Secular Holidays Pt. 6
Christmas Ep. 1
We start this part of the series going into Christmas(Horusmas). Now many of you like this holiday but by the time we finish with this, I feel that many of you will be torn about how to handle this situation when it comes to family that refuse to hear anything about the TRUTH. We start at the beginning of the holiday and work our way tothe end. The first thing we see when the season starts is the colors red and green. So let’s see what red and green represent. Before we do that let me explain that a lot of the common traditions and beliefs were made by the Catholic church so do not be surprised when most things we find out are taken from pagan traditions and twisted into a Catholic celebration.
Red and Green
As mentioned above, an early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam in the plays.
Red is also the color of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross.
Red is also the color of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nicholas and then also became Santa’s uniform!
Evergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn’t last forever! The Romans would exchange evergreen branches during January as a sign of good luck. The ancient Egyptians used to bring palm branches into their houses during the mid winter festivals. In many parts of Europe during the middle ages, Paradise plays were performed, often on Christmas Eve. They told Bible stories to people who couldn’t read. The ‘Paradise Tree’ in the garden of eden in the play was normally a pine tree with red apples tied to it. Now the most common use of green at Christmas are Christmas Trees. Holly, Ivy and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new growth. When Christianity came into Western Europe, some people wanted to keep the greenery, to give it Christian meanings but also to ban the use of it to decorate homes. The UK and Germany were the main countries to keep the use of the greenery as decorations. Here are the Christian meanings:
The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns.
In Scandinavia it is known as the Christ Thorn. In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England says that whatever one was brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year! But it was unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve.
Hanging a circular wreath of evergreens during mid winter seems to go back a very long way. It might have started back in Roman times when wreaths were hung on their doors as a sign of victory and of their status. Rich Roman women also wore them as headdresses at special occasions like weddings and to show they were posh. Roman Emperors also wore Laurel Wreaths. They were also given to the winners of events in the original Olympic Games in Greece. The word ‘wreath’ comes from the Old English word ‘writhen’ which means to writhe or twist. Christmas Wreaths as we know them today, might have started life as Kissing Boughs (see below) or come from the German and Easter European custom of Advent Wreaths.
The Christmas tree came to Christianity when Christians began adopting pagan customs. Its origin is from the pagan festival of Sol Invictus, which celebrated the victory of light over darkness and the lengthening of the sun’s rays at the winter solstice. In pagan ritual, which is overtly sexual in nature, the evergreen tree is a phallic symbol representing a man’s erect penis. The wreath of evergreen branches, being circular, represents a woman’s vaginal opening—this symbolism is hardly Christian in nature by any stretch of the imagination.
The prophet, Jeremiah warned people to avoid the use of so-called Christmas trees of his day. “Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
So now we have covered red and green, we also covered Christmas trees and wreaths. Now you aren’t ignorant, remember this in December when you want to put this up again. Think about what you are doing and how its going to affect your spirit as you practice paganistic traditions. So these four things red, green, christmas trees and wreaths all are apart of the beginning setup for this pagan holiday but what else do we see that starts up at this time? Christmas songs and carols. The list we are about to tackle is not a complete list of all the songs/carols that we could cover. This list is only a basis for you to build your own thoughts about the rest that exist out there. Please don’t take my word for it, look it up yourself.
Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles (The word carol originally meant to dance to something). The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.
Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written in 760, by Comas of Jerusalem, for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write ‘Christmas carols’. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn’t understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.
Now I’m not going to go to much into detail, but I did want to show the paganism behind Christmas carols. Next time you are offered to go caroling, remember the songs you will be singing started out pagan. So red and green is bad, christmas trees and wreaths are bad and now we see that christmas carols/songs are bad. Lets look at the next few slides as we go through some examples.
Glory To The Newborn King
Brothers, sisters, come and sing
Glory to the new-born king!
Gardens peaceful, forests wild
Celebrate the Winter Child!
Now the time of glowing starts!
Joyful hands and joyful hearts!
Cheer the Yule log as it burns!
