Another Christmas is nearly upon us. We are tempted to ignore the traditional way of celebrating it and coming over all alternative. But how? Here's your guide to how the ancients did it, long before baby Jesus was ever born.
The Romans had Saturnalia, a midwinter celebration of cross-dressing and reversals. Men were women, black was white, jesters were kings and so on. The tradition of celebratory misbehaviour stayed alive and well in Britain and Europe for many years, and is still in existence now, (mostly thanks to witches and history nuts), and is a direct influence on the spirit of merriment and excesses surrounding modern-day Christmas.
Kalendae was the ancient Roman New Year celebration. The customs were eating loads, singing, and exchanging gifts. Now does that ring a bell?…
The Druids, those ancient Celtic priests in white, have celebrated the death and birth of the sun for centuries. They call it Midwinter, or Alban-Arthan - the shortest day after which the sun is reborn. As well as going into the stone-circles and such nature temples for their rituals, they also give presents around the fire, and gather boughs of evergreens and mistletoe. Again, something familiar about all that, and their tradition of burning an Oak log…
So none of it is really Christian then? The twelve days idea - Roman. The Tree - Germanic. The fairy lights - Christian Christmas, Jewish Hanukkah, Winter Solstice are light festivals to cheer us up halfway through glum winter. Even baubles are a modern take on the olden-days Witch Balls, hung in the window to ward off evil.
There you have it. The most alternative Yuletide is the most traditional one.
Kate West, best-selling author of ‘The Real Witches' series (TRW Handbook/Kitchen/Coven/Spells&Rituals) tells Alternative London about the real witches' two types of Yule:
There is the Winter Solstice, when the days of decreasing light finally give way to days of increasing light with the re-birth of the Sun. When we can remember that there is still life in the land and look forward to the approach of Spring. At this time many Witches and Pagans will gather together in high places to drum up the Sun. Mind you, what with frozen fingers and dampened drumskins it's something of a minor miracle that the drumming doesn't scare the reborn Sun back to its wintry rest!
The other kind of Yule is mostly found within the Coven. This is the "you'll" of the High Priestess, as in "You will, without hesitation, deviation, repetition, or argument, do as you should!"
So, as you celebrate your Yule, remember to warm your fingers and drumskins, to celebrate in mirth and reverence, and if the High Priestess says "jump", you should be in the air when you ask "How high?”.