Yule: Silent Night, Longest Night

By Jodi, an Ex-Christian Scientist group contributor.

When I left Christian Science, I realized I didn’t know what my spiritual beliefs were any more. I decided to give myself time and figure out what I actually believe in. I remember reading books about environmental issues in grade school, and reading an environmental book some time in high school. I pushed my family to start recycling and once I became a mom, my family and I started planting trees.

Taking care of our planet is incredibly important to me. I am working hard to make my yard friendly to bees, and I try to be conscious of my purchasing habits to have less of an impact on the planet. We have done so many things in our everyday lives over the years to try to lessen our environmental footprint. This has just been important to me for as long as I can remember.

When I walked away from Christian Science, I knew what I was walking away from. But I didn’t know what I was walking toward. I gave myself time to examine what I believe in. I have realized I believe in Mother Nature. I love looking at the sky, no matter what the weather and no matter what time of day. I love naming constellations and charting the planets. So I have realized I also believe in Father Sky.

I asked myself for a while if I believe that Jesus was a real person. I don’t actually know any more if Jesus was actually a real person who walked on this planet and “healed” people. I am particularly interested, though, that he apparently told people not to pay attention to the healings so much, but instead listen to the teachings.

I used to be a Sunday School teacher, and I would push my students to know that “Christmas is celebrating Jesus’ birthday.” I felt that was important for kids to know. (I was continually shocked by how many kids didn’t know this basic fact.) I was someone who absolutely loved the phrase, “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” And I hated the “Merry X-Mas” thinking. Now that Jesus isn’t so important to me, I have decided Christmas isn’t, either.

It makes me sad to notice how disconnected recent generations are from our natural world. I think more and more of us as a culture are starting to notice the disconnect, and we are turning towards a more nature based spirituality, instead of a “god” based spirituality.

My mom has basically always pushed Christmas with intensity, as far as I am concerned. A big fancy meal that takes all day to cook, a lot of homemade Christmas cookies, decorating the house despite not wanting to. I have never understood the mentality of making something that is supposed to be beautiful and fun, into a stress filled month with too many expenses and too many obligations. It becomes exhausting instead of spiritual.

I have tried for years to say “let’s not have gifts. Let’s just have a nice meal together.” And I try to gently nudge it towards being simple instead of complex. It’s now been 3-4 years of me pushing those ideas, and I am grateful to say that my extended family is starting to come around.

Last year, at perhaps the beginning of December, I found out about the holiday, Yule. And I thought, “Well, let’s try that out. I don’t know if I really know what it is, but let’s see if it works for us.”

I did a very minimum amount of research on the tradition. I didn’t have enough time between finding out about the holiday & the date of the holiday to devote as much research as I would have liked. I wished I had more time to research then accomplish a lot with it. But it turned out to be completely perfect for my family!

My immediate family has never particularly wanted a Christmas tree. It’s just not been something we particularly felt a need for. I bought a fake one years ago, and we have put it up perhaps every other year. But it hasn’t been annual. We have fostered kittens or had our own new kittens, and it’s not always a good idea to mix kittens with Christmas trees. Two years ago, we fostered 2 kittens, and they physically broke our fake tree. They knocked it over and broke the stand and now the tree won’t stand up at all. My family is fine if we never replace it.

We also have such a small home, that a tree takes up a significant part of our living space. One year, I realized that I have a ton of green construction paper. So we hung it up on the wall. We made a recyclable tree out of construction paper! It turns out that this has been my sons’ favorite tree. We have repeated this several times now. We tape up our favorite ornaments to the tree, too.

For Yule, last year, we stuck with natural ornaments. We made some out of sticks, spices and cotton string. We did hang up some of our favorite ornaments too. But it was fun to hang things from nature on our tree. I made a star for the top of the paper tree, using sticks and string. I have always put a ribbon tied in to a bow at the top, so I was amused to have a star for the first time ever at the top of my tree, our Yule tree.

I collected a few pinecones in perhaps the beginning of December. (I have always loved pinecones. I used to collect them with my grandmother by the side of the road. She made flower arrangements with various plants and other things.) We hung a few pinecones on the tree too. We put our heavier ornaments on the ground in front of the base of the paper tree. That was fun too. A few of our ornaments were made by friends or are fairies. Some were made by my kids, and some look like gingerbread. It all had a new feel to it when it was accompanying a Yule tree instead of a Christmas tree.

My husband and my two sons and I all went out to watch the sunset on December 21. Is the longest night of the year. Our ancient civilizations had to be aware of the amount of light, and chart so many things so they could grow food. They were much more in tune with edibles and medicinal herbs in forests. We have lost so much knowledge over the years.

We stood and watched the sunset and just acknowledged that it is a cycle. The sun goes around the earth. There are shorter days and they eventually turn into longer days. It’s wonderful to see how our lives are also parallel. We have good days and bad days. It’s all a cycle. We have light and happy days, and we have darker, more difficult days. Noticing the dark helps us appreciate the light.

As we watched the sunset together, we each wrote down 2 things we wanted to get rid of from the past year. I don’t remember what any of us wrote down. It’s very possible I wrote down “I want to get rid of distraction” as one of my goals. We each folded up our papers and tucked them into our pinecones.

Then, we went inside to our fireplace, and lit a fire. We put our pinecones into the fire, and watched them burn; watched the smoke go up the chimney. It was a symbol of starting a new year, fresh. Letting go of last year, and embracing a new year. It felt peaceful and also holy.

After that, we all exchanged just a few gifts. I think I gave each of my sons 2-3 gifts, and my husband and I each received 1 gift. All of the gifts were Nature oriented in some way. I bought clay for one of my sons, and a handmade glass kaleidoscope for my other son. (Glass is made from sand.) One of my sons gave me a beautiful moonstone necklace. I wore it every day for months, and it made me remember this peaceful loving moment where we slowed down our lives and took in a sunset together.

Then, we all enjoyed a family movie together, and drank hot apple cider. It was just calm and low key and peaceful.

Last year, we celebrated both Christmas and Yule. This year, my husband and my older son and I wanted to forego Christmas altogether. But my younger son wants to still do Christmas. Our family emphasis will be on Yule this year, but we will have some Christmas things. I will still make Christmas cookies – the ones that are my family’s favorites. (Christmas cookies are a German tradition, and my grandmother made tins full of them, so I grew up with boat loads of Christmas cookies.) My boys will have stockings for Christmas morning. We will be getting together with my extended family for a Christmas gift exchange and meal. This year, the majority of gifts that I have purchased for my kids will be given on Yule, after watching the sunset. I will probably choose 2 of the gifts for each of them, to give to them on Christmas Day after they open their stockings. Yule is becoming our more prominent holiday. It’s more like a New Year, and honoring the world and universe that we live in, instead of a spiritual (imaginary) entity we can’t see or experience.

This year, I am thinking of adding in smudging during the sunset. Smudging is the cleansing of one person by another from toe to head using a smoking herb (such as: sage, rosemary or white bay leaf).  A new friend and mentor of mine knows this well and she asked me, “What does smudging mean to you?” I thought about it, and, to me, it means taking a bath of our spirit. Washing off the old, making space for the new. Washing off the previous year, and getting ready for the new year. We take a bath in water to wash off the old, and prepare for new days and new experiences. To me, smudging is about bathing our spirit. I look forward to introducing this concept to my boys this year, as we watch the sun go down on Yule.

It is fun to let go of old traditions that no longer serve me and embrace new ones with my family, and modify and shift them as we want to, and find our own sense of what’s holy and precious.


image Christmas with the Yule Log, Illustrated London News, 23 Dec 1848.jpg