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The Llewellyn Journal

Crafting Yuletide Cheer

This article was written by A.C. Fisher Aldag
posted under Pagan

The season of Yule can be a mixed blessing to Pagan parents. Many of the holiday festivities, school parties, and retail displays seem to be centered on the dominant culture. It might be a little difficult to explain to your children about our beliefs at this time of year, amidst the barrage of Santa Claus, shopping mania, and “Silent Night.” The Goddess and the returning Sun King may seem to take a back seat to opening presents. However, this is one of the best times to involve your children in Earth-based spirituality. Many Christmas symbols really did come from Pagan traditions, and several legends including Santa and the reindeer can be traced to pre-Christian origins. Not only is this a wonderful opportunity to share the holiday customs of many faiths, we can also teach our children the meaning of our own Yule celebrations.

Llewellyn readers can find books with some excellent ideas for commemorating Yule. Dan and Pauline Campanelli’s The Wheel of the Year and Edain McCoy’s Sabbats describe many meaningful rituals and fun crafts. Dorothy Morrison’s Yule gives a detailed history of the holiday, as well as recipes, art projects, and spiritual ceremonies. This article is geared toward Pagan parents with small children, and intended to supplement these existing sources. You can explain many of our favorite traditions to the youngsters while involving them in related arts and crafts or allowing them to help you in the kitchen. Many of these ideas can be shared with non-Pagan friends and relatives, without causing offense.

That Jolly Old Elf
The legend of Santa Claus may be based on Saturn, an elderly white-bearded Roman god who was responsible for distributing gifts. Santa may have been modeled on Odin of the German, Icelandic, and Scandinavian pantheons. Santa’s reindeer chariot might have come from the Finnish legend of Vainamoinen, who lived in the north, had a magical workshop, and wore a long white beard. If you feel comfortable divulging Santa’s secret identity, you might want to teach your children about the “avatar” concept. An explanation we’ve found useful is: “You know how the priestess ‘becomes’ the Goddess in ritual? Mommy invokes the spirit of Santa Claus the same way.” Our kids enjoy being the avatar of Santa themselves, choosing gifts for classmates or grandparents. You can explain Santa’s history while creating these crafts:

Trim a Yule Tree
If you have ornaments you’ll need a tree to hang them on. Many families have an artificial tree, but you needn’t feel guilty over buying a live evergreen. Here in Michigan, holiday trees are just another farm crop, like corn, planted and harvested yearly. The Yule tree tradition really does have Pagan roots. In Ireland and Cornwall, many trees were decorated near sacred wells year-round. In Norway, evergreens were brought into the house, but hung upside down from the rafters to save space!

You might want to decorate a tree outside for the birds. Smear peanut butter on pinecones and roll them in birdseed. Hang ears of field corn from pretty ribbons. String popcorn and cranberries. Attach a bell-shaped seed feeder to the top. During your child’s winter break from school, get up early to watch all the feathered visitors enjoy your outdoor Yule tree.
Magic Reindeer
Yule is a wonderful time to explain about the Horned Lord called Herne, Cerne, Cernunnos, or Boucca in western Europe. You might also wish to discuss the importance of deer and other wildlife in many cultures. The Navajo have a sacred deer kachina. Finnish and Lapp people still use reindeer as herd animals, for meat, fur, and milk. Folks in Bhutan, Mexico, and South America revere an entity much like Herne, who appears in sacred dances and dramatizations. In Abbots Bromley, England, reindeer antlers are used in a ritualized folk dance that has been presented for over nine hundred years. Of course, children in America love the tale of Santa’s eight flying reindeer. You can make some of these crafts while singing about Rudolf and friends, or while an adult reads The Night Before Christmas aloud. (If you’d like, change the title to “Yule.”)
Yummy Yule Goodies
We enjoy many traditional holiday foods at this time of year, including gingerbread cookies, figgy pudding, roast goose, candy canes, and Wasshail. Your children may enjoy “wassailing the trees,” a British and Germanic custom for blessing the spirits of the woods. Splash some apple cider at the base of each tree, while calling “to your health!”
More Timely Traditions
Decorating with holly and ivy, lighting a Yule log, and commemorating the Goddess in her mother and crone or grandmother aspect are all delightful Pagan traditions. You can find representations of the crone Goddess in the form of Mrs. Claus and the good Scandinavian witch who brings candy and goodies. The Latvian people have a female elf who distributes presents. Besides the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, other cultures revere a Mother Goddess who gives birth to a son representing light, including the Egyptian Isis and Horus, the Persian Asura and Mithras, and the Welsh Rhiannon and Pryderi.

Your children can honor the Goddess at this festive time of year by singing carols in a nursing home, or distributing goodies at a women’s shelter. Many carols have Pagan overtones, such as “Deck the Halls” and “Here We Come a Wassailing”. Others are religion-neutral, such as “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bells.” A nice present for an elder: Wrap a new washcloth around a bar of non-scented soap. Tie it with a pretty ribbon. Stuff the whole thing into a soft bedroom slipper. Fill the other slipper with a shampoo bottle. Put the gift into a pre-decorated paper sack, tied with more ribbon. You might also want to help your youngsters choose gifts for the local kids’ charity drive.
May you and your children enjoy a blessed, peaceful and merry Yule!

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