First of all, let me make it perfectly clear I’m not Anti-Christmas. I don’t mind if other people celebrate it. I don’t mind if people say “Merry Christmas”. I might even say it back. However, as a pagan, it is not a holiday that I celebrate. I know there are some pagans who celebrate a secularized version of this Christian holiday and almost begrudge other pagans who won’t join in with them. I prefer to remain true to my path and my beliefs. I do not have nostalgic, romanticized notions about Christmas that some other pagans have. I prefer to honor the real “reason for the season”…the Winter Solstice.
Unlike some other people, I don’t have warm and fuzzy, sentimental memories of Christmases from my youth. I grew up in an abusive environment that was also (ironically) very Christian. Christmas was always about the birth of Jesus Christ and a religion that was forced on me for several years. Even though it has been secularized to a degree, and many people celebrate what they call “Christmas”, by it’s very name, Christmas is inherently a religious holiday. Christmas is about Christ, after all. Even though most historians agree that Jesus Christ was not born in December, Christmas is the time when Christians celebrate his birth. To deny this is simply ignorant and foolish. Since I am not a Christian, why should I celebrate a holiday that I do not believe in?
Sometimes people who know me feel a bit awkward when this time of year comes around. They ask, “Can I tell you Merry Christmas?” or they will ask what is the appropriate thing to say. I appreciate their thoughtfulness in asking, and usually just tell them “you can say whatever you like” or “Happy Winter Solstice is fine”. I really don’t mind what sort of holiday greetings people use. I’m not offended if people say “Merry Christmas”. I know they are being kind and wishing me good will, and that is important for everyone.
Some pagans and witches have romanticized the holiday, calling to mind the feasting, gift-giving, gathering with family and friends, decorating a tree and singing carols. Perhaps they have forgotten that none of these practices originated with Christmas. These traditions are all of pagan origin that were simply grafted onto Christmas celebrations over time. This means that as a witch and a pagan, I can still do all of these things and I don’t have to call it “Christmas”. Also, just because you don’t celebrate Christmas does not mean you have to avoid family gatherings. You can gather with your family because they’re your family, and not necessarily “because it’s Christmas”. You can also have your own Winter Solstice gatherings and Yule dinners with pagan friends and do the same things people typically associate with Christmas. You’re not missing out on anything by not celebrating Christmas, because you haven’t really lost anything. All of the old seasonal traditions are yours to enjoy, because they are much, much older than Christmas.
People who know I am a Witch will often ask questions, like:
Do you sing Christmas carols?
Carols, yes. Christmas, no. The first carols had nothing to do with Christianity. They were pagan songs that were sung at Winter Solstice celebrations. The word “Carol” means ‘dance’ or ‘song of joy’ and used to be written and sung at all four seasons. Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. Sadly, the old songs have been lost or have been given a Christian gloss, such as we see with “The Holly and the Ivy”. Even today, I still enjoy such songs as “Winter Wonderland”, “Deck The Halls”, “Jingle Bells”, “Sleigh Ride” to name a few. There are plenty of seasonal songs that have nothing to do with Christianity.
Do you decorate a Christmas tree?
Yes, but we prefer to call it a Yule Tree. We go to a tree farm just like the muggles do, and cut down a real tree to bring into our home. The practice of decorating a tree did not originate with Christmas. Dating back centuries before Christ, it was the pagans and witches who brought evergreen trees, plants, and leaves into their homes upon the arrival of the Winter Solstice. Druid priests in Great Britain also used evergreen plants and mistletoe in pagan ceremonies, and the mistletoe plant was the symbol of the birth of a god.
Do you have dinner with loved ones and exchange gifts?
Absolutely. Gathering with friends and loved ones for feasting, music, games and gift-exchanging is all part of our Winter Solstice celebrations, just as in ancient times. These winter-time practices began with the ancient Yule and Saturnalia celebrations to welcome the “return of the Sun”. Winter is the perfect time to gather with loved ones for warmth and comfort. It is the dark time of the year and we can rely on each other for strength as we await the light.
What is the Winter Solstice?
The pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. Ancient people were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors. The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word “Yule” is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank ale. The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents. The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year. Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas.
‘Tis the Season of Winter, and we can flow with the natural energies of the Winter Solstice in the knowledge that we are tapping into an ancient current that is centuries older than the Christian holiday. So, even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I still partake in the seasonal celebrations. I just call them by a different, much older name.