Thinking About: Christmas, Yule, and the Solstice

Winter_Solstice_noon_sunrise_on_the_Bering_Sea_(8433692952)We had a discussion last night at our local moot about Christmas and whether it’s right that some Pagans celebrate it. The discussion came about after a member of the moot read a Facebook update from a Pagan in absolute meltdown about the topic. They thought is was utterly wrong. So, what did we think? It was another interesting and thought-provoking night.

Personally I have no problem with anyone celebrating anything they want. If I look back at my life I was raised in a culture that celebrates Christmas. As a child I found it a wonderful time of year and, to be honest, the religious aspects weren’t the important things (to be quite honest, I barely noticed them). It was the community, of bringing the family together, sharing a drink, a smile, the giving of gifts, and watching TV (or maybe falling asleep in front of it, belly full and content). If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that I am a child of Summer and have trouble when the evenings draw in. If I didn’t have Christmas and the New Year to look forward to I’d probably drop into a dismal depression until the Spring Equinox. So I love the festive season. No, I don’t call it Christmas, I call it Yule, but most people around me, whether Pagan or not, know what I’m talking about, and I have no problem wishing my non-Pagan family and friends a happy Christmas.

I’m not bothered by the commercials on the TV. I am bothered when I see grown adults arguing and fighting over something in a shop, but I’ve only ever seen that on news reports. I know it happens, but on the whole I don’t think most people do that. I am bothered that the idea of it’s the thought that counts seems to have gone out of the window if little Johnny doesn’t get the latest iPad or whatever they want that costs hundreds of pounds. But really that’s down to the parents to sort out.

Spiritually it’s one of my favourite festivals. The Winter Solstice that is. I know that three days after the Solstice that glorious ball of fire will begin to increase his arc in the sky, and each day will get around 2 minutes more daylight in the evening. That’s great. Bring it on. So to sit down to a glorious meal on the 25th December, three days after the Solstice, with friends and family, opening gifts and celebrating makes perfect sense no matter what we call it.

Most of us know that of all the Christian festivals Christmas has the most obvious Pagan roots. No one knows when Christ was really born, and there are plenty of other blog posts around the webs that are currently talking about the Pagan origins of the festival. But I wonder if the vast majority of folks who set up their decorations, cook a gorgeous meal, give their gifts, welcome their family and friends, and sit down to watch the Doctor Who special, are really focussed on the idea of a Winter celebration rather than the arbitrary date of Christ’s birth, or even the position of the Sun in the sky.

Well, the position of the Sun in the sky is important to me, and I celebrate that on the day of the Solstice, and then again a few days after on the 25th. Luckily it seems most of the secular world are also celebrating something too, so I’m happy to forget the differences, and focus on having a party together.

Whatever you call it, have a wonderful festive season, and hail the Sun reborn!

38 Comments

  1. Richard December 15, 2015 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    A lovely unifying message as ever. Let’s not get tangled in the detail of difference, whether Pagan or Christian this season is about a return of the light and we can all find common ground in that symbolism! A blessed Yule to you and yours Damh and a very Happy Christmas to those that do. X

    • Logan December 15, 2015 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      I’m Christian myself, i’m looking into Druidry, and i totally agree. No matter what you believe, we all deserve to have a Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas! Happy Yule and may you all have a merry Winter Solstice!

  2. Denise December 15, 2015 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    I could not agree more! Sometimes the commercial aspect gets depressing but on the whole, I love the holiday season no matter what it’s called. We all need to practice more tolerance and thus is a good place to start!

  3. Char Lewis December 15, 2015 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Your words inspire me. I look forward to the festive season every year. And like you, I was brought up in the same way, and it was always a magical time, it still is.
    May you and yours have a blessed Yuletide and solstice.
    /|\

  4. Jane Hume December 15, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    I was also bought up with Christmas, but on thinking back, we always had a yule log and my mum made holly decorations, The Christmas tree never went up before the 24th, so even then the celebrations had a pagan root

  5. Mollie December 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Well said, Damh, as always. Let’s forget our differences and have gratitude for all we have and remember the thousands all over the world who wont be able to celebrate anything owing to extreme poverty, war, oppression and severe ill health.

  6. Alex December 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Its an old tradition. and my research so far ( including Rons talk at camps past) suggests the ritual of bringing branches into the house along with shiny stuff was more to soften the depressing aspect of the midwinter blues than anything else. Nothing like a holiday with feasting songs and wine with presents and shiny stuff everywhere to bolster the heart.

