I know I’m not alone in this: the 2020 Holiday season is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
I would say it’s because of being away from family, but as a nine-year Army veteran, I’ve often been away from friends and family during Yule and their holidays—so, that’s not quite unusual. After the Army, I moved to Indianapolis: just close enough for my family to come for a long weekend, but far enough away they couldn’t just drop in without at least a little notice to make sure my partner Adam and I were home. (A brilliant plan!)
I would also say it’s because I’m not with my Coven in Augusta (GA), which always has the best celebrations around Yule complete with a blazing fire and all the best food and merriment; but for all but two years of my spiritual life, I was largely solitary and not part of any community. I was heavily “in the broom closet,” as many private pagans would say. That’s not to say that I don’t miss my coven, just that 2020 isn’t unique because of it.
No, I know 2020 is most different because I can’t do the things that make the Holidays worth celebrating to me as I normally would: not just being with friends and family in celebration—we survived another year! —but reaching out into the community beyond. During my time in the Army, all my fellow Soldiers who were unable to go home for the Holidays could come on over; we’d have enough plates for everyone and be able to load up a car-full to feed the houseless in our community. The relief, fellowship, and sharing of good spirit & cheer was unmatched in those days; now this is significantly more difficult to do without risking exposure to COVID-19 or passing the illness along to our most vulnerable populations as an asymptomatic carrier. How can I celebrate Yuletide, spreading the light and the love to my community, without being physically present in it? How do I continue to exist in covenant with my community during a time where safety requires me to stay socially distant?
Neopaganism celebrates Yule from its Germanic roots, but understands that the events during Yuletide set the stage for the New Year. Though divination practices are ever-present, Yule is not as much about predicting what’s to come as how everything that happens during yuletide (this year, from 21 December until 1 January) actively contributes to what will happen—the excessive eating, drinking, and merriment usher in the same energy and literal things in the coming year. It also is a time for making promises and oaths, often done in fellowship over a gigantic Yule Log with so much meade, wines, or spiced drinks from pagan recipes and spellwork as a further option for those celebrating sober Holidays. The Yule Log is not just the big burning hunk of tree—inside the home, it’s a smaller branch decorated with Holly, sprigs of pine or fir, and berries with places carved to hold candles. Families and friends write their intentions and wishes on paper and slip them into cracks or carved slots in this wood. Then they burn it in the fireplace for the flames to carry those written hopes out into the universe, and appeal to the gods. While there is so much more to Yule than the logs, the idea behind both of these practices and the overall celebration is that the sun is returning, bringing light through the darkest days and the longest nights. This is also a special time of year because Yule is a Sabbat (high holiday) and also happens around the New Moon (where we’re called to set our intentions for the next cycle) and the full moon esbats. During this time we are reminded that Light is both always present and always coming—even if we can’t readily see it, as in a new moon.
For 2020, I’m still trying to get as close to the spirit of Yule and the dark days as much possible by sharing in abundance where I can, and to everyone I can: donations to the local food pantry yield so much for those in need, setting up food or coffee for first responders and my medical friends is always appreciated, helping my parent friends out by offering to take their kiddos off their hands for a bit of much-needed self care time is rewarding for everyone. There are so many ways to limit exposure risk while still engaging with the needs of my community, that the spirit of Yule is still very present; it just requires a different expression than in the past.
To ground myself in my private practice, and prepare for the future we make now, I ask:
In this past year, where have I seen the light?
In this coming year, how do I look forward to carrying light forward?
How does what I do now set the stage for my next year?
So it is, and so may it be.
Blessings and a Good Yule to all!
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Siren Hand (They/She) is a writer and spoken word poet based out of Indianapolis (IN). As a Celtic-based eclectic pagan, they are a lover of world belief and religion, inspired by lessons learned from stories passed down through generations of open practices and living traditions. In addition to writing The Woven Wisdom Oracle (available at thewovenwisdom.com) and the forthcoming The Woven Wisdom: Bibliomancy & Card Guide (illustrated by UK Artist Steve Samsara), Siren is also the Founder and Curator of Observe The Word Poetry, which examines how poetry gives back to our communities. They can be contacted at ObserveTheWordOTW@gmail.com or through facebook.com/WriterSiren.