For once again, the Sun returns!
Brothers, sisters, come and sing!
Glory to the new-born King!
Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun
Through the wind and dark of night
Celebrate the coming light.
Suns glad rays through fear’s cold burns
Life through death the Wheels now turns
Gather round Yule log and tree
Celebrate Life’s mystery
Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun.
Silent Night, Solstice Night
Silver moon shine bright
Snowflakes blanket the slumbering earth
Yule fires welcome the Sun’s rebirth
Hark, the Light is reborn!
Hark, the Light is reborn!
Silent Night, Solstice Night
Quiet rest till the Light
Turning every the rolling wheel
Brings the Winter to comfort and heal
Rest your spirit in peace!
Rest your spirit in peace!
Silent night, Solstice Night
All is calm, all is bright
Nature slumbers in forest and glen
Till the Springtime She wakens again
Sleeping spirits grow strong!
Sleeping spirits grow strong!
Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland!
In a circle we can burn a Yule fire,
And await the rising of the Sun,
It’s the great wheel turning for the new year,
Loaded with abundance and great fun
Later on, by the fire,
Cone of Power, gettin’ higher
Its a Magickal Night, we’re having tonight,
Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland!
Queen of Heaven, is in her place,
Triple Goddess, now the Crone face
Above and below, She’s the Goddess we know,
Dancing in a Wiccan wonderland.
Now the God, is the provider
Supplying game for our fire,
Above and below, He’s the Horned one we know,
Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland
Pagans sing, are you listenin’
Alters set, candles glisten,
Its a magical night, we’re having tonight
Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland
Blades held high, censor smoking,
God and Goddess, we’re invoking,
Through Elements Five, we celebrate life,
Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland,
13 Days of Solstice
ON THE 13TH DAY OF SOLSTICE THE GODDESS SENT TO ME
13 FULL MOONS SHINING
12 SIGNS OF THE HEAVENS
11 KIN OF THE CIRCLE
10 SPHERES OF KABBALA
9 CHANTING MUSES
8 HOLY SABBATS
7 GLOWING CHAKRAS
6 REALMS OF BEING –
4 DIRECTIONS CALLED
GOD AND GODDESS BLESSINGS
AND THE WILL TO ‘HARM YE NONE’
The 12 Days of Christmas are now most famous as a song about someone receiving lots of presents from their ‘true love’. However, to get to the song there had to be the days to start with! The 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until the evening of the 5th January – also known as Twelfth Night. The 12 Days have been celebrated in Europe since before the middle ages and were a time of celebration.
The 12 Days each traditionally celebrate a feast day for a saint and/or have different celebrations:
Day 1 (25th December): Christmas Day – celebrating the Birth of Jesus
Day 2 (26th December also known as Boxing Day): St Stephen’s Day. He was the first Christian martyr (someone who dies for their faith). It’s also the day when the Christmas Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ takes place.
Day 3 (27th December): St John the Apostle (One of Jesus’s Disciples and friends)
Day 4 (28th December): The Feast of the Holy Innocents – when people remember the baby boys which King Herod killed when he was trying
to find and kill the Baby Jesus.
Day 5 (29th December): St Thomas Becket. He was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century and was murdered on 29th December 1170
for challenging the King’s authority over Church.
Day 6 (30th December): St Egwin of Worcester.
Day 7 (31st December): New Years Eve (known as Hogmanay in Scotland). Pope Sylvester I is traditionally celebrated on this day. He was one of the earliest popes (in the 4th Century). In many central and eastern European countries (including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia) New Years Eve is still sometimes called ‘Silvester’. In the UK, New Years Eve was a traditional day for ‘games’ and sporting competitions. Archery was a very popular sport and during the middle ages it was the law that it had to be practised by all men between ages 17-60 on Sunday after Church! This was so the King had lots of very good archers ready in case he need to go to war!Day 8 (1st January): 1st January – Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Day 9 (2nd January): St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two important 4th century Christians.
Day 10 (3rd January): Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This remembers when Jesus was officially ‘named’ in the Jewish Temple. It’s celebrated by different churches on a wide number of different dates!