    Happy Yuletide!
    Alex

  7. Phil Widdows December 15, 2015 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    To me, Christmas is whatever you want it to be. It’s what you make it. You want party time? No problem! You want a family get-together and a big meal? No problem! You want to go to church and celebrate midnight mass? Away you go. You want to give praise to the undying sun? Fab! Maybe a bit of all that, mixed together with singing carols, singing Slade, Morecambe & Wise, turkey butties, too many chocolates and never quite enough booze? Yes!
    It only becomes a problem when someone scrambles aboard their high horse and starts talking about “the true meaning of Christmas”: or in other words, their idea of what Christmas should be. Don’t pee on other people’s celebrations, don’t go mad, and try your best to enjoy it all.
    Moaning about the various aspects – “it’s too commercial”, “it starts too early”, “it’s not religious enough”, “it’s too religious” – ain’t gonna change it one iota, and also are so old as to predate Dickens by centuries!
    Merry Christmas and a Cool Yule to all!

    • Liz Wesencraft December 16, 2015 at 12:26 am - Reply

      Well said – Damh and Phil. Its a great time of year and should not be spoilt by people refusing to call it Christmas or Yule. It was Yuletide to our Georgian ancestors, it was Christmas when I was a child in the 50s. It is what it is. It .is what you make it. Eat, drink, share, care and enjoy.

  8. Rob December 15, 2015 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Fully agree with all the comments re what you said. In my young days, Christmas was a time of family get togethers and parties. Presents were mostly small things, pencils, paper, toys(some homemade), fruit and nuts. Later in day, parcels from relatives, clothes, books and practical items. They were the fun days. The only religion mentioned was at school or church, if we went. It’s not until later life when folk decide on religion that suits them, and supposedly the rites that follow that choice. So be it Christmas, Yule or Solstce, it’s a time of merriment and happiness. Blessings to all

  9. Ruth Walsh December 15, 2015 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    I love Christmas and look on the Christian story as the latest version of a tradition that has been celebrated all over the world for thousands of years. The Great Mother giving birth and returning God to the world. So, however you celebrate the season, I hope it’s a happy one.

  10. Leonore December 15, 2015 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    As always, great observations.
    This festive time is what we make of it , regardless of our own spiritual pathway. As a child growing up in Scotland in the 50’s and 60’s, Christmas was great fun spent with cousins, aunts , uncles, grandparents and in the church twice ,once for the midnight service and once for matins. What were we celebrating ? As children, it was the goodies and parties although we knew it was the birth of Jesus.
    Nowadays though, I welcome the excuse , it any was needed to welcome the return of the light. I do get ever so slightly peeved when colleagues tell me that , as I am pagan, I can work over Christmas !! Not all of my family is though ….
    As I sit here in the gloom, another day after so many gloomy days , I am wishing the solstice here . I need to know that the Wheel is turning up to the light, that the days are getting longer and the warmth returning. Not that I can complain about the temperature today as it is 15 degrees here .
    Just as I become aware of the tiny lengthening of the days, I shall be plunged back into the darkness of the shorter Northern days whilst I visit the Motherland.
    Call the festive season what you will, acknowledge the gods in your own way, but enjoy this time of mirth and joy, because we have the freedom to do so.
    So bring it on, the return of the light and warmth, the peace of the solstice whilst the sun stills his path and I shall start my midwinter / Yule/ Solstice celebrations on Saturday and continue them until wassail begins on old twelfth night.

  11. The Great Mocker December 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Well, I give you a Barbie but its the thought that counts, isn’t it? I hope you have humor and don’t think I want to offense you, Happy Yule! Please answer in a reaction here, not with email.

    • Damh the Bard December 15, 2015 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      I’d be very happy to be having a Christmas Barbie on the beach with my good Aussie mates. Have a great festive season

      • The Great Mocker December 18, 2015 at 12:46 pm - Reply

        You too! much success with dodging the comercials and other shit. Have lots of fun with your barbie! 😉

  12. The Great Mocker December 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    PS. I know what you mean and though its the only thing in your article that I respect, I found it after some thinking pretty weird. Still no offense meant here.

    • The Great Mocker December 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      “I found it after some thinking pretty weird.” I mean here I saw the other side, how it is for the child that recieves a gift he did’nt ask for and did’nt want only because they think he is too spoiled, otherwise he would’nt ask such things. Is’nt that what you’re actually saying? Well, so it looked to me. Have a good day!

  13. John Davis December 15, 2015 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Damh….sound advice as always. The Christian Church was canny enough to see that the darkest part of the year was probably the most opportune time to offer a message of light and hope….though their version never did completely superimpose itself over the natural wheel of the year.

    Until earlier this year I have to admit that I was a practising Christian minister myself….though now I have found the courage to be true to my own inner integrity and travel a druidic pathway with respect for the time-honoured practices of our ancestors. However, we still have a Christmas tree, send cards (not bearing a Christian glossy message though), and sing and listen to carols. The difference now is that it isn’t a statement of faith….it’s a case of happily joining with others in their celebration. If it celebrates hope in a desperate world, light where there is darkness….let’s not knock it.

