I don’t celebrate Christmas.
For the past ten years I’ve spent a lot of time getting in touch with who I am, and this has meant traveling down the path of Celtic Spirituality, Druidism, and Asatru. I went as far to join the Grove of Dana College and to study with them for two years. I wrote a lot of essays detailing my philosophies and how they coincided with Celtic Spirituality. I reached level of Ovate, and stopped my formal training there, but in Celtic Spirituality you don’t just stop learning. That’s not what Druidism is all about. Druids follow the path to knowledge, the path to communication and the path to the self.
Christmas is the only time of year when being a Druid becomes uncomfortable and awkward. I can’t count how many people have asked me about what I’m doing for Christmas, only to have me on a rant about how as a Druid I celebrate the Winter Solstice.
It pains me to know how ill informed most of my friends are about Winter Solstice. It’s also disheartening how many of the Christmas traditions celebrated by my friends are just Winter Solstice traditions in disguise.
Christmas is really Winter Solstice in disguise.
The Tree: Originally from the Celtic people who would go into the forest, cut down an evergreen tree and keep it inside their homes during the winter. This was because of the faeries, devas, sprites and other woodland mystical creatures that needed somewhere warm to stay during the winter. Since they often lived in trees outside, the idea was to have a tree inside that they could live in.
The Mistletoe: Druids have always been “tree” people, the Oak, Hazel, Ash, and other such trees being central to a lot of their myths. Mistletoe is actually found on Valonia Oak Trees and is said to be a cure for all poisons. This could be where the kissing under the mistletoe came from, because in ancient times, the celtic people would give mistletoe in a drink to anyone looking to be fertile. Kissing under the mistletoe would therefore be a good omen for fertility.
The Holly: Sprigs of Holly were often arranged around Mistletoe in cottages and halls across the country during the Winter Solstice, and then do not forget the battle between the Holly and the Oak tree as outlined in the tale, “Gawain and the Green Knight” in which the Holly tree fights the Oak tree and wins, therefore ruling over the dark half of the year. They fight again at the Summer Solstice whereby the Oak Tree wins, ruling over the summer months of the year.
The Wreath: Again, usually made with pine, holly, and mistletoe, the wreaths were hung and worn as a way of welcoming the fae people to their domiciles, almost as a welcoming mat for these mystical creatures. It was also for protection, if enemies saw a wreath hanging on a door they knew the house was protected by mystical creatures and therefore would not attempt to enter.
The Yule Log: Both from my Druid roots and my Norse roots, the Celtic people would bless and light a yule log and burn it for twelve days. The Norse on the other hand would carve runes of things they didn’t want in their lives, like ill fortune or bad crops and then would burn those things away. Jean Markale was also rather helpful in explaining that in Celtic Spirituality there are only three elements, where the element of spirit as recognized in many Wiccan traditions, in Celtic and Norse traditions, fire is the element of spirit. Therefore, burning the yule log, or bonfires of any type were always sacred to the Celtic people.
The Feast: Often times around this time of year the Celtic people were running low on their stores, and much of the food from the harvest wouldn’t last through the harsh winter. So because of this it became a feast, eat everything in storage that will go bad, keep only what will suffice through the winter. This is where we get the tales of all the big feasts being held in the halls and having everything from boar, to salmon to pheasant.
The Gifts: While it’s more common to see gifts given on Summer Solstice or during Beltane, the Winter Solstice allows us a chance to give meaningful gifts to those we feel connected to. It’s a gesture out of respect and honor for our friends and family.
The Rebirth of the Sun: Celtic people believed that because Winter Solstice was on the shortest day of the year, it was a time when the sun was being reborn. In a sense this is an apocalyptic day for the Celtic people because at that time they didn’t know if the sun would return for another year, another cycle. I think it’s obvious why early Christians chose this holiday as the one to align with their own spirituality.
The Date: Probably the number one question I get asked is ‘when is Winter Solstice?” and this is sad since the weather man will tell you as will the calendar, it is recognized on the shortest day of the year, December 21st.
Those are the things that greatly overlap when it comes to Christmas and Winter Solstice, but of course there are differences in the meanings behind each of the traditions recognized during Winter Solstice, but the symbols still live on in today’s society.
Every year we invite friends and family over to celebrate Winter Solstice and this year is no different with us serving a traditional berry salad (with raspberry vinigarette,) salmon, ham, corn on the cob, vegetables of every kind, and anything else my husband decides to cook!
Hope your holidays are as festive and meaningful as mine are!