The Happy Yule Gnome brings in greenery and carries out the B.S.!
Let’s face it, the holiday season can be difficult for Pagans, Wiccans and Polytheists. We might enjoy the idea of Thanksgiving and Christmas – the notion of good cheer, family togetherness, a wholesome dinner, and merry tidings of joy. We may even like certain aspects of the celebrations, such as the decorations, the shopping, the music, and the food. However, we might dislike the “Christmas fever” that overtakes American society, which seems to begin earlier every year. This year, it seemed as if the minute the pumpkins came down, the plastic trees and ornaments went up. The commercialism may be bothersome. The religious overtones might be hard to digest. Some of us might be facing economic troubles, and can’t afford to buy everyone presents or purchase a fifty-pound turkey. We don’t all have a great relationship with our biological families. There may be political, ideological, and religious differences between us and our kinfolk, which can cause arguments during a prolonged visit. We might even have serious emotional wounds left over from abusive childhoods. While this article cannot replace psychological counseling, it may be able to offer some help and advice for coping during the mainstream holidays.
Before we begin, think of five things you like about the holiday season, and five things that are problematic for you. Some of us may truly enjoy watching parades or football games, others might find it excruciating. We might want to cut a live tree, while others can only think of the death of the environment. Others might really like Christmas carols on the radio, while for some, it’s auditory torture. What events can we participate in that bring us pleasure? Baking cookies, going ice skating, watching movies on TV, driving around and looking at light displays are activities that are “religious neutral” and fun. What holiday things that we dislike can we avoid? And what must we participate in, and how can we make the best of a bad situation? We may have to attend the obligatory office party, but we can duck out of the neighborhood gossip fest. Or we can bring our own traditions to the gathering – see if you can engage your co-workers in Wassailing the Trees or creating handmade ornaments. Suggest alternatives that work for everyone – how about a cooking party? Attending a concert with a neutral holiday theme, such as “The Nutcracker Suite”, or a restaurant, or walking through a decorated park, might be much more enjoyable for everyone concerned.
Those of us with children may have to compromise – allowing the young ones to watch three pre-selected Christmas specials on T.V., finding programs that emphasize our own values, such as tolerance and sharing. One mother was appalled by a cartoon that showed a “good” kid receiving lots of presents from Santa, when her family was financially strapped and unable to afford more than one pair of mittens and one small toy per child. We may have to explain that rewards aren’t always material. Others may feel overwhelmed by images of baby Jesus and songs that proclaim “He is the king” and “He rules the world”. During Thanksgiving, we might be upset by revisionist history that shows Indians eating happily with tolerant Puritans, when we really want to participate in the First Nations’ “Day of Mourning”. We may have to simply turn off the television and radio and play DVDs of our favorite movies. Or take out a wheelbarrow-load of library books. If we can’t avoid it – attending the annual school Christmas program, where your child is the lead reindeer – we can try to make the best of it. Sing songs with traditional meaning, such as “Deck the Halls” or something without religious overtones, like “Frosty the Snowman” and sit stoically through “Silent Night”. Or hide your earbuds under your hat and listen to Pagan music or your favorite podcast. Learn about another culture’s harvest holidays, or if you can afford it, go to a place like Chinatown, or stay in a motel owned by a Hindu family – someplace where Christmas doesn’t exist. Our family has gone to Skokie, IL and hid out for a weekend. Many theaters show movies on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, where you can escape the holiday hassle for a couple of hours.
Then there’s family visits, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas presents around the tree, a dinner with your entire clan. All of them. Even Uncle Ralph, who might be a closet racist. If these scenarios make you grit your teeth, just thinking about them, you might want to propose some activity that is much less stressful. How about holding Thanksgiving at a favorite family restaurant, where everyone chips in for the bill? Or a Thanksgiving potluck on neutral ground?
On Christmas, you may be expected to come to an extended family get-together. This can be difficult if your loved ones are in denial about your sexual orientation, angry about your religion or lifestyle, or disappointed about some other expectations that they feel are unmet.
You may need to propose a compromise here, as well. Tell your family members that there are certain topics that you will not discuss, and ignore any attempt to draw you in. Remind yourself that your life is one that you chose and recall the reasons that it makes you happy. And also, remind yourself that your family is entitled to their opinions, and you are not responsible for their choices. Release karma. Perform shielding and grounding rituals to magickally protect yourself from baneful glares and hurtful words. Go to your family’s Christmas extravaganza for a few hours, bring the materials to bake a Yule log or homemade cookies together. Bring crafts items to construct nut cups that resemble turkeys, or make construction-paper chains with the younger relatives. Go outdoors and create snowmen, dance in the piles of leaves, make snow fairies, or just go for a walk. Volunteer to haul youngsters around the block on their sleds. Help the teens to hang lights or do other activities that take you out of the house, away from the relentless holiday spirit.
