This time of year is fraught with the conflicting energies of our Pagan celebrations and the secular and Christian festivals. The big question I ask myself at this time of year is “how can I keep the sacred alive and important while being a part of modern British society?” So, we go trick or treating, Father Christmas is part of our family traditions and we sit down to a big family meal on December 25th. However, we also build a special family altar towards the end of October to honour our ancestors, we spend time thinking about things we have gained and lost throughout the year. In December we have Christmas traditions like putting the tree up the Saturday after school finishes but also Yule tradition like the grand battle of the Oak King vs the Holly King, and we will mark the sunrise and sunset of Yule.
The balance between secular family traditions and sacred practices is important to me. I want my children to grow up knowing that there is divinity in everything and that honouring the sacred is part of our family celebrations throughout the year. The yearly trick or treat expedition through the village is anticipated and expected and it can’t be changed. I have to “guard” the house from monsters, placating them with sweets, while the rest of the family dress up and “terrorise” the neighbourhood. We are lucky in our village that those wishing to participate put out lights and pumpkins and small hordes of supervised primary school children bang on those doors. Once the candy runs out the pumpkins come in, the porch light goes off and we have no more visitors. This is part of the wheel of our year, it marks the descent into winter and while they remember the trick or treating more than the ritual when they are very young once my daughter was around 7 she was just as interested in the remembrance as she was the sweets.
I have found Father Christmas to be a fascinating character (more on his history in our extended content online – see below) and his place as a (demi) God of the pantheon of childhood is worth exploring.
Many view Christmas as a secular celebration now. A time to gather together with friends and family, exchange gifts and rehash family arguments while drinking alcohol and eating rich foods. Ask anyone to describe “the fat man” and they will quickly describe the red and while clad, jolly old man who gazes down at us from Coca Cola lorries the world over. However, he is a complex character; more of myth than marketing and with a sacredness all his own that, as adults, we can quickly forget.
The parents among us will know the face of awe and amazement when their child gets to meet Santa in the shopping centre or Christmas party. For them he is real, a figure of magic and a little fear. “If you aren’t good Father Christmas will bring you coal. He has a naughty list you know”. He is omniscient, super-fast, can fly and can come into your house. There is a bargain to be made; the child will behave well, request a toy via a letter and leave an offering of mince pies and whisky, with a carrot for the reindeer (other families have different things on the plate but the offering still has to be made) and in return he will leave gifts. In our family he fills our stockings with small token gifts to be opened in bed (often all together in our bed) before breakfast. This can be seen as a parallel to the prayers and spells we offer up to our Gods and Goddesses as adults. A ritual is enacted, a request made, an offering left and an expectation of a positive outcome.
The very belief in Santa is a safe and secure way to “try out” belief before having to believe in more difficult concepts like justice, love and deity. If we are secure that Father Christmas is real, even though we know that Daddy creeps into our room and fills our stocking, then we can believe that Herne protects us as we travel through the forest and that if I tell about seeing something I know to be wrong then justice will be served.
I want you to ask yourself a serious question. Do you believe in Father Christmas? Is there a place in your heart for the act of giving that He embodies? I hope that you do, and that you can know him as a sacred entity as I do.