    This will be the first year that I will have celebrated the solstice rather than the full-on Christmas….bring it on and on.

    • Cathy December 15, 2015 at 11:46 pm - Reply

      Well said. I, too, left Christian ministry and found a broader understanding and richer meaning of Christmas/Solstice/Yule through researching my Celtic roots.

  14. Terri Lee December 15, 2015 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Just for the record, I am in the U.S, Several years ago I heard a Jewish social commentator talking about celebrating Christmas as a kid in a religious Jewish home. So much of the holiday as currently practiced here is secular, not religious, that anyone can find something or somehow to celebrate. I always loved going for outdoor drives and looking at the lights. I am starting to do that with my first grandchild who loves calling out which side of the car he sees lights on. I had been debating how to reply to those who wish me a “Merry Christmas” since I left Christianity a short time ago. I have concluded that as long as I smile and sincerely wish them joy this time of year, it does not matter what words I use. If I insist on saying something back other than “Merry Christmas” or “You too!” I risk sounding fake or combative since I have not done it enough to sound natural. If I respond back with “Merry Christmas”, I am simply acknowledging the culture and their joy and joining in with them, No big deal. Bottom line, celebrate and ward off those winter blues.

  15. Jane Eastwood December 15, 2015 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I am totally fine with celebrating Christmas as like some of the previous folk I was brought up nominally Christian. I can remember as a child it was my job to go out to gather holly to decorate my grannie’s house and my parents house just before Christmas. I now celebrate Solstice with friends and family which seems to begin our festive season and marking Christmas Day by again sharing time with those you care about is important to me. My grown up children are not religious but celebrate Christmas as a time when you show love and care to those close to you, nothing to do with commercialism;hopefully they will pass it on to their children too.

  16. Paul Newman December 15, 2015 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    I like the idea that Samhain can be a moon-long festival – Advent makes Christmas the same (plus twelve days after); Bonfire celebrations in November, my birthday is in January, Imbolc in February… Winter is the party season. Other religions just give us more reasons. Never been to a Chanukah or Divali celebration? Get more friends! Party more! Who cares what the party reason? It’s the 21st Century, we’re alive – eat, drink, be merry and be excellent to each other. x

  17. Charlotte Poulos December 15, 2015 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    December 15 2015
    I was raised with a secular celebration of Xmas. (Yes we truly always spelled that way!) It was many years later that I discovered that all of the “family traditions” I followed were pagan ones. As my great great grandma was a midwife from Germany/Switzerland, I suspect that the origins were very pagan and that perhaps the Lutheran faith overlay was very thin.
    Yule is the season I celebrate as they did and follow it with a Xmas tree & family gathering on the 25th.
    I have no issue with Christians or with their Christmas. It is not my Xmas.

  18. Kris Hughes December 15, 2015 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    I stopped celebrating Christmas over thirty years ago. That was partly because I wasn’t a Christian, but more because I was so turned off by what it seemed to have become. Commercialisation, consumerism, secularisation, and a great deal of stress for many. The songs got sillier and sillier, and harder to escape. The amount spent on throwaway things that didn’t even get used, or only used once. And the guilt because of the money people spent, or guilt because they didn’t spend it. People (usually women) stressed out cooking an enormous feast solo, so the rest of the family could “have a break”. People (also usually women) collapsing under the weight of a burdensome gift list, and worry about paying for it for months to come, and probably failing to please many of the recipients. I’m sorry that list is so long, but what concerns me is that as we Pagans grow in numbers, and feel ever bolder about openly celebrating our holidays, we will find ourselves drawn into the same situations. Or even doubling up on them, trying to do it all – first Solstice/Yule with our Pagan friends and family, the xmas with the non-Pagan family. If it’s a joyful celebration, great! If it starts feeling like anything else – let’s not go there.

    • Angela Samson December 16, 2015 at 10:25 am - Reply

      Yes I agree Kris, Christmas has been ruined by commercialism and lost its charm a long time ago. Its up to individuals to make the change, I told my family 12 years ago that adults will no longer receive a gift at Christmas from me and that Christmas was for children only. I do not send Christmas/Yule cards to people I can personally wish a merry Christmas/Yule to.
      I think I became aware of the corruption of the Christmas season many years ago and as a pagan, I have tried to bring some kind of realisation to my family and to make them aware, that they can get off of the treadmill of Christmas craziness without being thought of as being mean.
      I hope pagans will not be fooled into the type of commercialism the poor Christian’s have.

  19. Kerry December 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more, very well said. Growing up, my mum always drove home the magical side of Christmas. To me it was when the elves and fairies came out to play. The air was electric and I could feel the magic around me. To my family it was an excuse to get together, share food and gifts and have a good time. Being in the southern hemisphere, I am preparing to celebrate the summer solstice. I have my solstice altar set up and around it, the gifts for my family all wrapped up for Christmas day. I am once again looking forward to 2 celebrations this year.