Or, don’t go. That’s right, do not go to your family’s celebration, if you’d really rather not. So often, we hear people say that they “Have To” go home for the holidays. Grown adults do not “have to” do anything but pay taxes and breathe. It is your choice. If returning to your family household for the holidays is going to send you into therapy, you do not “have to” do it. You do not have to subject yourself to verbal abuse or painful situations. You may be able to communicate by phone, or Facebook, or write a nice non-religious holiday greeting… or not communicate at all.
Some Pagan traditions might go over bettter than others, LOL.
You might want to do some research -- watch You Tube videos about ancient traditions like Wassailing, Mumming, the Mari Lwyd, the Stag Hunt, gift-giving, decorating with greenery, and so forth. Share the info with loved ones.
Krampus is optional.
Okay, so your family isn’t really all that bad, just mildly annoying. Your grandma insists that when you just met the right girl, you’ll decide not to be Gay. Or your mom really wants you to raise your children as Episcopalians, if you’d just get over this “witchcraft phase”. You may have to establish certain ground rules, by phone or email before visiting your family. “I am bringing my significant other, and you will be nice to him throughout the day.” “Sally and I cannot afford presents for everyone this year. You know that I am laid off. Let’s pull names out of a hat, or make presents, or have a spending limit of ten dollars.” “Mom, I know your religious traditions are important to you, but the kids and I are not going to church for Christmas Eve services. How about you explain to your grandkids about the Christmas story?” You can prompt your children in advance that some people believe XXX, and other people believe YYY, and that you believe in the Goddess and magick. “Every path is wonderful and has validity, but Grandma’s way doesn’t work for me. How about you listen to her, and learn about her religion?” Hopefully, compromises can be reached.
Younger people in college or working a seasonal job might not have any choice about going home for the holidays. Or you may live at home, for whatever reason. If you’re somehow dependent on your family – economically, or for living conditions, or emotionally… you truly want to maintain a good relationship without upsetting them over your religious or social life – then you may have to put up with their well-intentioned yet irritating holiday celebrations for a few days.
Think about what is worth a confrontation and what is not… can you tuck your religious jewelry under your shirt, or will this make you feel emotionally uncomfortable or dishonest? Can you endure a prayer over dinner? Can you keep silent while certain topics of discussion are brought up? Can you re-direct conversations so as to avoid an argument? Consider ways to balance your religious needs with your family life. Will offering your own libation cause a fight, and if so, can you do it later, in silence?
It may help to make your needs known beforehand. “Mom, I’m a vegetarian. Gravy contains meat juices, so please don’t put any gravy on my mashed potatoes.” “Dad, I really appreciate the presents that you buy, but please don’t purchase anything from that company, because their products are made by slave labor.” They might have perfectly legitimate requests of you, as well. Try to reach an understanding.
You may want to sit down with your loved ones, tell them that they are meaningful to you, but that you do not share the same religious views, and therefore, you do not wish to attend Mass or light the Menorah or sit through another church meeting where the preacher shouts that non-believers are going to hell. If they remain unyielding, you may have to bite the bullet, attend the religious services, and count light bulbs or red panels in the stained glass. Silently say prayers to your own Gods. Touch the wooden church pews and invoke the tree spirits laying dormant within.
Remember to ground, center and shield yourself. Or you might suggest alternatives, such as staying home and cleaning the house, shoveling snow, or participating in a charitable event, instead. Dad probably has a good point if you’re sleeping in until three and playing video games throughout the holiday week, when he’d rather you go to church. It may be more difficult for parents to argue in favor of religious rites if you’re spending Christmas morning serving breakfast at a soup kitchen or delivering presents to needy children. And pray. Pray to your Gods for tolerance, fortitude, and patience.
A.C. Fisher Aldag
Chronicler of Cymric Folklore, Granmother and grouch. Enjoyer of good food.
Common Magick from Llewellyn Worldwide
Witches & Pagans # 38 & # 39 from BBI
Llewellyn's Witches' Companion 2022 & 2023 from Llewellyn Worldwide