Day 11 (4th January): St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the past it also celebrated the feast of Saint Simon Stylites (who lives on a small platform on the top of a pillar for 37 years!).
Day 12 (5th January also known as Epiphany Eve): St. John Neumann who was the first Bishop in American. He lived in the 19th century.So thats the religious catholic background of 12 days of christmas but lets look at the pagan side of it. Remember paganism made all these things up and christian catholic leadership stole from them. So lets just dig right in shall we?
Modern heathens opt to celebrate the twelve days of christmas as the Twelve Days of Yule, with the last day culminating on 12th Night. Since ancient calendars followed a different method of time, the solstice celebrations as well as later ‘Christmasy’ style observances can vary from place to place as to when they occur. Today, most pagans and heathens celebrate the yuletide as running from approximately December 20 – December 31 (but there are variations).
We do know that the celebration of Yule wasn’t always twelve days long. In the Norse text Heimskringla: The Saga of Hakon the Good talks about it once lasting for three days, or as long as the ale lasted. The night it began was known as the slaughter night, where animals would be ritually slain. Their meat later used to feed the community, as well as the Gods. It was King Hakon of Norway, who as a Christian passed a law that the Christian Christmas Day (which was already a weird bastardization of the Christian story of the Nativity and Saturnalia/Mithraic customs) AND the pagan yuletide celebrations were to henceforth be celebrated at the same time. While this only specifically impacted Norway (and its territories), it illustrates an intentional combining of the holy-days into one celebration.
Today, the high holy tide is celebrated for twelve days. Whether this was because in some areas it was celebrated for that long originally, or was perhaps some odd creation that came from blending old pagan time-keeping methods and calendars with the modern ones together the end result is the same.
It is customary that NO work is done during the yuletide. From Germanic sources we see stories of the Goddess Berchta punishing those who had left work undone. In the Icelandic Svarfdæla saga, we see a warrior who postpones a fight until after the Yuletide. The Saga of Hakon the Good also speaks that the Yule was to be kept holy. For this reason some Heathen groups opt to conduct no business matters during the time of yule. Some practitioners of the Northern Tradition will even opt to completely withdraw and go incommunicado from online mailing lists, bulletin boards, and social media outlets like facebook so they can stay focused on spending the yuletide with friends and family. While it’s not always an option for everyone, there are those who choose to use vacation time from work so they can have the entire yuletide off as well.
The modern yuletide usually begins for most Heathens with Mother’s Night. In Bede’s De Temporum Ratione he describes what he knows about an old Anglo-Saxon celebration that he states was called Módraniht, which marked the beginning of a new year and was celebrated at the time of Christmas. Apparently Mother’s Night was observed the entire evening through. While little information exists to describe what Mother’s Night was, by looking at the Northern Tradition umbrella we see what appear to be similar rituals. While Yule marks the start of the year for the Anglo-Saxons, we see in Scandinavia that this distinction was at least for some geo-specific locations given to Winter Nights, which had a separate observed ritual to the Disir as part of their celebration. The disir can be understood to be the ancestral mothers, and other female spirits that oversee the family, clan, or tribe. When we reach back to ancient Germania, we also see a thriving cultus dedicated to the “matrons” or the Idis. Female deities are also sometimes included with the disir.
I personally theorize that Saint Lucia’s Day (celebrated primarily in Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden) occurs on December 13th and features a female ‘light-bringer’ may be a Christianized remnant of an ancient disir-related ritual. The Christianized Saint Lucia Day, may have pagan origins related to the figure of Lussi. The practice of Lussevaka – to stay awake through Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, not only fits symbolically well with a solstice celebration of longest night, but also brings to mind the description of Mother’s Night being observed for the entire night as well.
Twelfth Night & Wassail
Yuletide festivities conclude on Twelfth Night. Many modern Heathens will sync this with New Year’s Eve. It’s the last big party to celebrate a new year, celebrate the passing of the darkest (and in theory coldest of times) and to look forward to the lengthening days and warming temperatures. Of all the nights of Yule, this night seems to be the one most closely associated with the custom of wassailing, which embodies in part the customs around caroling as well.
