My take on the Yule log

The Yule log is a tradition in both the Christian and Pagan faiths, although these days the actual burning of the log seems to happen more in Pagan circles than Christian ones. As with most holiday traditions there are variations, often regional, but generally the log is brought into the house and lit at either Midwinter – the Solstice – or on Christmas Day, often having garlanded it with greenery and annointed it with seasonally appropreate liquor, then left to burn out. When selecting one’s log it was considered best to look for one that would burn for many days, ideally twelve, corresponding to the Twelve Days of Christmas, lasting from the 25th to the 6th of January, the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi visited the infant Christ. In today’s Pagan traditions the log is left to burn out to welcome and guide the newborn Sun, and in Heathenry it may be left to burn for the Twelve Days of Yule, lasting from the Solstice to the civil New Year on January 1st. For both Christians and Pagans is it considered good luck to save a piece of the log and/or some of the ashes to lght the next year’s log with.

Whatever may have been done with the Yule log historically, not everyone today lives somewhere with a fireplace, and even if you’re lucky enough to have a working one in your house they’re not always big enough to fit a lump of wood capable of burning for several days, especially considering modern fire safety guidelines. Ways around this are many and ingenious. They range from the chocolate Yule log with candles (which is not only delicious but also a popular secular version of the tradition), to decorated logs with holes bored for candles, mini Yule logs that can be burned on a table top, and artificial log-shaped candle holders.

Considering my flat doesn’t have a fireplace coupled with the fact that I like burning things, mini-logs were something I strongly considered doing, but as I also like the continuity of using part of the old log to light the new there was no way I’d be able to make that idea work in practice. The biggest log/twig length I’d be able to burn comfortably here would be about three inches, and if I kept a sliver of it for next year I’d only mislay it or forget to use it, no matter where I put it and how many notes I left for myself. So what am I doing instead? Using my Advent candle!

 

IMG_2673
My Advent candle earlier this month, next to a Christmassy smelling candle I’ve had for a couple of years and the Advent calendar I got given by a friend at church. My usual Advent calendar is reusable and a lot less religious, but still at the parents’.

I’ve used an Advent candle for the last two-three years, and until now I’ve just let the remainder burn out on Christmas Eve. This year however, I snuffed it once it had burned down past the 24, and I’m planning on putting it in the box with the rest of my religious candles and using it to light next year’s Advent candle on the 1st of December. That way I have the continuity of flame from one Yule to the next, I have something that can burn for several days during the winter festive season, I won’t lose it, and it’ll be safer to burn on my altar, considering the mess I managed to make on the Solstice this year with my charcoal disc…

 

IMG_2720
The stump of my Advent candle, all ready for next year.

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.