  20. Michele December 15, 2015 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Well said! Couldn’t agree more!

  21. The History Anorak December 15, 2015 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    What a lovely post! It sounds exactly what we plan to do in our household. Enjoy the season, eat, drink and be merry.

  22. Clare Laverick December 15, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    You talk so much sense Damh – truly uplifting and encouraging. A blessed Yuletide to you and yours indeed.

  23. Karralena December 16, 2015 at 3:36 am - Reply

    To all here I wish you the best of everything- To Damh and his family party on and enjoy just being (as you say).
    As for me, I shall pray for my people in Ballyshannon and other areas of Eire affected by the terrible storms and flooding. My soul goes out to all with healing in this season of light so that peace, joy, happiness, love and positivity can shine forth.

    Nollaig Shona is Happy Christmas in Gaelic, but it is also used interchangeably to mean Happy Yule so this I wish to all.
    Slainte!

  24. Angela Samson December 16, 2015 at 9:48 am - Reply

    We are quite lucky as pagans at this time of year? We get to celebrate twice in a matter of days. For me, Christmas is Yule but it doesn’t bother me what other people call it and I also wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas. Why do some get so uptight about it?
    If I could give the world one Chrissy/Yule gift, it would be, tolerance!

    Happy Solstice and an even merrier Yule!

  25. Caroline December 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Lovely thoughts. Thanks for sharing.
    Just to add my two cents… I’m all for us celebrating ALL of the festivities! As a Spiritualist I feel we are all free to practice and believe whatever makes us happy and since I embrace all, I can freely enjoy all of the festivities and celebrations!
    Whatever a person can do to raise their own personal vibrations is good for themselves, others and our planet!
    So let’s be happy and cheer each other on…no matter what the cause for celebration is! 🙂

  26. Dana Corby December 16, 2015 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Well said! I share the secular aspects of the season with my birth-family, who remain Christian. The spiritual side of it is reserved for my Pagan family-by-affiliation. This has worked out beautifully for 40 years.

  27. Eddie December 18, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    I often fall into darkness, usually because of others behaviour around me an in the World today. But am delighted to see that common sense still prevails when I listen to you guys.

    Thanks again Damh for bringing the light to my life – Sabbat was brilliant!!

    Happy Yule to one and all.

  28. Terri Adrian December 18, 2015 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    i’m not celebrating anything this year. if i wanted to do a pagan thing there would be no one to do it with. and as far as the commercial sh*t storm of christmas, i’m no longer down for that, either, due to financial contraints and lack of imagination, i suppose 🙂 what i am doing this year is, i think, exploring how i really feel about all this and releasing the thought that i MUST spend money on people that i love to show them i love them. i love to give gifts but i think i will be giving them differently from now on and at different times of the year for no other reason than “just because”. there is a new mode coming over me concerning this whole christmas thing. i am releasing the stress of it all and searching for a better way, i suppose. i am not feeling sorry for myself, nor do i wish others to. i have family i could be with on the big day, but i am choosing to not even do that. i just want to be left to my own devices and see what develops. it makes no difference to me how others celebrate. to each his/her own. so long as they are happy with their choices, what does it matter? 🙂 merry yule, happy christmas, happy holidays to all far and wide across this great earth!! may love always prevail!

  29. […] pagan musician and practising druid, wrote a great piece on the question of Christmas vs. Solstice, here, and what he has to say makes a lot of sense to me. I personally feel that the season lost its […]

  30. Morri Saye December 19, 2015 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    I was raised in the deep south of the United States. It’s a very Christian environment. Most of my family is Southern Baptist. Even so, I never knew Christmas in the religious context. Somehow, that aspect was completely overlooked by my very, deeply Christian family.

    Christmas was about family for us. It was the one time of year that all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered at my grandmother’s house for presents, food, and fun. It was wonderful.

    I don’t care what it’s called or how people celebrate. I love this time of year. I am a Christmas loving pagan, and I always will be.

    Although, I will say Christmas is a double-edged sword for me. It makes me sad to look around and see people all excited about family gatherings, but the rest of the year, they couldn’t care less. I think it’s sad that people need a holiday now to celebrate family and giving.

  31. David December 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Right on, Damh, with the importance of coming together in joy and celebration–whatever name we give it–at the darkest time of the year. And yes, so much of Christmas, at least here in the USA, has so little to do with the birth of Jesus.

    Case in point: A few years ago, a Muslim family lived near to my parents. They didn’t have “a holiday of their own” at this time of year, so they decorated a tree in their living room and exchanged gifts. It wasn’t a big deal for them.

    So too, let’s all sing for the Rising Sun on Midwinter’s Day, and then go and feast with those we love. A blessed Solstice to all!

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