Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Yule!

Otherwise titled "Sign Me Up As Another Warrior On Christmas."

My nice Jewish hubby and I have struggled a little bit with the semantics of the holiday season. When we were first dating, over a few Belgian beers one night, Seth popped this question: "So....what kind of Christian are you?" My answer: "Well, I don't think I am one." He was relieved to hear that one, since the whole Messiah-or-not thing can be a bit contentious.

But even though I was not raised in a particularly religious household, I have strong secular sentimentality for the rituals of the Christmas season. It is unimaginable to me that I would not have a tree or string up sparkly lights on my front stoop.

We do have a tree in our house. It goes by such terms as Pagan Shrub or Solstice Bush in our house. Seth was willing to give a holiday tree a try our first winter together a few years ago. But he had one condition: no Christian decorations. The tree should be in line with its pagan roots. Well, I wasn't going to put actual candles on it, but I'd try. It wasn't too tough- almost all of my ornaments are horses, a holdover from an equine-obsessed childhood. My family collected them for years. My mother finally got sick of all the horses and shipped them off to me so she could feel free to decorate her tree with something (anything) else. So, there are lots of rocking horses, carousel horses, winged horses, sleigh-pulling horses, the odd unicorn here and there, cowboys on horses, soldiers on horses, Santa on a horse. There are also horse shoes, hunting horns, saddles and cowboy boots. I tell Seth that for diversity there are also a few cows. He rolls his eyes. I bought him a fat crocheted sheep in Peru last year. Our friend Amy gave him a barbeque grill ornament this year, "to bridge the cultural gap" she said, since she knew Seth is definitely on board with the ethos of The Grill.

So, I've recently embraced the term "Yule." What sparked it was a posting on the Rufus blog. I mean, this is a predominantly Jewish poodle that we are talking about here, and I didn't think he'd really be comfortable celebrating Christmas, and really, neither am I. I'm not celebrating the birth of Christ. I'm reveling in the season- the cold, the solstice, the feasting, the evergreens, the lights - all of the celebratory things that civilizations turn to in the dark, chill season to keep us from going mad. Therefore, I don't think I should call it Christmas anymore.

This definition of Yule on Wikipedia helped me turn the corner:

Yule is a winter festival associated with the winter solstice historically primarily celebrated in northern Europe, however Yule is currently celebrated in various forms in many countries around the world. Yule celebrations often coincide with Christmas. Modern Yule traditions include decorating a fir or spruce tree, burning a Yule log, the hanging of mistletoe and holly, giving gifts, and general celebration and merriment.

In pre-Christian times,[vague] Germanic tribes celebrated Yule from late December to early January on a date determined by a lunar calendar. When Christianity was just beginning, Christmas was set on the dates of Yule. During Christianization, Yule was suppressed by the Christian Church; however, many of the Yule traditions were eventually incorporated into Christmas celebrations. Colloquially the terms "Yule" and "Christmas" are often used interchangeably.

I've also quit singing certain carols, ones I know by heart, songs I have sung all my life. I'm all for Rudolph, Frosty, Winter Wonderland, Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells. I can do We Wish You a Merry Christmas. But I draw the line these days at Away In A Manger and Silent Night. I don't know when I became so cognizant that these are religious songs. They're hymns, really. And I don't do hymns. (Well, I did once at a very small wedding in a very small Georgia town officiated by the bride's minister stepfather, because to not sing, in that case, would have been more impolite than singing about something I don't believe in.) Now it would be just as weird to me to sing a Hindu or Muslim song, because the religious beliefs are just as foreign to me as Christianity is.

And besides, doesn't the word "Yule" sound like a lot more fun? It makes you want to say things like "ale" and "quaff" and "figgy pudding." So, Merry Yule!

No comments: