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Do Wiccans and Pagans Celebrate Christmas?
Do Wiccans and Pagans Celebrate Christmas?
By Cauldron Living staff writer thelma6954
Now that the "holidays" are rapidly approaching, those relatively new to
Paganism or Wicca may be wondering if it's appropriate for them to celebrate
the Christian holiday of Christmas. The answer is yes; Wiccans and Pagans
are free to celebrate Christmas as much or as little as they desire. For
Wiccans and Pagans, however, just like it is for most of the secular world,
Christmas isn't a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ
but instead is a holiday steeped in traditions with family and friends. I'll
go into greater detail shortly, but the fact is that Christianity adopted
and then adapted the Pagan celebration of Yule for their use, turning it
into a celebration marking the birth of Christ. You should, therefore, feel
no apprehension about celebrating Christmas since most of the traditions
associated with Christmas are actually Pagan in origin. For instance, did
you know that when you decorate a tree, hang a wreath or mistletoe, give
gifts, or prepare eggnog or spiced cider, you're actually following
traditions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian religion or
the birth of Christ?
Yule, also called the Winter Solstice, arrives around December 21st each
year. The word Yule is thought to have come from the Norse "iul" or "jul" or
the Anglo-Saxon "hweol," all meaning "wheel." The word Solstice comes from
"sol" meaning "sun," and "sistere" meaning "to stand still." The Winter
Solstice is the first official day of winter, but it is also the Wiccan
Sabbat that celebrates the Goddess giving birth to a Son, the Young God.
Yule/Winter Solstice is the time of great darkness and marks the shortest
day and the longest night of the year. This is the time when life retreats
from the Earth, when all is still and bleak within the cold grip of winter.
This is the Pagan Sabbat that acknowledges and celebrates the rebirth of the
Sun. In our symbolism of the Year as a constantly turning Wheel, this is the
spoke where the Oak King (representing the light half of the year)
vanquishes the Holly King (representing the dark half of the year), and thus
ensures that the light and warmth of the Sun will begin to increase each
day. Winter Solstice celebrations often echo both of these sentiments,
beginning in silent darkness and ending in a blaze of light, fire, and
laughter. On Yule, many Wiccans light fires, Yule logs or candles to welcome
the Sun's returning light.
December 25th, the now popular date to celebrate Christ's birth, was also
the birth date of Mithras, the ancient Persian Sun God of light and the
guardian against evil. Christians adopted the Pagan celebration of Yule for
their use to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in the year 273 C.E.
(Common Era). *Christianity in general didn't even celebrate Christmas as a
holiday until the Fourth Century. And, even as late as 1740, Christmas was a
normal workday for the Puritans in the New World of America. *Those stern,
hard-working Puritans viewed Christmas as a Pagan holiday and forbid any
celebrations and decorations of acknowledgement of the day.
Many of the popular and traditional Christmas symbols actually originated
from Pagan Yule activities. Evergreens, decorating and lighting trees, Yule
logs, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, and the giving of gifts are all examples of
things that have their origins in the Pagan religions. Let's look more in
depth at some of these symbols.
Throughout centuries and cultures, the evergreen has been a potent symbol of
rebirth. In winter, when all is brown and dead, the evergreen symbolizes
immortality. They are reminders of the survival of life in the plant world,
and of growth and fertility, which has been threatened by the absence of
Contemporary Christmas trees are a vestige of the Pagan practice of bringing
greenery into the home during the Winter Solstice to symbolize life in the
dead of winter. The custom of decorating trees is thought to have originated
in the Roman custom of decorating homes with laurel and evergreen trees at
the Kalends of January (the Roman Winter Solstice celebration). It is
interesting to note that, as with many other traditions adopted by the
Church, the decorated evergreen (now called a "Christmas Tree") was
originally condemned by the Church in Rome. Even as late as the Sixth
Century, Bishop Martin of Braga forbade the "adorning of houses with green
trees." So obviously, the Christian adoption of the evergreen tree as a
holiday symbol was a case of, "If you can't beat'em, join'em!" The tradition
of adorning the top of the tree with a five-pointed star (pentagram) also
originated as a Pagan practice. The five points of the star symbolized the
five elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit, but Christians later
adopted this tradition with the star representing the one that shined over
Bethlehem when Jesus was born.
The Yule log was a special log chosen on the eve of Yule for the holiday
fire. A small piece from the previous year's log was used to light the fire.
