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We’re thinking about starting to decorate our home for the Winter Solstice today.  My daughter is very excited but there’s a little confusion, too.  Excuse me while I just share some of my thoughts.  Perhaps you’ve thought similar things, or perhaps you have ideas that could inspire me.
  She is now old enough to understand that Christmas is a thing. We enjoy watching popular kids shows together, so she’s been exposed to the dominant culture and she keeps talking about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… Now, I’m not against her knowing about Christmas. It’s actually really important to me that she understands the diversity of the world. Much of our extended family is Christian anyway, so she needs to know why they do what they do. But… can I just be honest with you guys and say it’s frustrating? She’s constantly talking about celebrating Christmas now. Whenever she talks about getting Christmas presents, I say something like, “Yes, you will get Solstice presents.” I’m trying to gently show her what we celebrate in our home.  I keep telling her that they are similar, because they are and I also want her to realize that, but we focus on winter and the sun.  Still, most of her kid shows talk about Christmas, so that word is on the fore of her mind.
 
On a related note, I’m still unsure what to do about Santa. Yes, I love the Emerald Rose song “Santa Clause is Pagan, Too” – I get all of that. My concern is that I don’t really want to delve into the tradition of pretending to be Santa. That hurt me when I was little. I’ve been telling my daughter that Santa is a spirit of generosity who inspires us to be giving to each other. I say he “whispers in our ears and tells us to get gifts for each other to make people happy.” She seems content with that, but I know that will be hard when she starts going to school. As it is, her cousin, raised in a Christian household, gets gifts specifically from Santa, which will one day create an awkward but ultimately educational experience.
 
I’m not sure that I want to honor Santa like Odin despite the suggested origins and similarities.  I experienced some very strong UPG in which Brighid became hostile towards me working closely with Norse deities.  I am fascinated with Krampus but don’t really know what to do with that right now aside from enjoying the costumes I see online.  I like to think of Santa like a tomte or nisse from Scandinavia. My husband has Norwegian heritage, so it feels really good to honor that with Yule/Winter Solstice in our usually Celtic-focused home without upsetting Brighid and without giving Odin casual attention only once a year.
I’ve done some research on winter traditions among the Celts, particularly Irish, and know there isn’t a lot to work with. I tend to focus on the sun and Angus because of Newgrange, and An Cailleach because of the difficult weather in Upstate NY. I also know about some of the traditions that came to Ireland through Christianization – putting a red candle in the window to help Mary and Joseph find their way, and giving Santa beer, for example.
Our household traditions grow and change as my daughter does.  I feel like some of my personal traditions exist because I’m clinging to something from my childhood while also trying to create something that makes sense in the context of my religion and lifestyle.  Winter Solstice has become strange to me, but still exciting.  It’s interesting, and I welcome the challenge because it forces me to really think and consider all I do, but it’s also frustrating because I don’t want my daughter to feel as bruised about it all as I was once upon a time.  I worry about her going to school and all the confusion that may bring.  Or maybe that’s me projecting my own confusions and frustrations onto her?  I’m still trying to figure that out as I’m sure many first generation Pagan parents are.
Time for me to dig out that story about Brighid and Santa from an old Oak Leaves…
What do you do for the Winter Solstice with your family?  I’m particularly interested in hearing from fellow ADFers and/or Celtic polytheists who have children.

 

 

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I hope everyone has been enjoying their Yuletide season!  We just returned from a lovely visit with family.  It is always difficult for me to keep up with rituals when I return home, but I did my best to be mindful of the days.

The Sixth Day of Yule

This day was dedicated to the house spirits which was apt because we prepared to leave home.  I did my best to tidy up a little and made offerings to the house spirits and prayed that they protect everything while we were away.  Upon returning, we gave another offering in thanks for that protection.

