Today is the day, at approximately 5:58pm the Winter Solstice will occur. To most of you this probably means nothing more than three more days of Christmas shopping, but for an ever increasing number of North County residents this is a high holy day. Predating the Christian holiday, Yule was a time of community, and marked both a time of balance, and a time of change.
Yule rituals speak to the beauty of the Old Religion, a faith that recognizes the interconnected nature of all in existence. Where Christmas is a Christian ritual complete with original myths such as a virgin birth and three kings, with enough time on their hands to go star chasing, the Christian holiday also borrows from the Wiccan faith in many ways.
First and foremost is the Christmas tree, which has it's origins in the oak Yule log. The Yule Log was the celtic bonfire brought in from the cold. In addition, the yule tree was also brought inside and adorned with small glass bowls holding individuals candles. These lights symbolized faery fire, and is said to represent the beating of a faery's heart.
Also finding their beginnings in the pagan faiths of Northern Europe are the traditions of the pine wreath, which represents the circle of life, and mistletoe, the Druid's herb, which was used to bring warmth, nurturing and love into the home. And probably the most profound altering of pagan traditions was the co-opting of Father Winter.
No longer used to symbolizes giving to the needy, the bearded gentleman in fur-lined, red robes, now gives gifts to the greedy. And where Father Winter once gave fruit, plants, and magical herbs, he now is responsible for all sorts of unnecessary consumer goods. Santa is nothing more than a marketing tool thought up by someone at the Coca Cola corporate office.
Every year I struggle with the Christmas thing because of it's impact on the environment. The harvesting of trees has to be the biggest waste of resources in a season of wanton waste. Many of you folks are saying to yourselves, "the trees are grown to be cut down." That is true, but monoculture tree farms are grown at the expense of native habitat.
Here at the Scenic house we have a decorated a live Sycamore tree that we have named Zachariah. On the first day of the new year Zach will be planted, and the leaves he drops will provided considerably more mulch than the chipping of discarded pines. Live native trees could also be donated to schools and parks, that is what I call a goodwill gesture.
In my opinion, America should make up it's mind and quit doing the bi-polar holiday dance. If this is a religious holiday it should be treated with reverence, not commercial hype. If Christmas is a commercial holiday, designed only to bolster the economy, I say we officially change it's name to Stuffmass, which would be more in keeping with current focus of the holiday.
Or we could do the sensible thing and embrace the holiday rituals that pre-dates the kid in the manger and return to the practice of celebrating the seasons and nature, while bringing family and friends together with open arms. Currently the holiday season is a time of outreached hands, and that all too familiar Christmas carol, "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme."