This weekend I went to the store to pick up some essentials: shampoo, groceries, and a few little goodies to enjoy over the Thanksgiving holiday. I walked into my local grocer and was instantly inundated with the shrill noise of “A Holly Jolly Christmas” blaring throughout the store. I looked around to see ribbons and bows flanking the registers to my left. A giant Kris Kringle waved at me as I made my way to the produce section. Sugar plum fairies had vomited their Christmas Cheer throughout my local grocer and all I wanted was a bag of Fuji apples.
If you live in the United States of America, Christmas starts two weeks before Samhain and ends when the Lazy Light Lovers finally take down the stringed luminaries from their houses near the end of February. Oh yes, the spirit of Christmas sure does bring out the weirdos. The hot chocolate and pumpkin spice guzzling Cuckoos, but … maybe they’re onto something. The Spirit of Christmas is a type of magic, right?
Finding Pagan magic in the midst of the commercialized Christmas holiday seems difficult, and you know what? It is. It feels like we are a gift, wrapped so tight that we have to burst through the paper and bows and glitter to find any type of connection to this season. It may just be me, but during the holiday season I feel forgotten. I feel more disconnected to the Divine than at any other time of the year because I see mangers and stars guiding me to the Holy Light of Jesus. I see Old Saint Nick begging for children to sit on his lap. I see non-profits peddling their missions to give a good Christmas to children in need. I mean come on, every store you go to nowadays asks if you’d like to round up your change to give a child a Christmas coat.
And … do I give to those charities? Yes! Kids that can’t afford a coat need a coat. Am I supporting the Christmas bologna? Yes …. Am I giving my hard-earned money to a charity that has a mission to spread the word of Christ to all those who receive a coat? More than likely …. But I have a hard time saying no. I’m the problem …. I get it. But! That’s not what this article is about. It’s about Magic and Paganism and Christmas.
We live in a time when finding a way to live with and among the commercialized Christmas season is becoming more difficult. This difficulty is exacerbated when you have children because you are attempting to create traditions with them during this time, but how do you take Santa Claus away from a child when that’s all their friends talk about for months? What do you do when the only magic they see during this time directly relates back to the birth of someone that doesn’t (usually) exist in their pantheon? Well, while the answers are very nuanced, I think we can boil it down to one of two ways.
1) Cast down Christmas and the holiday season. Join a commune for the duration of the holiday season that has banned all Christmas traditions and ramblings. Create a bunker that rejects the jingles and the jangles of the Christmas Jamboree!
2) Find a way to see the Magic.
There’s a quote from a well-known holiday classic, “The Santa Clause” starring Tim Allen. In the second movie of this franchise, Scott Calvin’s son speaks candidly about the magic of Christmas to a few adults that do not believe in Santa. Without belief, Santa no longer has the magic of Christmas and therefore he cannot deliver the presents. He says, “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is Seeing.” I’ve alway held this quote very close to me and I find myself saying it throughout the year without much regard to its origin. It’s a powerful quote that I believe any person from any walk of life could take and use for their own practices. Magic doesn’t work without intent and a belief that it will work. Magic doesn’t generate flames from your fingers or teleport you to a new location in a puff of smoke. When you believe, you see magic work. And when you see magic work, you believe even more.
We have to find our own magic in the magic of Christmas, but how? I think this starts with educating ourselves on the history of our paths. Many people know that the Christmas tree is actually a symbol taken from Pagan beliefs. Likewise, there are a multitude of Christmas tales that refer to either a fireplace or a campfire. This is an ode to the Yule Log, a rather widely practiced Pagan Tradition. While we could sit around and lament that Christmas stole Yule and such, why not honor the traditions of olde? These traditions don’t have to be forgotten because the trees are pre-lit. Our practices don’t have to completely change because Pastor Peter put up the biggest Christmas Tree known to man in the church lawn. The Magic of Christmas is and always will be the Magic of Yule — just wearing a bedazzled mask. If you really look at all of the decorations that do not include Santa or Jesus, a lot of them are Pagan symbols, just more sparkly. How fun it would be to pass Pastor Peter’s tree and feel joy that such a beautiful Yule Tree was put on the lawn of a church? (It’s all perspective. He doesn’t know that what he has done is empower you and bring vision to your faith.)
Take it further. Revitalize our traditions with a new spin on decoration, yes, but also see that the Spirit of Christmas is filled with many splendid things that are not only for the Christian faith. Charity, volunteer work, and helping those in need are widely practiced during this holiday season. Christians don’t have a monopoly on outreach. The strength of a community is based not on those with strength in numbers, but on small acts of kindness and generosity. Pay it forward. To be a Pagan, in its essence, is to be a community serving and helping one another. We have to bring this practice back. I give to charities that give kids coats because I believe that is important. If there was a Pagan charity that did the same thing, I would give to that charity, but until I find it, I’m going to support the coat charities. Likewise, there are several Pagan charities throughout the world. You can find them with a quick google search. Read their mission statements and, if you align with the work they are doing, give, volunteer, or promote their mission. This is a special time because our hearts are open. Yule is a celebration of community and generosity at its core. Celebrate the magic of a very short period of time where rounding up change is second nature and not a chore.
It’s easy to feel alienated when you are in a minority, but the great part about this time of year is that it doesn’t have to be the Christmas Season. It can be the Yuletide. Find those old traditions and go out and buy your Yule Tree and decorate it how you would like. Celebrate the festivities of olde! Don’t be caught up trying to go against the current when in reality, the current flows for us, if we allow it to. That’s the magic of Yule! We don’t have to say “Merry Christmas,” we can say “Happy Yule.”
If we Pagans are anything, we are resourceful. I mean, how many people outside of Paganism can take random items from nature and make them into a beautiful altar or effigy? Not many. Take that inquisitive, magical mind and put it towards the Yuletide. Don’t let the Spirit of Christmas blind you to the Magic of Yule. At the end of the day, “Yule” be happier for it. If someone incorrectly calls your decorations “Christmas Decor,” take this moment to educate them. Allow them the opportunity to learn where these traditions come from. Be the expert of your tradition and spread the magic. Don’t chastise them for assuming it is a Christmas tree. They don’t know what they don’t know and you get the wonderful opportunity to tell them our history. Our story. Our faith. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll see the magic, too.
Happy Yule, my friend.
[Written by Sheldon Slinkard.]