The Seventh Day of Yule

My family celebrates Christmas.  Some are Christian and attend mass, while others are agnostic or atheist and embrace it as a secular holiday.  Observing the Twelve Days of Yule has helped me better reintegrate the day into my own practices.  As so many have already said, gift giving is an ancient winter custom and, when you have family who celebrate Christmas, it’s difficult to avoid doing it ont he 25th of December!   This was a day to honor the spirits of generosity and abundance.  For me, that would include the modern amalgamation that is Santa and An Dagda of the Tuatha dé Danann.  While I did not get to make an offering until returning home, the spirits of generosity were very much present.  We received many lovely gifts and I had fun giving my family some handmade items such as this table runner I quilted for my mother.

Photo Dec 25, 1 55 46 PM

Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

 

The Eighth Day of Yule

A time to honor the spirits of snow and ice!  Driving home from our visit, lake effect snow started to hit our region.  Big fluffy flakes have been falling upon the land, covering the crusty layer of ice from earlier in the week.  The North Country hasn’t fully thawed out.  The ice still clings to buildings and trees.  Many of the later are still bent over and, in some cases, broken.  I looked out the car window and thought about An Cailleach and all of her power.  The snow and ice is all at once beautiful and destructive.  These weather conditions are good reminders for the many seemingly opposite qualities of magic, myth, and nature.

I had hoped to go for a walk in the snow today, but scheduling, slippery ice, and baby care made that difficult.  We poured offerings for An Cailleach inside and spoke words of praise.  

 

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Christmas has come and gone, and I know I’m not alone in the Pagan community as I breath a big sigh of relief.  While celebrants often feel a sense of regret or let-down that Christmas is over, I am thrilled to be out of such a stressful period.  For the last few years, December has come with a certain insecurity and anxiety.  Everyone at work seems to celebrate Christmas, and they just assume that everyone else doe!  Fearful of discrimination, I don’t correct anyone.  I try to focus on the commonalities and that my coworkers mean well.  I’m not lying when I play along – I do visit my family for Christmas and exchange gifts, yet having to wear a mask is exhausting.  I can’t quite take it off after vacation starts.  Although my immediate family knows quite well that I don’t observe Christmas, they still want to spend time with me on their special day.  That’s understandable, of course, and I’m hopeful that they’ll reciprocate next year since it will be our little one’s first Winter Solstice.  The mask goes on firmly when I visit with other family members who either don’t know I’m a Druid or don’t quite understand and think I’m all about Christmas.  It’s exhausting trying to explain otherwise, and most of the time, any attempts are seen as hostile or me acting as a party pooper.  So I do my best to go along and enjoy myself all the same.

Every year, I seem to have a traditional Christmas meltdown.  High on hormones, this year was particularly bad.  I was stressed with finishing last minute gifts, wrestling with what-if explanation scenarios in my head, and girding myself for new questions about how I will raise my baby.

In the end, my anxiety was dwarfed by two very profound things.

Before driving to stay with family for their celebration, Weretoad and I went to my midwife for a checkup.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but suddenly I was on my back and she had a small instrument hooked up to a speaker.  Realization dawned on me and, suddenly, I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time.  It was fast and otherworldly sounding, and yet there it was – the rhythm of life.  The midwife confirmed that it was a healthy heartbeat.  My husband and I smiled at each other, and he hurriedly found a recording app on his phone so he could share the special moment with loved ones.

Later that evening, we shuffled into our grandparents’ home for our traditional Christmas Eve visit and gift exchange.  When my sister and I were little, this included Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church.  I’m in the broom closet with this group, more or less.  In December, my anxiety level is always highest visiting this part of my family.  We were warned ahead of time, however, that grandma and grandpa had taken a turn.  Sure enough, our  grandmother was forced to remain sitting the whole time having injured one of her hips.  Our grandfather, on the other hand, has been struggling with cancer this year.  A side of his face droops due to chemotherapy-related nerve damage.  He winced almost continually from pain.  My uncles, his sons, were holding off on his sleep-inducing pain medication so he could see us.  Gifts were handed out at a rapid pace and we agreed that we should go so he could take his medicine and rest.  As we scurried back out into the cold night, my sister cried.  I tend to maintain composure in such situations, but it shook me a bit as well.  My grandmother, despite her injury, is still very alert, talkative, and sharp,  My grandfather, on the other hand, has been reduced from a very active repairman, salesman, town historian, and author to a squinting, shaking, wincing, nearly deaf man who can barely whisper a few words at a time.  His face is misshapen and full of chemical-related pain.  I recalled something he said to me when I was much younger: “The day I stop working is the day I die.”