Wassail, Hail, Heilsa, are all different versions of the same root word across a few different languages (Old German, Old Norse, Old English), which essentially relates to health, prosperity and luck, and was used prominently as a type of salutation. Just as some Pagans and Wiccans may greet others with the phrase Blessed Be, many Heathens choose to use Hail as a greeting to their fellow believers. While this term may seem to be antiquated, or specialized to a religion in it’s use, it’s also used in other ways. For instance, the President of the United States has a ‘theme song’ that is played as he makes his ‘entrance’ into many of his public appearances, the song is titled “Hail to the Chief” which colloquially means ‘greetings and good health to the chief/president’. It’s actually really common in many schools (college or high school) fight songs as well, like Purdue University. Of course the most infamous example of its usage comes to us from Nazi Germany’s “Heil Hitler.”
Not only does the term mean health, but it became intimately linked at sometime in the distant pass with a special type of drink that was imbibed for one’s health. Today, we know this as the wassail beverage (as it survives to us among the English customs, though I imagine the German Gluhwein is similar in nature as well). This drink would vary by household (in much the way that there are a variety of different recipes for sangria) but it was meant to be an alcoholic beverage with some fruit juices in it and other herbs and seasonings to help fortify the health of all who imbibed it for the year ahead.
If you’ve ever heard the Christmas carol “Here we come a wassailing among the eaves of green” that’s where the tradition comes from– the wishing of good health and the drinking of wassail during the yuletide celebrations. In some specific areas, those from lower socio-economic tiers would go singing to those of greater wealth, and the higher socio-economic households were supposed to give wassail to the carolers. We also see a number of folk-traditions that show not only songs sung in ancient yuletide celebrations, but also that people sometimes went into the orchards or fields and sang, no doubt asking for the land’s fertility and that the plants would reawaken from winter slumber in the time ahead to feed and sustain us once more.
The Twelve Days of Yule in Modern Practice
While we do not have clear historical evidence pointing to how each day of Yule was celebrated, that hasn’t stopped modern practitioners of the Northern Tradition from creating their own customs and practices.
While some Heathens may simply bookend Yule with Mother’s Night and Twelfth Night and not have specific observances in-between those days, there are some other Heathens who have taken things a step further. Pulling inspiration from the Nine Noble Virtues, and combining it with candle-lighting celebrations like Chanukah or Kwanzaa, they have come up with a reason to light a candle every night during the Yuletide.
An example of which lies below (there are a few variations out there, some focus on different Gods on different nights instead of the virtues):
- Mother’s Night
2. The Winter Solstice (and/or The Wild Hunt)
3. Virtue – Courage
4. Virtue – Truth
5. Virtue – Honor
6. Virtue – Fidelity
7. Virtue – Hospitality
8. Virtue – Discipline
9. Virtue – Industriousness
10. Virtue – Self-Reliance
11. Virtue – Perseverance
12. Twelfth NightSince many Heathens have family members who are Christian (siblings, spouses, children, parents, etc.) many Heathens will still set aside “Christmas-Day” as a time when they get together with the rest of their non-Heathen family.
Gods Typically Honored
In Gulathingslog 7 we see that Yule was celebrated ‘for a fertile and peaceful season’ we also see in the Saga of Hakon the Good that Odin was hailed as a bringer of victory, Njord and Freyr were also hailed for peace and fertility. Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology speaks of how Frau Holle’s annual wagon toured the countryside during the yuletide season for blessings of a fertile year ahead. Deities associated with winter like the winter hunters Ullr and Skadhi are also sometimes hailed. Since this is the day of darkest night, Nott (the Goddess of Night) as well as silver-gleaming Mani (our God of the Moon) may be honored. Some will also honor Dagr (the God of Day) and Sunna (Our Goddess of the Sun) as she will only grow in prominence in the months ahead. Thor is also honored by those who view him as the origin of the various Santa Claus like traditions.