The lighting of the fire was a festive family event; to hurry the return of
the Sun. Charred pieces from the fire would be kept to protect the house
through the coming year. Woods most often used for the Yule log were birch,
oak, willow or holly.
Pagans traditionally made wreaths of evergreens, holly or ivy. The circle
shape symbolized the Wheel of the Year and the completion of another cycle.
Holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces
because of its prickliness giving it the ability to either ward off or snag
and capture evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.
Mistletoe was held sacred by both the Druids and Norse. Druid priests
divided and distributed mistletoe sprigs to the people, who hung them over
doorways as protection against thunder, lightening and other evils. *North
American Indians used it medicinally for toothaches, measles and dog
bites. It was also the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies
met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and
maintained a truce until the next day. Celts believed this parasitic plant
held the soul of the host tree. *As for the custom of kissing under the
mistletoe, some sources say this is purely an English custom. However,
there's another, more charming explanation for its origin that extends back
into Norse mythology. The Norse God Balder was the best loved of all the
Gods. His Mother was Frigga, Goddess of love and beauty. She loved Her Son
so much that She wanted to make sure no harm would come to Him. So, being
the loving and overprotective Mother that She was, She went through the
world securing promises from everything that sprang from the four
Elements--Earth, Air, Fire, and Water--that they would not harm Her beloved
Balder. However, the sly prankster Loki made an arrow from mistletoe wood
and took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding
Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, who fell dead.
Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the
story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so
grateful that She makes the mistletoe plant a symbol of love and promises to
bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
Long before the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the
newborn Jesus, the tradition of giving gifts was common during the Roman
festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia is one of the best known ancient
celebrations of the Winter Solstice. The name comes from the Roman God
Saturn, who ruled over agriculture. He was the main God honored at this
time, after the fall crops had been sown. Saturnalia lasted for several days
(usually seven) and was the greatest festival of the Roman year. It was
marked with great feasting, gift-giving, dancing, playing, and relaxing.
Homes were decorated, work was suspended, and there was general merry-making
done by all.
So, Christmas and its many customs have their origins deeply rooted in
Paganism. Because most of us were raised in homes that celebrated Christmas
in some form, many Wiccans and Pagans still do celebrate it, although
instead of celebrating the birth of Christ, they shift the emphasis to
spending the day with and having great meals with family and friends. Have
you ever heard people bemoan the fact that Christmas lasts just one day and
that it's a lot of work to prepare and then have it over so quickly? Well,
that's one of the great things about celebrating both Yule and Christmas.
You're able to spread out activities, doing some on Yule and some on
Christmas. It's more a matter of celebrating the season instead of just
focusing everything on one day alone.
A great way to celebrate Yule, and this season of giving, is to remember the
creatures of Nature this winter and/or those less fortunate and in need in
your community. It can be as simple as putting bird seed out for
neighborhood birds in your backyard, or going to a local park or habitat
where you live and leaving food for the wild ones. Or, you can bring canned
goods to a local food bank or volunteer to serve or deliver meals for
shut-ins or at community or homeless shelters. Take the time to visit
seniors who have no one to visit them in retirement homes and hospitals, or
contribute toys to a local women's domestic violence safe house. There are
many ways to give of ourselves. Of course, none of this is necessary in
order to have a Happy Yule or Merry Christmas, but it helps to remind us of
our blessings and teaches our children a wonderful lesson about giving and
the true meaning of this (and any) holiday.
So, celebrate our beautiful Sabbat of Yule, steeped in rich traditions that
honor our Earth and the changing of the seasons. But, if you so choose, feel
free to also embrace the customs of Christmas. That's the freedom given to
you as a Wiccan or Pagan.
May all of you have a Blessed Winter Solstice, a very Merry Christmas, and
Brightest Blessings for the New Year!
Thelma6954 is a practicing eclectic
solitary Wiccan who also moderates several online message boards regarding
Wicca, as well as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered issues. Prior to a
disability in 1996, she worked as a medical assistant and paralegal.
She's originally from southern California, but currently resides in
northeast Texas with her boyfriend, grown son, cats Luna and Deuce, and turtle Freya.
Editor's Note: For more information about Yule and ideas for celebrating it, Cauldron Living recommends Yule by Dorothy Morrison available here at Cauldron Living.