Thus Christmas Eve was framed by this juxtaposition: coming birth and impending death.  I’ve been reflecting on it since that day, and how timely it is with the themes of winter.  We talk about birth and death in Druidism.  It is in our lore, our symbolism, our music, our ritual, our art.  I like to think we have a greater appreciation and acceptance of the dance of life because of this, yet it always gives us pause when it occurs in our own lives.

I tried my best to focus on family during the Christmas celebration after that.  That is, of course, what really matters regardless of religion or holiday.  I understand that is not easy for all of my readers, but I’m grateful that my family is as kind, loving, generous, fun, and (mostly) easy to be around.

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Last year I had a fun time sharing music videos and counting down to the Winter Solstice.  This year I’ve decided not to do that but I will share with you my current Solstice playlist.  It includes several Pagan tracks – both explicitly wintery and some that just strike me as such.  Also included are some secular holiday tunes and traditional Christian ones.  Anything that strikes me as particularly magical, fun, or archetypal tends to make my playlist.  I’m always looking for new tunes.  I would love to get my hands on “Santa Clause is Pagan Too” by Emerald Rose but it’s not available for digital download.  If you can suggest anything new, let me know!

  1. “Deck the Halls” – From a “Celtic Christmas” Lifescapes album. – It’s an instrumental but I love it, particularly the drumming.  This tune has always struck me as very Pagan given the emphasis on “Yuletide” rather than Christmas.
  2. “A Winter Wassail” by Faith and the Muse – A great cover of a traditional song.  How can you go wrong?  Wassailing.  Singing to trees.  Fun times.
  3. “Greensleeves” by Loreena McKennit – While not explicitly wintery, I grew up hearing “What Child is This” at Christmas mass so the tune is linked to this time of year.  Coupled with my love of anything that sounds Renaissance or Medieval and it just makes sense that I like it.
  4. “Fairy Tale” by Omnia – Again, not really about the Solstice or even winter.  That said, winter was the time our ancestors gathered around the fire and passed the dark nights by telling tales…
  5. “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Oh come on.  It’s epic.
  6. “Mr. Heatmiser” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  You’re probably laughing about this one.  It’s nostalgic since it’s a cover from a holiday special.  It’s also vaguely Pagan since heat and cold are personified into spirits!
  7. The “Main Title” of “Game of Thrones” by Ramin Djawadi.  What could be more wintery than “winter is coming!?”
  8. “Now Make Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Lhiannan.  This is a Pagan cover of a Christmas song.  The instrumental in the beginning and the end is a bit corny sounding, but the singing is enjoyable.  It’s all about the sun!
  9. “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl.  This is not your average Christmas song thanks to the content (drunk Irishmen and broken hearts) and the language (“faggot”), but it’s very enjoyable, especially if you’re into Irish music!
  10. “Natural Dance” by Trobar De Morte – I’m not sure why I originally added this.  I think it has something to do with the bells and the sound of wind at the beginning.  I guess it just sounds like a dark winter night.  Unfortunately I can’t find a translation…  For all I know this could be the antithesis of the Winter Solstice but c’est la vie.  Anyone have any leads to this?
  11. “Ring Out Solstice Bells” by Jethro Tull – An excellent Solstice song.  Very catchy despite the fact that my husband thinks Tull is singing “sausages” instead of “Solstice bells.”  If you’ve never seen it, do search Youtube for the animated music video.
  12. “Winter Harp” by Lori Pappajohn – I love harp music.  Going back to our ancestors sitting around a fire and listening to tales, I imagine music would have been particularly comforting during those hard, blustery days.  Thanks to a FB friend for recommending this!
  13. “St. Patrick’s Christms Jig” – This is another Lifescapes song from “Christmas Celtic.”  The title is very Catholic seeming, but it’s a fun Irish song.  Very celebratory!
