Confusion over carols

As I mentioned before, my church had its Candlelit Carol service on the night of the Winter Solstice, as it was the last Sunday before Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed going, partly because of the candles, partly because we usually get a lot of good carols (i.e. ones that I like), partly because my birthday falls around then, and partly because it means Christmas happens soon.

It went well, although there were a couple of slip-ups on the part of our organist, who forgot to start playing for the last verse of one hymn, so you had the entire congregation going ‘Sss…’ as we started to sing the first word and realised there was no music, which always makes us smile.
The other oops moment, which prompted this post, was more… theologically interesting, at least from my point of view. One of the carols we sang was ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, which has a different number of verses depending on the date. The last verse, which begins ‘Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning…’ is only sung on Christmas Day, for obvious reasons, and always has a note printed next to it in hymnbooks stating this. So when the organist slipped up and kept playing after the previous verse, there were quite a few looks exchanged among the congregation. Most people just carried on singing, but I was one of the few who didn’t.

Amused, I remarked to my parents afterwards (both definitely Methodist, one of whom sang the verse and one who didn’t) that I didn’t realise our church was going Pagan, and explained why singing that verse on the Solstice referred more to the Sun-God than the Son of God. It was only the next day that I began to wonder why I didn’t sing that verse. After all, I define myself as Christo-Pagan, I celebrate the eight Sabbats as well as the Church festivals, and a chance mistake like that should surely have had me belting out the words with gusto. So why didn’t I?

It’s taken a while, but after mulling it over I think I’ve worked out why. In my private devotions I don’t really separate Christianity and Paganism, there’s a mix of practices from both religions that I perform, a bit of Gnostic belief thrown in, as well as a couple of religious gestures I’ve borrowed from other faiths. But when I’m worshipping publicly, at a church service or in a circle with more than just me in it (which admittedly has only happened twice), I compartmentalise my physical actions, whatever I may be thinking or saying in my head. So I don’t sing for the re-birth of the Sun at a carol service, and when I went to stay with a friend for Litha I put the Orthodox icon I use when travelling on the altar we set up, but I kept the doors of the triptych closed.

The true, original, real meaning of ‘Christmas’

Or as close as makes no difference anyway.

Let’s say we find out an asteroid is going to hit the earth at some point over the next three months … How would humanity as a whole react? Well, I know how: we would prepare as best we could, and then we would surround ourselves with the people we love most and party our asses off. We would do it, because we would realize it might be our last chance. I know this, because we have Christmas.

I’m an inveterate Cracked reader, and I came across this article last night when I was supposed to be going to sleep, because Cracked is my procrastination drug of choice. I read it, and as a historian, archaeologist, re-enactor, and human being my brain just went ‘YES’. So I thought I’d share it with you.

The True Meaning of Christmas (That Everyone Forgets) – David Wong

Ignore the secular consumerism, ignore the birth of Jesus, ignore the co-opted pagan festivals that Christ’s-Mass replaced, I agree that this is why large portions of humanity get together to celebrate the fact that everything has died, it’s bloody cold, and we’ve still got about two months of crappy weather ahead of us which some people won’t survive.

On that longest night before the frozen mini-apocalypse, in all times and places you would find light and song and dancing and food … so, if you’re gathering with your family and friends this time of year, I personally don’t care what you call the holiday as long as you celebrate it with this in mind:

You don’t get many of these. Make them count.

Yule-ness

Well my plan for this ritual year has already fallen by the wayside. Since last Yule, I managed to celebrate about two of the Sabbats on the correct date, with the rest a day or three after. While I was always able to find time on the day itself to remember the festival and think about the meaning and how it fits into the Wheel of the Year, I very rarely had the chance to perform a ritual. At Litha it was because I had been driving for three hours after work and was absolutely shattered and fell asleep, but the rest of the delayed celebrations were due to a lack of time where I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed.

Because I was fed up with seeing the word ‘belated’ next to my Sabbat notes for the year, in the lead-up to this Yule I decided I was going to celebrate the Sabbats  on the day, dammit. Alas, the Solstice this year fell on the 21st, it’s now the 23rd, and while I have appropriately coloured candles on my altar, that’s all I’ve done so far. It doesn’t help that in the lead-up to Christmas and Yule this year I’ve been incredibly disorganised – I only started my Christmas shopping a week ago, and never got round to sorting out an Advent candle for my altar or an Advent calendar for me (huzzah, an excuse to eat chocolate every day for a month!).

A couple of months ago I had thought that I would have moved into a place of my own by now, and would therefore have the freedom to practice openly, but the place I was buying fell through and I haven’t found anywhere else yet that I can see as my future home, so it looks like I’ll be repeating the delayed pattern again for a while.
Sunday the 21st was a fairly busy day to begin with, as I was round a friend’s house in the morning, and meant to be meeting up with a prospective coven in town in the late afternoon, but I had completely forgotten that it was our church’s Candlelit Carol service that evening and that I’d agreed to do a reading. So what with that and being sociable and eating food, I had no time to celebrate Yule before I had to go to bed.
Yesterday was my birthday, so I had no time to myself (not that I minded – there were presents and cake after all), and if I don’t get the chance tonight, Yule will have to wait until after Christmas. It’s annoying, but then I’ve not been able to celebrate Easter properly for the past three years, so perhaps I should just aim to celebrate the majority of festivals and Sabbats on the correct date rather than all of them.

So, Christo-Pagan?

Yeah, I’ll explain that bit in more depth later.

Basically I was brought up Methodist, but my spirituality has been evolving since at least the third year of my undergrad, if not before, and now has a definite pagan slant. I still go to church, sing hymns, say prayers, and listen to sermons. I also light candles, use prayer beads, cross myself, and enjoy being in decorated churches with statues and stained glass – definitely not Methodist. I also cast circles, use crystals, herbs, and coloured spell candles, celebrate the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, and use divination methods such as Tarot cards – definitely not Christian.

I’m not out to convert anyone – I don’t believe my way is the best, only, or right way and that everyone else should do the same. If you have a spiritual path that works for you, shiny. If you are an atheist, also shiny. But this is the path that I have found works for me so far, and I’m planning to follow it until it stops working, if it ever does.

So why this blog? Well, I’ve been reading a few pagan blogs for the last couple of months and I like the way the authors have used them to record their life, attitudes, and practices when it comes to religion, as well as various events in their lives, and they have inspired me to do the same. Not that I believe the world needs to hear what I have to say, but hopefully some of you reading this will find it interesting, maybe helpful, or even just entertaining.

So why now? There are many New Years, and they all start in different places in the calendar – there’s the civil new year, the financial new year, the Christian liturgical year, various historical new years, a multitude of cultural new years, and new years celebrated by different religions. While for a lot of pagans, especially Wiccans, the New Year starts at Samhain, my ritual new year starts at Yule. The Solstice has passed, the sun is new and reborn, the days are getting longer (apparently), and tonight is a new moon – a time for new beginnings. What better point to start a new spiritual venture?