Wheel of the Year: Yule Tide Wishes

Just about everyone loves Christmas, but very few know how it came to incorporate trees and many of the other elements we know and love today. Even fewer realize that there was no way Jesus could have been born in our winter based on the stories and times of the year depicted in the Bible. Still, we muddle along until another pagan shares these things with us.

I actually can’t wait for Christmas this year. I’m going to spend most of the month sharing pagan versions of Christmas songs among other ideas I have rolling around in my mind.  Granted, I have the same ideas for Samhain, but I digress. That’s a post for another day.

The Winter Solstice, a lesser Sabbat, marks the longest night of the year.  It is a time of renewal.  While many cultures celebrate this holiday in different ways, we’re just going to talk about a few of the more common ways here.

There are two main versions of how this part of the cycle of the year goes. The first indicates that the Goddess is pregnant with the God, the second contests that he is born at this time. Some say that the Goddess lies in sleep, mourning her God. Symbolically at midnight, the spark of life is renewed and she awakens from her sleep to find she is pregnant with the God.  To celebrate the news, people exchange gifts and blessings for a prosperous new year.

So why the ideological difference?

Origins of Yule

The word Yule comes from the Norse word “lul”, which means wheel.  There are even some traditions that vary and claim that this is the beginning of the year.  They believe that since Yule is the longest night that the next day must be the beginning of the new year. It’s just a matter of perspective, but not the norm.  The yule birth mythos mirrors that of the solar cycle.

As a side note, Solstice is a Druid word meaning “time stands still”.

Regardless of the mythos you follow, Yule represents life and new promises. That is why we give gifts, though they used to not be as materialistic as we are today. The gifts given back then were blessings or a talisman.  Of course, this appeals to many raised in a Christian household because it allows us to remember our past and still cherish those old traditions.   Not to mention the fact that the Goddess giving birth to the God is mirrored in the story of Jesus.

On the other hand, Ostara birth mythos mirrors the natural growth of plants and the living world.  It is an observance of life, rather than the stars. In this version, the Goddess is aware of the promise of the renewal of the God.  She is aware of the God growing in her body and her joy begins the bounty of the new year.  It allows the days to lengthen and for light to return to the Earth, which of course, allows things to grow.  Here Yule is a time of reflection and renewal or new beginnings.

Where does Santa fit in?

We know he has nothing to do with Christianity itself.  And it’s hard to see what he might have to do with a pregnant Goddess. So what’s the skinny on the big man in the suit?

Santa Claus has many origins. We’re going to talk about three; one well known, the other, not so much.  The first is in Spain as a poor priest, Nicholas, who loved children.  While he himself didn’t have much to give, he took of his time to make the poor children of the city gifts and leave them on their doorsteps at Yule.  Later he was canonized as St. Nicholas, protector of children.

As much as I like the first story, the second catches my fancy much more. In Norway, people would leave offerings of food and clothing for poor families, to help them survive the winter. The offerings were always anonymous. Eventually this tradition came to be known as “Offerings of the Winter Spirits”. In the Norse tongue “winter spirits” is “Sinter Klaus” which would later be anglicized into Santa Claus.

Now Santa has his own interesting story. He was a protective and benevolent deity. He gave of himself for mankind.  There are some who say he can be linked back to Odin. So why does he drive a sleigh with eight reindeer? Well supposedly, as his story was retold via oral tradition, it was changed.  Some say that in the original story, the reindeer isn’t a reindeer at all, but Odin’s eight legged steed Sleipnir. And why a sled? Well, if you think about it, what other vessel made sense for a country covered in winter’s blanket of snow for seven months of the year?

The same happened with elves, as they were mischievous spirits.  A story told many times gets shifted from its original tale. But as their stories became intertwined Santa became associated with the naughty and nice list.

And finally, why a red suit? Well in many Victorian pictures he is seen in a green or brown cloak.  Going further back he’s dressed similarly to the green man. The red suit didn’t come into play until 1931 and a Coca Cola commercial….look it up.

As Miles Batty in Teaching Witchcraft said: “Just Imagine, Odin selling a Coke….what a sight!”

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