It’s December. Shops everywhere have displays of Christmas foods and assorted gift ideas. Children are getting increasingly excited while parents get increasingly stressed. Schools put on Christmas fairs, nativity plays, school concerts and often arrange other additional seasonal activities. Councils decorate streets with lights, canned Christmas music is played almost everywhere. Yep, ’tis the season!
In the UK and much of Europe the weather turns colder, nights get darker and the darkness lasts longer. And in this darkest of times many people struggle to keep going whether from physical or mental health. And still we feel we must celebrate, be joyful!
For many Pagans of many different paths this time of year is difficult for religious reasons as well. Do we celebrate Christmas for the kids? Do we take part in the Christian traditions that have often been built upon much older Pagan traditions? How do we acknowledge the darkness, honour the winter?
There are no easy answers to these questions but here are ideas from things I do with my own family. We are a mixed faith family in the wider family sense. My kids are both school age but one is primary and one secondary with six years between them. We have a number of health issues between us all too both physical and mental. So like many families we need to compromise on a range of situations. In the wider family we celebrate both the winter solstice and Christmas.
The first family activity for this season is decorating the house. I won’t even consider doing things until December and usually we are well into December before the decorations are brought down from the loft. My son is not at all interested in this side of the festivities but my daughter adores it. She always helps with the tree decorating and in helping to decide placement for some of our other decorations. She has some decorations for her bedroom too whereas my son’s room is a decoration free zone.
For me personally Eponalia on 18th December is of particular importance as a time of quiet reflection and prayer before the more hectic family activities begin. By Eponalia I’ve usually been to two school fairs, at least one school performance of some kind and had to begin to plan what else will be happening and when for the rest of the festive season so I’m usually feeling a bit stressed by mid December and this year is no different. Eponalia is my time to honour Epona in the dark and the cold and all She means to me.
Just three days later we celebrate the winter solstice. In some years I join a local group of Pagans on the closest weekend before in celebrating the coming time of the winter solstice. Sometimes other commitments mean I’m not able to join them. Several years ago though I started a family tradition for the solstice itself and that is our winter solstice walk. The kids and I wrap up warmly and we go out on the evening of the solstice (or if the weather is really bad as soon after as we safely can) for a walk around the local streets. We admire the lights we see on and in front of houses as we walk round and we chat a little bit about the importance of hope and light in the darkness. When we return home after the walk we have hot drinks, hot chocolate for those that want it, and a seasonal snack and I give the children their Yule gift from me. Giving my kids a gift at solstice helps to emphasise the importance of the solstice to me and other Pagan members of the family and also has the benefit of helping to spread out gifts rather than getting everything on one day.
The next couple of days are an odd combination of excitement and calm in my family. My daughter in particular gets increasingly excited for the coming of Santa and Christmas and my son quietly retreats to his room to avoid all the fuss. Depending on energy levels (mine rather than the kids) we often do some baking together. Why buy extra biscuits or mince pies when you can have fun with the kids making your own? It’s usually a messy and fun activity for the kids and a bit more stressful for me although eating the results is very enjoyable.
There are visits to and from various family members on Christmas eve, Christmas day and Boxing day with Christmas gift giving among the wider members of the family. And then, just for a little bit, days begin to get calmer again. Outside it is still cold and dark but we know that daylight is slowly beginning to get increase again.
And then it’s time for Hogmanay and more compromises…