Practically Practical - Blended Holidays

 

By Athena

It’s here.

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 December 26th.

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.

Wassailing:

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 added.

Here is a Wassail recipe for you:

Wassail

1 gallon cider (hard or non-alcoholic)
6 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons allspice, whole
1 teaspoon each clove and ground nutmeg
Tart apples

Put clove and allspice in a mesh bag or tea ball. Place all ingredients in a
large pot and heat until the apples burst.


Candles:


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 UNATTENDED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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 the
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).

Candy Cane:

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?


Gift Exchange:

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.


Holly:

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.


Evergreen:

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!

Tree:

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.

Ornaments:

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 the God.

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 to share!


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 positive vibrations
     
  • 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.

Yule Incense

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
elementcreate@earthlink.net
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*.

Sources:

“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