A Pagan Christmas in a Yuletide Way
by Peg Aloi, guest contributor
When I was little, and like many kids before me, Christmas was special for many reasons that had very little to do with the birthday of baby Jesus. I loved the twinkling lights, decorating cookies, eating the savory dishes my Italian grandparents served on Christmas Eve, cutting down our tree in the forest, and singing Christmas carols accompanied by Mom on her Hammond organ. I was raised Catholic, but my parents weren’t terribly strict, and so for me Christmas was always a fairly secular experience.
Many years later, when I decided I wanted to be a witch and that Paganism was closer to my heart than Catholicism, I realized I wouldn’t really have to give up what I loved about the Yuletide season. The solstice celebrates the return of the sun; the rebirth of the sun is not far removed from the birth of the son, is it? Christ is a solar god, honored with gifts sacred to solar gods throughout history: gold, frankincense, myrrh. To some, he’s the light of the world, and so welcoming the return of longer, warmer days is a way to honor the Christian mythology and acknowledge our celestial connection to the cosmos. Many Pagans celebrate aspects of Christmas from their childhood or family traditions, combining them with an observance of Yule as the solar solstice festival.
My father was an avid hunter, and deer hunting was a favorite pastime from Thanksgiving onward in upstate New York. One year, instead of stringing Christmas lights up on our porch, Dad decided to take a mounted deer head, an eight-point buck he had named “Percy,” and tie a huge red and white striped bow interspersed with pine boughs around his neck and hang him on the front porch. I was mortified: what teenager wouldn’t be? Normal people hang lights, not taxidermy!
But I now understand Dad was a true pagan at heart, and his humor and love of nature are two personality traits I’m glad to have inherited. I now have Percy hanging on the wall in my living room, and he has holly boughs hanging in his antlers. I always cut fresh greenery from my yard or the woods for this time of year: holly, juniper, cedar, pine, spruce. The image of deer in the snow is my favorite visual theme for the holidays, and I celebrate it by choosing cards with this image, and making dioramas with toy deer and evergreen trees. When performing Yule rituals that tell the story of the Holly King and the Oak King, vying for dominance, until the Holly King finally surrenders to the Oak King until the summer solstice, I like to think my Dad would appreciate the woodsy, manly imagery.
Since becoming a Pagan, I’ve celebrated Yule in many memorable and beautiful ways.