TUESDAY, Nov. 26 — Considering that adorning an evergreen fir tree with decorative ornaments is a pagan tradition, what else does Christmas have in common with paganism?
Elayne Glantzberg, a reverend with Wiccan group Weavers of the Web, said the holiday festivities have deeper pagan roots than we realize.
“A lot of these secular traditions come from the pagan origin. The Yule log is one tradition that is specifically pagan without as much Christian hold,” Glantzberg said. “It is where we light a full log in a bonfire or fireplace to keep the light going while the sun is gone.”
Most pagans celebrate Yule — the winter solstice Dec. 21, which is also the longest night of the year. Pagans keep a fire burning and light shining until the sun rises.
“Christmas is the rebirth of the Christian king as the incarnation of God. Yule is not much different. However, we see it as a cyclical thing instead of a unique event,” Glantzberg said. “Most pagan and Wiccan traditions worship the god and goddess. With the god deity, we look at the year as a cycle of birth and death.”
The loss of sunlight is very prominent in pagan tradition.
“It is historically not a good time of year. It was cold, food was short, you had to butcher animals and find a decent shelter,” Glantzberg said. “In our Yule ritual, we turn off all the lights in the room to signify the loss of the sun. Then we do a divination where everyone gets to draw runes on the meaning of the new year. Then we’ll turn the lights back on and everybody sees Odin or Saint Nicholas arriving to give presents to everyone.”
Pagans maintain that St. Nicholas and Odin have more in common than most realize. Both figures travel and enter into homesteads in mysterious ways while bearing gifts.
“The tradition of St. Nicholas falls out of that mythology while the red and white cloaks come from the Coca Cola company. Older style St. Nicholas depictions see hooded cloaks with bells, which was very Odin like.”
Pagans participating in a supposed “war on Christmas” is laughable, she added.
“I am not aware of any pagan who is out to destroy Christmas, but a lot of pagans try to separate Yule from Christmas and are wary of the whole Santa Claus mythos.”
Gift giving is prevalent, however.
“Just a couple of hundred years ago, there was a festival similar to saturnalia where you would have the peasants going to the woods to have a large dinner with people exchanging gifts,” Glantzberg said. “The celebration during this time of year is very common throughout history with many traditions.”
However, the holidays can be a trying time for pagans and their families, Glantzberg said.
“There is absolutely friction around Christmas. For a lot of pagans, it’s similar to the LGBTQ+ community — it can be difficult to be around family this time of year where people can infringe on your identity and personal beliefs. You have a whole different set of rules and values while the rest of the world is jingle-belling around.”
Glantzerg will celebrate Yule with an all-nighter, burning candles, watching movies and playing board games with her family. Only when the sun rises again will she rest. During this time, mid-Michigan is usually cloaked in 15 hours of darkness.
Cedarsong Druids Yule Celebration
Dec. 14, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Inner Ascended Masters Ministry
5705 S. Washington, Lansing