By Emily Schroder
This year, the Winter Solstice fell on December 21st – a time of happiness and renewal for many Pagans. On this day, Pagans celebrate an ancient holiday called “Yule.” With Yule logs burning in hearths, mistletoe hung above doorways, and trees traditionally decorated with fruits and lights, Pagans eagerly anticipate the symbolic rebirth of the Horned God through the Mother Goddess. The birth of the God (who is represented celestially by the sun) marks the end of winter and the coming of warmth. With his rebirth comes a time of earthly fertility, joy, and new beginnings.
Many early Yule traditions were incorporated into the Christian holiday of Christmas (which is celebrated within the same week) during the reign of the ancient Roman Empire. Therefore, many recognizable Christmas traditions share a common ancestry with religious traditions observed by Pagans during Yule-time; some of these shared traditions include the hanging of wreaths, decorating evergreen trees with lights and ornaments, feasts, and the exchanging of gifts.
As a Panentheist Pagan Witch, Christmastime has always elicited an interesting array of emotions for me. Christmas has become as much a cultural tradition as a religious one in America. I see it incorporated into many public spheres- decorations, television ads, and merry Christmas wishes from the cashiers during December trips to the grocery store. While I appreciate the sentiments and do not have an issue with the words, it does remind me that my holiday is much less recognized. Although I try to focus on the kindness of people who wish me a Merry Christmas and the positive intentions behind their words, sadness sometimes creeps in, saying “people assume you celebrate Christmas. People assume you’re a Christian. You are the minority. Your holiday isn’t nearly as important.” This, of course, is only my subjective experience- my personal unhealthy perceptions that I do not wish to blame on anyone else. It is no one’s responsibility to make me feel included or acknowledged. I would never ask that of anyone. However, I will not deny that these feelings do affect me. I believe that that is unhealthy, too.
Part of the pain, I think, comes from living in a society that is drenched in Yule symbols during holidays but ones only recognized as relating to Christmas. The decorated evergreen trees, the candles, the wreaths- they are beautiful and dear traditions to my experience of my religion. Yet, my participation in these decorative rituals is seen as Christian through the eyes of my culture. I do not want to be pegged as Christian; not because of a hatred or distaste for Christianity, but because of my deep connection and love for my own religion. I believe that Christianity can be beautiful. I respect and admire many facets of it. But it is not mine. It is not what dwells in my heart. I want to be able to express the religion that dwells in my heart without it being misread as someone else’s.
Of course, this is not the responsibility of anyone but myself. I am not asking for society to change. I am not asking for individuals to change. I do not believe that Christians “stole” Pagan traditions- in fact, I think it’s wonderful when cultures merge and incorporate one another’s traditions into their own practices. It’s reminiscent of the spirit of interfaith! However, I do think it is important to share my own experiences with those who care to listen; to share the suggestion that there may be people close to you who are torn between feelings of incandescent joy and exclusion or sadness. I’m not saying that it’s your responsibility to console those of us who feel this way or to stop wishing us a Merry Christmas, but I am suggesting an awareness of the interfaith sanctity of this time of year. I am suggesting a hug. I am suggesting a kind smile. I am suggesting a mindfulness of the hearts of those who are important to you. A stranger’s Christmas sentiments are very much appreciated, but a “Merry Yule” or “Happy Holidays” from a dear friend would be so, so healing to the heart.
So, as I relax in the beautiful cabin in the mountains that my family has gathered in for Christmas, I meditate on my emotions. I hurt and I wish for a reality that better represents all religious and secular traditions. Yet, my spirit is also filled with peace and feelings of renewal. Yule passed- quietly and unremarkably in the small town of Smyrna. But joy silently burst inside me as my holy solstice passed while I stood on a train. I watched quietly as the airport disappeared behind me and was reminded of all the things that have passed in my own life. The rebirth of the God mirrored my own rebirths- the hundreds of times I have made a passage to and from transformative experiences- and I was proud: proud of my life, proud of my religion, and proud of myself. I am glad to spend these days with my family, regardless of what holiday they are celebrating. I can celebrate right along with them because my heart and my spirit are strong. I can see my Goddess in their Holy Father. I can see the rebirth of my God in the birth of their Christ. And with the couple of friends who wished me a Blessed Yule on the 21st and the rest of the world who wished me a Merry Christmas throughout December, I can embrace the identical sentiment in both: love, new beginnings, and togetherness.
So, Blessed Yule to you. Happy Chanukkah. Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy Kwanzaa. And happy everything else that may be celebrated during this time that I have not mentioned. I hope that you feel loved this Winter. I hope someone is keeping you warm. I hope that you feel loved this week. I hope that you feel special and important and part of something. And most of all, I hope you embrace whatever is in your heart and allow yourself to feel it, genuinely and healthily.