The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. – Google from Wikipedia
There are few topics I will not speak on due to how… non-traditional they are. Religion and the history of, is one topic I tread lightly to preserve the feelings and beliefs of others. But this time of the year is quite difficult to avoid a simple observation. Today is my “Christmas.” Though, it isn’t a Christmas at all in our house. We celebrate the Solstice.
The reason for this decision stemmed from only one reason. Every year, my children had to choose which parent to see every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I grew up in a “broken” home. I know the nightmares of having to choose Mum or Dad this Christmas, then getting hell from step-parents and certain parents because “We didn’t choose right.” Then came the “if you don’t visit, you don’t get.” Not the decision to put on a nine year old. So, a few years back, I came to a decision. I have the children every Thanksgiving. Every 25 December, my ex gets the children. But that left me asking, when is my “Christmas?”
The solution was too simple.
I began studying the pre-Christian societies, the rise and steady decline of the Romane empire which eventually led to the rise of the Roman Catholic Empire (yes, Empire) when I was 15. I haven’t let up on my studies since.
“The Solstice!” I declared three winters ago. “Let’s return to our roots!” (I am German, Irish, and English… A montage I like to summarize simply by saying, “I am Northern Europe” or “if the Vikings settled there, I’m it.”) My husband is Native American. This decision seemed quite natural.
So in the name of history, we honor the pre-Christian celebrations as they once were thousands of years ago before Constantine I and Pope Julius I influenced our culture in 336 AD around the time of they formed a certain counsel in Nicaea.
When we hang a mistletoe, I tell my children about Baldr and how the Norse first hung the mistletoe in honor of Odinn’s son who was killed by Loki… oh, quite by accident I assure you. All but the mistletoe cried for Baldr, failing to restore Baldr to this life. Other versions of the story say it was an arrow fashioned from the branch of a mistletoe that killed Baldr on the annual “Let’s Throw Things At Baldr Day.”
Nothing could harm Baldr. Upon his birth, his mother made everything vow to never hurt Baldr. Mistletoe was so harmless, she failed to demand a vow from mistletoe. When Baldr became a man, the gods—the Aesir—learned they could throw things at Baldr and it would just bounce off. And so it was that “Let’s Throw Things At Baldr” day began. This became an annual tradition because **scoff** Come on! Who wouldn’t do this!? They brewed some mead. Fashioned up some boar’s head, and took their turn throwing things at Baldr just to watch it bounce off.
Loki—being Loki—fashioned an arrow of mistletoe, and had Odinn’s blind son (What was his name again?) fire it at Baldr. So it killed him. But everyone loved Baldr. And so, Loki’s daughter, Hel, keeper of Helheim, agreed to return Baldr to the living if all cried for him. But the mistletoe would not. So, to this day, we hang our mistletoe for Baldr. Or have we all forgotten?
When we talk about Santa, my children know how Coca-Cola revolutionized “Father Christmas” into the 1950’s red Santa we all know today with a single ad. They know that Odinn would ride on his horse, Sleipnir—the horse with eight legs—on the eve of Winter’s Solstice to divulge gifts to all the children of Scandinavia. And later, how reindeer—the magnificent creatures known only in the far reaches of the north in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia—were used to represent each leg of Sleipnir. (BTW… They are caribou in Canada. Not reindeer).
My children also know who Good King Wencelas I was from the 10th century. Good King Wencelas, by the way, is one of our oldest carols. We’ve been singing it—or a variation of it—for more than 1,000 years now. The Boar’s Head, I believe, is older still. And then there is my all time favorite, Coventry Carol (1600’s), I Saw Three Ships (1600’s), and Wassail, Wassail (Middle Ages… older still)! Oh! How I love Wassail, Wassail! These are the carols we sing most in my home.
Wassail (Old Norse “ves heil”, Old Englishwas hál, literally ‘be you healthy’) is a beverage of hot mulledcider, traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval southern English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. The name comes from the salute ‘Waes Hail’, first used as a simple greeting. The later Danish-speaking inhabitants of England seem to have turned “was hail”, and the reply “drink hail”, into a drinking formula adopted widely by the indigenous population of England.
- Wikipedia End quote
Hence “Wassailing!” I serve wassail on Halloween night to the parents of the trick-or-treaters because New York nights are COLD! I also make wassail as often as I make egg nog this time of year.
Ves heil. Now that is a term you will see in book #3 of my Tales of the Drui series. Old Norse puts this tradition to the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, by the way!
We haul our 7.5 foot pagan tree into the house every year (Seriously! This has GOT to be the DUMBEST of all traditions! Who ever said, “Hey! Let’s put a TREE inside the HOUSE!” and who was it that said, “What a phenomenal idea! I second the motion!”)
We top our “Pagan” tree with a Celtic Fae (Seriously. We do). We have wassail, eggnog, fig glaze, and we mingle in a few traditions from other cultures. Something I should write about some time. We pray to no god in this house (on occasion, my children bless the spaghetti monster), but they always start each meal with an “itadakimasu,” which is Japanese and simply means, “I am grateful for this food.” In Japan, this is said before every meal as a reminder to appreciate the food they are given. I once studied Japanese cuisine etiquette, and WOW! I adore their culture! So I instill part of it on my children.
The Nutcracker is all over our home, I have glass figurines of the Nutcracker ballet on my tree. We have more Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments than most anything else. Every year I buy my annual “mischievous Kitten” ornament from Hallmark. This Solstice, my husband purchased all the missing ornaments from my collection. (My husband received the COMPLETE collection of Cards Against Humanity this year… I post the REALLY good combinations on my Instagram, if you want to see. And he also received a room. A room. All the supplies and “furniture” required to assemble a work room in the basement. Two work benches, a three piece 21 drawer, tool storage chest with a 74 storage bin for parts. And floor mats.)
Our day is somewhat similar to the usual Christmas. We open stockings then dive into the gifts under the tree. I have little stockings tucked into the branches for treats to be shared later. But this year, we changed it up a bit. My husband and I only buy the children three gifts total. Then each of the three children purchase a gift for the other. It’s a little Christmas. We make it that way to remind them that this is celebration is about love and family. Not gifts.
I grew up hearing my father say the same thing every year, “I want breakfast first and then presents.” Growing up, this never happened. Not. Once. This year, in honor of that request, we did just that. We all woke around 8:00. No stockings, no gifts were touched under the tree. We made a family breakfast and we ate to remind the children of the day. We then gathered around the tree and dove into the stockings. After the stockings, we tried something new. Instead of taking turns, or ripping into each gift while consumed by our own little world, each child took their turn opening presents as they would if it were their birthday. First, my oldest (we rolled a die to see who went first). Then my son, followed by the youngest. I opened my gifts, and then the father of the house—the one who paid for it all—went last. He received the most to remind the children who it was that gave us this Christmas (and my husband and I splurge on each other).
I can honestly say, this is a style we will follow every year to come.
Here it is, the 21 December 2015. Our Solstice. The holidays are over for us. My Holiday shopping was done by Black Friday—it is ever year—so I can enjoy the season between Thanksgiving and New Years. And I do! And it’s wonderful!
Just yesterday, I learned from my youngest that she met someone last week who also celebrates on the Solstice. So to all of you who celebrated yesterday or are celebrating today, for those of you are waiting for the 25th, and those of you who celebrate something else in recognition of your culture and heritage—and for those of you in Stonehenge!—Happy Solstice!