  14. “Snow Angel” by Tori Amos – I can’t help but like this song.  Although about an angel, it could easily be about a snow spirit of some sort who brings comfort during a dark Midwinter.
  15. “Christians and Pagans” by Dar Williams – A classic!  No Winter Solstice playlist is complete without it, especially if you have Christian family members and/or are trying to reconcile your new beliefs with your old.  It’s all about finding “common ground.”
  16. “White Night Fantasy” by Nightwish – From their album “Once,” this is another wintery song featuring an enchantress.
  17. “Silent Night” by Sarah Brightman – Although this is a very Christian song, I still feel touched when I hear it.  It’s very archetypal when you get down to it.  It helps that my mum sang this to me as a lullaby when I was little.
  18. “The Holy and the Ivy” by Landscapes “Christmas Celtic” – This is an example of how Pagan and Christian symbolism have combined, creating a lovely song and common ground for multi-faith celebrations.
  19. “Waltz of Flowers” by Tchaikovsky – From “The Nutcracker” of course!  While about flowers, it’s difficult to remove the wintery connection!  This is my favorite from the ballet…  It makes me want to twirl!
  20. “Carol of the Meows” by Guster – A friend sent me this one year and it continues to delight me.
  21. “The Coventry Carol” by The Mediaeval Baebes – This is a very sad, traditional Christian song sung in remembrance of the children killed by King Harod.  I added it to the mix because I love The Mediaeval Baebes and this is a very deep piece so full of meaning and different from a lot of what is played on the radio at this time of year.  It is right to be joyful, but we also need to stop and remember those who suffer at this time.
  22. “Lord of the Dance/Simple Gifts” by Blackmore’s Night – Again, more Christian music but it’s hard not to smile at the lyrics.  There’s something very Pagan about it…  In fact, I heard a Pagan cover once upon a time.  I wish I could find it…  “Simple Gifts,” an old Shaker song, is also good during this time of excess.  Also, I adore Blackmore’s Night.
  23. “Cloak of Feathers” by Damh the Bard – A song about Blodeuwed or “Flower Face”. It is easy to interpret her flowery face as the spring and her owl face as the winter.
  24. “Brawl Official” by Wolgemut – The tune sounds like a traditional Christmas song, ok.  Just…substituting Germanic bagpipes for lyrics.  Very joyous!
  25. “Christmas Dirge” by Nellie McKay – Another sad song but I love it.  The singer finds sympathy for Christmas trees through paralleling their treatment with her broken heart and ends by empathizing with all living beings.  “Death is no requirement for your happiness.”  Thought provoking and very different from what you hear at the department stores!  And hey, being a treehugger is very Druidic!
  26. “Sugar Plum Fairy” by Tchaikovsky – Once more, from “The Nutcracker!”
  27. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles (sung by George Harrison) – Number one, I’m a huge Beatles fan.  Number two, this song about the sun returning after a difficult time is perfect for this celebration!
  28. “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson and the Boston Pops – A traditional instrumental for the winter season.  I remember playing this in orchestra…  I have many fond memories attached to this song, but also can’t help but imagine playing in the snow when I hear it.
  29. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer – Provocative, sexy, and mildly offensive.  My husband and I love it.
  30. “Good King Wenceslas” by Lifescapes on “Christmas Celtic” – Another from that album, I know!  The musicians are really quite good.
  31. “On Midwinter’s Day” by Damh the Bard – An excellent celebratory song from Damh!  Very Pagan and fun.
  32. “December Ends” by Enter the Haggis – This song gets caught in my head all the time.  Enter the Haggis is an interesting, Canadian band – kind of an eclectic, “Neo-Irish” sound.  This is a neat song that includes references to December, snow, and sun!

So, does anyone have any other suggestions for my playlist?  I’m always looking for more Pagan tracks.

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