“Tradition is one of the most beautiful ideologies we have created and experience as living and loving humans. There is no cookie cutter outline for what your tradition should look like, who you should share it with or how it should grow over time.
Tradition remains one of the few practices that truly belongs to your family and close friends, and allows you to cherish the very valuable memories created with your loved ones over the years.” – Daffnee Cohen, Why We Need to Maintain Family Tradition Huffington Post
Traditions within any context reflect on repeated and meaningful customs or beliefs that often connect us to culture. How one interprets culture, and how one enmeshes the many different variations of culture embraced within one’s spirituality can be very unique and very specific. The intersecting layers of culture that we balance are often reflective of our families, spiritual traditions, racial culture, gender, and regional experiences.
Certain times of year we see many of these pieces come together in a very intricate and beautiful way. November and December happen to be the time of year when we often see such things collide.
Traditions are also important within the intersecting communities of modern Paganism. Much focus is placed on training and passing down information from one source or another to support the practice of our craft. But how important are our holiday traditions and do we see them as important?
I see our cultural and familial practices as magical acts that are just as important as any other. These include: the passing down of tradition to those we love; the sharing of memories that hold reflections of history; the solidifying of cultural norms that enhance our connection to identity, purpose, time, and place. In that way, recipes can act like spells and planned activities like rituals that have the ability to manifest powerful threads of connection.
Some celebrate Thanksgiving in November while others embrace the winter holiday season in December. It is interesting to see how many Pagans connect to the different holidays that are widely celebrated in contemporary society. For the same reason that some Pagans celebrate a secular version of Christmas, many of our Pagan families and cultures continue to celebrate the societal norms of such widely accepted holidays.Thanksgiving in my home has always been infused with the smells and tastes of collard greens, yams, cornbread, banana pudding, and walnut pumpkin pie. The ritual of cleaning and cooking starts 2-3 days before the holiday – a routine passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, and to me. Recipes and food preparation are as important as any ritual set up, and my grandmother’s memory comes through as we manifest the same traditions year after year.
My family celebrates a spiritual Yule and secular Christmas, opening presents in the morning and spending family time together in the evening. On New Year’s Eve, we all burn the midnight oil until the clock ticks midnight, when we are able to toast to Apple Cider – another long family tradition that we still do every year.
When we are not able to be together, it is tradition for us to call each other right after the New Year rolls in so that we will be together throughout the coming year.
What does it look like for others? What foods, rituals, traditions, and practices are held as sacred throughout the holiday season? How do we create new traditions when those of our past do not serve us? Because there is such a diverse spectrum of Pagan and polytheistic traditions and a wide array of different types of people within our community, I reached out to others to learn what kind of traditions, cultures, practices, memories, and even recipes where cherished at this time.
During Yule we try to stay up all night. Baking. Playing games. Crafts. We do a traditional Christmas as well with presents, tree, decorating. Looking at lights. Lots of family and good good. Like any good ritual. – Chrystie Sargent.
My holiday tradition is to reach out to anyone who might be alone or find family time traumatic. This year a friend who had personal disaster is my Thanksgiving guest; last Christmas Marie and I took a friend whose family is overseas to a movie, and every New Year’s I hold my door open to anyone needing oasis from the pressures and noise of the night. – Diana Rajchel
We hold vigil for the longest night of the year. Staying up and playing games, chatting, movies or whatever. We tend the flame that was lit at dusk. Then just before sunrise we go out and sing up the sun. Everyone lighting a candle to take home with them to carry the energy home.
I also now use a real Yule tree. When it comes down, I shave off the branches and grind the needles to make incense and save the branches for kindling. The trunk I store in my shed until Beltaine. The trunk then becomes the family May pole. The pole once wrapped in ribbons is then stored again until Yule.
When we get the new tree, I pull the May pole out (the previous year’s Yule tree trunk) and cut it up into smaller pieces. Usually about 7-8 inches long. I use one for my own Yule fire and gift the others to friends. – Sabrina H.
