Skip to main content

How to Have a Perfect Yule

Yule Wreath. 2014.
It was twenty-five years ago:

Coming through the door, we stamped snow off our boots and were hit with a wall of noise.
There must have been fifty people crowding the farmhouse that night. Some were locked in conversation, clustered in twos and threes.  Toddlers careened across the room at knee level, and out in the kitchen two guitarists and a drummer hunched over mismatched chairs, their music lost in the general roar.
.
A wish-net filled with lights and tokens hung over the battered sofa, potluck foods were laid out in heaps, and the wood-stove cranked out needless heat. Hats and boots and mittens steamed in the entryway, friends greeted each other with hugs, and a man I’d never met before pressed lyrics into our hands.
.
Outside under a dark sky studded with stars, the snow was too cold to make snowballs; inside, everything was laughter, and light, and noise.
.
We sang the songs, we lit the candles, we called back the sun. At the end of the night, we took home a candle apiece to keep watch for us over the longest night.  Peter and I bundled my sleepy daughter into the car and started the long, winding way home in the dark.
.
It was my first Solstice in Massachusetts, and it was the perfect Yule.

Time passes; ten years later, my daughter was almost grown, and I had become a new teacher, overwhelmed at work and at home:

Solstice Eve, and I am stuck in traffic.  It is my job to light the family Need Fire, the fire to carry us through the long night, but the faculty meeting ran long, the days are short, and the sun is setting already.  Disaster!  I am a terrible Pagan–a terrible wife, and a terrible mother.
.
Crestfallen, I finally get home in the dark.
.
Seeing my anguish at “ruining Yule,” my husband and my daughter confer.  How can they turn back time, and find a flame that was burning before the sun went down, and is burning still?
The hot water heater has a pilot light, they realize; it may not be glamorous, but it has kept the year’s fire alive!  After some rummaging to find the last of the candles, they head down the stairs together.  Minutes later, they rise up from the basement triumphantly, to kindle our altar’s flame.  And I am in tears.
.
 All my fussing, all my worry, all my trying to Make Yule Happen, and it happened as simply as that.  There they were, my family, teaching me, taking care of me.  The Light never really goes out.  In the time of the Dark,  we can rely on each other.
.
Nothing was ruined–and it was the perfect Yule.

Flash forward another five years:

We were still wobbly, still weak.
.
Peter and I had been sick–we’d been so sick, with one of those epic strains of flu that left us barely able to toddle to the bathroom and back, over and over again.
.
“Don’t come,” we’d told his parents.
.
“Don’t come,” we’d told my daughter and son-in-law.
.
We were too sick to put up the tree.
.
We were too sick to wrap up the presents.
.
We were too sick to make cinnamon buns, or oyster stew, mulled cider or apple pie.  We barely had the strength to light our candles on Solstice Eve.
.
The next day, on the solstice itself, somehow we put up the tree. We perched the sun at the top, and had to lie down and nap.
.
The next day, we managed the ornaments.
.
Slowly, gradually, we caught up with some, though not all, of our yearly traditions.  (I never did roast that bird.)
.
By the 26th, we emerged from the house for the first time, blinking against the bright sun on the snow.  We drove downtown together, to try on funny hats in the comic book store, and to stagger next door for Chinese food.
.
We were weak, we were sick, we were tired… and it was the perfect Yule.

Cat and her Mom. Yule, 2013.
Over the years, as my community and my family have grown and changed, our Yule traditions have changed with them.  Things that started as short-cuts borne of necessity, like my annual rendezvous with my parents for a gift exchange over lunch, have become new traditions: every year, I look forward to our annual walk on a wintry beach, and our lunch looking over the waves.

Some of our traditions, like celebrating the Solstice only, we’ve compromised along the way. Peter’s aging parents are with us now, and my daughter is all grown up, married into a Jewish family and considering converting, herself.  Christians are part of our family, Jews are part of our family, so Christmas is part of our Yule these days, and Hanukkah is part it, too.

Last year, the menorah was lit on our altar, next to our solstice tree.  Neither one seemed to mind.
The ancients tracked the seasons with clocks of stone, with megaliths, and they lacked the accuracy of a modern quartz clock.  These days, we allow our Yuletide to slump a little, to blend, to make way.  We are not perfect, and I am slowly learning not to attempt to be.

I think that maybe I’ve grown up at last, and I finally understand: it isn’t the shape of the tree or the form of traditions that make a solstice perfect.

Families change.  Traditions evolve; we craft some that are new, and others we must lay aside.  After all, that is what Yule is about: Renewal.

Some things must change… but some are forever the same.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo

What Do You Mean, Quaker Pagan?

"What do you mean, Quaker Pagan? You can't possibly be both!" Every now and then, we do get a comment on the blog that, if politely worded, does drive at basically that point. Usually the critic is a Quaker and a Christian, though I have certainly heard similar points raised by Pagans. Let me state a few things up front. Peter and I both do consider ourselves Pagan. Neither of us considers ourselves to be Christian--I never was one, and Peter hasn't been for decades. And we do consider ourselves to be Quakers... as does our monthly meeting, which extended us membership after the normal clearness process. We consider ourselves Quaker Pagans. (Why not Pagan Quakers? Pure aesthetics; we think the word order sounds better with Q before P.) Here's the argument for why Peter and I can't possibly be both: 1. Paganism is a non-Christian religion. 2. Quakers are a Christian denomination. 3. ERGO... Yes. We've considered that argument, oddly eno

Cat's Spiritual Journey, Part I: Getting (And Losing) That Old Time Religion

All posts in this series: Part I: Getting (and Losing) That Old Time Religion Part II: Coming Home Part III: The Fool's Journey Part IV: The Underworld Part V: Seven of Cups Part VI: A Letter and a Kiss Part VII: Morticia Loves Gomez Part VIII: Nora Part IX: Felicia Hardy and the Tower of Babel Part X: When Babel Fell Part XI: Community 2.0 Part XII: This Forgiveness Stuff From time to time, someone does ask about my spiritual journey. Mainly, it's Quakers, asking about what Paganism is, though sometimes it will be a co-worker, wanting to know more either about how I came to call myself Quaker, or what on earth I mean by Pagan. I should probably mention that, despite my best efforts to be discrete about my religion at work, I was outed as Wiccan within six months of becoming a teacher by kids who know how to use Google. This blog, which at least features current information, that reflects my beliefs and practices in the present, is at least partially a response