Germanic Pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule, or Yuul, at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions, now commonly associated with Christmas, originated in old Yule celebrations such as eating a ham or hanging holly and mistletoe.
The ancient Pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which typically ran from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors. These were eventually adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia, there were birth celebrations honoring Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras, both held on Dec. 25.
Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many offshoots hold this time as one of the eight sabbats, or holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule, this is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the rebirth of the god by the mother goddess.
Many other holidays occur in and around this time, not excluding the more well-known celebrations of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, and New Year’s Day. For example, in Lucumi, the Feast of Babalú-Ayé (or St. Lazarus) is celebrated on Dec. 17, and, from Dec. 21-25, many Hindus will be observing Pancha Ganapati, which honors Ganesh.
As we recently reported, the holiday season not only welcomes Mr. Claus for some, but also Krampus, who appears to be growing in popularity.
Lastly, for our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere, December marks the time of the summer solstice. Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists living in those regions have been readying to celebrate the sun at its height and nature at its most lush.
Here are some thoughts on the observance of these holidays from our Wild Hunt writing team:
“Most Solstice mornings, I’m the only one who’s awake early enough to see Helios rising. Not reborn, exactly, but renewed. Ready to gain strength and lend it to us. I sip my tea and think about the previous year while waiting for the dawn. Once that first tinge of light appears, I begin writing down what I see. How Helios appears is the omen for how my year will turn out.
Last year’s dawn was pretty bleak. Completely out of the ordinary, my husband was awake and joined me. He held my hand, silently, until Helios was finally high enough to see. The light was dazzling. That’s pretty much how my year went. This year I pray for a more cheerful omen, but as long as my husband is by my side and my Solstice brunch table is surrounded by friends and my son and his girlfriend, that’s good enough.” – Journalist Cara Schulz
“I come from a long line of Grinches. Shopping from a list of suggestions seemed to miss the point of giving gifts, and how is a killing a tree not murder? At some point when my back was turned, however, the gods pulled a fast one on me. We do bring in a dead tree to the delight of the cats, but we give offerings in thanks. I shop from a list, but only for my mother because it makes her happy. Heck, I even composed the family’s first holiday newsletter!
What I’ve learned along the way is that being happy, and bringing happiness, matters. Diving headlong into a sea of consumer frenzy does not bring me happiness, but neither does getting angry about that state of affairs. Getting preachy about it just guarantees that the only friends left would be as angry as I. The result? A simple solstice of honoring my gods followed by a simple Giftmas sharing joy and gifts with loved ones. Thanks, gods. You rock.” – Assistant Editor and Journalist Terence P. Ward.
“My family celebrates many different traditions during this time of year but one that I feel the most connected to is the celebration of Kwanzaa. We made our first Kinara with materials from Michaels, and then last year ordered a big new one that will last for years to come. The celebration of our cultural heritage, our ancestors, the nguzo saba (the 7 principles of Kwanzaa), and the alignment with what it means to be of African descent are things that has become monumental in the way we embrace the holidays.
We light our one candle a night on the Kinara; we talk about what that night’s principle means; we listen to the Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Seven Principles song so that we can learn the right pronunciation of the Swahili words for the nguzo saba, and we spread love for each other and for who we are. My kids usually get stuck on saying Kujichagulia (koo-ji-chah-goo-LEE-ah) all week repeatedly because of the way it rolls off their tongue; I have no problem with them getting stuck on the concept of self determination at all.
This year will be our first year celebrating the feast on the last night with my brothers and their families. May we all feel a connection with principles that reinforce who we are and who we want to be in our communities. Have a blessed and happy Kwanzaa. These are the seven prinicples in a simplified version: Umoja (oo-MOH-JAH) or unity; Kujichagulia (koo-ji-chah-goo-LEE-ah) or self-determination; Ujima (oo-JEE-mah) or collective work and responsibility; Ujamma (oo-jah-MAH) or cooperative economics; Nia (NEE-ah) or purpose; Kuumba (koo-OO-mbah) or creativity; and Imani (ee-MAH-nee) or faith” – Columnist, Crystal Blanton“Our group’s winter solstice celebrations start with a potluck dinner. Over the years, it has morphed into a curry buffet – a warm and welcome change from the typical turkey and trimmings at this time of year. We start drooling at Samhain, for Larry’s butter chicken, and my latest attempt to master palak paneer. Warm and bright curry to sustain a coven or Witches & family through the darkest nights and coldest days of a harsh prairie winter. We gather tonight for our feast. The temperature is diving down to minus 27 Celsius, with a windchill of 41 below zero in Winnipeg tonight. We will need the warmth of the food, and each others company to get through these frigid days.” – Journalist Dodie Graham McKay
“For me, this season, year after year, has always proven to demonstrate the true power and possibility of the human spirit. I have lived my life in an interfaith family, between the worlds of religious practice or none at all. During this time, unlike at any other point in the year, my family festivities bring together everyone, no matter what they believe or where they worship. And, this has held true as long as I can remember. My Jewish family sits at the holiday table with my Christian family; Pagans sing songs with Atheists. At this time, we are simply together – sharing food, laughter, tears, and memories.
This is a special kind of magic; a special kind of sacred. It is devotion to gods, to spirit, and to humanity itself. This coming together is hope and possibility manifest. No matter how dark it gets, inside or out, or how divided we seem to be, the universal and very human spirit of hope flickers on inside each of us. Whatever you celebrate and whatever you believe, may you be comforted by the light’s return, and may it feed your own flame of inner hope toward the possibility of a brighter future.” – Managing Editor, Heather Greene
“For many, the darkness this year is deeper and more painful than just the position of the sun. It has been a divisive, difficult year, compounded by the loss of beloved actors and musicians. It is so valuable to acknowledge and even embrace the dark, especially on this darkest night. To acknowledge and embrace the places where we feel hurt. But there is a rhythm to everything and the light will return. Just as the sun begins to return its light to the Earth today, so can we choose to bear our lights back into the world. From activism to magick to merely setting a good example for others, there are so many ways every one of us can help return the light. Find yours. Be the change. Bring the light. Blessed Yule.” – Columnist Tim Titus
From our family to yours, may you have a very blessed solstice, winter or summer, and the merriest of holiday seasons.