Part Cedar
1 Part Juniper Berries
Mix & smolder at Wiccan rites on Yule or during the winter months.
So now you have some backgrounds on some of the more prominent symbols for the
Pagan holiday of Yule, and the Christian holiday of Christmas. You will have to
make a determination as to what will and will not work in your situation as far
as your sabbat celebrations, and perhaps you will come up with activities to do
that were not mentioned here. Be creative!!!!!!!! Both holidays seem to speak of
family/ancestral traditions, blessings, peace and abundance for the future and
above all JOY! So I challenge you to do what you can to recognize the sabbat, to
share only what is comfortable for you to share (and if it is inquired about,
otherwise I would think it would be considered evangelizing), and take joy in
the times of love and tenderness that you share with your loved ones.
If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to contact me at
Please put the article title in the subject line for my reference - otherwise my
brain can be like Teflon - things just won’t stick and I might not know what you
are referring to *g*.
“Yule Traditions and Symbols”, by Dorothy Morrison
Yule article from the Llewellyn’s Witches Calendar 2000, by Raymond Buckland
“Incense, Oils, and Brews” by Scott Cunningham