Quite honestly my tradition is to run away and go on a spiritual adventure. Last year I was in New York for Christmas, I attended midnight mass at St.Peters Cathedral, a Thelemic rite, an eclectic Wiccan rite, and a Wiccan/Heathen rite, I even did a pilgrimage to Salem. This year I’m running away to Cuba to experience Santeria first hand.
I was keen on reconnecting to Catholicism this past year because I had been finally able to let go of the hostility I had towards Christianity, as a whole, and I wanted to experience it with new eyes. It was a beautiful experience and when the man on the pulpit started in with his judgmental dogma I was happy to find myself in only minor annoyance compared to seething rage.
Essentially, these trips allow me to connect with myself, my spirituality and forces experiences I haven’t had before as I do these trips solo and I’m not distracted by others. I also tend to fly by the seat of my pants during these trips as I don’t tend to have any hard schedule and allow the experiences to flow. I’ve met very wonderful folks and had amazing spiritual experiences that would not have been possible if the trips had been overly organized. Spending nine days this year in Cuba by myself, as a woman, who has never traveled off this continent will definitely take me out of my comfort zone. – Dominique Smith
Like Thanksgiving? For us it’s a small sit-down dinner, and the only time I get out the good china and silverware (inherited), and the lace tablecloth, also inherited, but not “real” in that it’s machine washable, which is for the best. Turkey, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce (both kinds and both from cans), and stuffing, Mrs. Cubbison’s I think. And gravy, with giblets on the side because I’m the only one who likes them. Husband cooks; I set the table. We go around the table saying what we’re thankful for. We have finally abandoned the familial tradition (both sides) of eating until we hurt.
For Yule, where we used to do Christmas stockings, we now use those 8″ plastic cauldrons. Then, at my parents’ house, we open those gifts (small silly things) first, have breakfast or brunch, and then open other presents. We do Yule as a potluck dinner with friends, and after a ritual battle of the Kings. The party and feast serves as a time for people who want to exchanged gifts. We save family gifts till everyone’s gone. – Ashleen O’Gaea
Some years ago, I purchased a book titled The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I’d like to say that the book is quite good, but truthfully, I haven’t really read it. You see, I’m not super mathematically inclined. Upon the first day that I was looking at the book, I leaned over to ask my more-mathematically inclined partner a question about a formula, and the next thing I knew he was baking bread, and I was enjoying fresh baked bread. Since this is a satisfactory division of labor to me, I never really got around to reading it.
One of the gems from that book is this cornbread recipe. It has been dubbed by my most atheist and scientifically-minded friend as “magic cornbread” and has become a staple in our holiday dinners for the last decade or so. While it’s not a yeast bread like most of the others in the book, it is delicious all the same, and we are frequently asked to bring it to gatherings now. – Stephanie Kjer
Mid-winter is the time of the Promise of Life. The plants will bloom again, the birds will sing, creatures great and small will make themselves known once more. The Dark will fade into sunlight. It isn’t here yet, but it will come.
The holiday season is the perfect time to make our own promises. While this is often done at New Years, this is when we feel the need to plan and affirm the actions we will be taking when the warm weather returns in full power. This is when we chart our course for after the thaw of spring releases our languor into animation.
In our family, we take the time to consciously prepare ourselves for the coming year. We have taken the time to remember what has passed at Samhain, to celebrate our present at Thanksgiving. Now is the time to create our futures at Yule. We use the knowledge of the past and resources of the present to conceive our best future, to invest those resources in the next step of our lives. -Kalisara
While something as personal as traditions and culture can be inspirational and empowering, it is also important to acknowledge that not everyone has this same experience with family traditions or with the holiday season. These holidays can be a very challenging time for many people, and this often includes ways to find refuge, solace, and support during this time. All communities have people with a spectrum of experiences and preferences. Therefore, it is important to hold space for this as well.
In moving forward through the next few months, which are inevitably filled with celebrations, expectations, memories, and observances, there is also a unique opportunity to consider what this time of year means for us individually. What holds magic? Which traditions no longer serve us, and which traditions we want to create?
As Thanksgiving fast approaches, I wish everyone a safe, fulfilling, empowering, and magic-filled time. May we all find balance in the traditions we choose. And, maybe even enjoy some these amazing recipes:
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.