New and outdated Christmas traditions want an excellent break from 2020 for the winter solstice
(RNS) – At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Mischa Magdalena and her partner burn their Christmas log and hold a solstice at home that waits all night until dawn.
“The joke is we’re just going to make the sun rise,” said Magdalene.
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In 2020 nothing feels like a given.
And the winter solstice – when modern witches and pagans celebrate Christmas and the return of light – resonates at the end of a dark, difficult year punctuated by a pandemic, political protests, and presidential elections.
“I think the symbolism speaks to a lot of people right now, because part of the solstice point is the return of light in a really literal, concrete way – you get past the solstice and the days get longer. Said Magdalene, a witch.
Monday (December 21) marks the solstice and the start of the Christmas season, which many witches and pagans celebrate until New Year’s Day.
Although many watch the New Year in Samhain, a fall holiday that marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year, Yuletide includes, according to Jason Mankey, a practitioner of witchcraft and author of “Llewellyn’s Little Book of Yule”.
Some of these traditions involve burning something symbolic in a fire, which Mankey says overlaps with traditions celebrating the return of the sun at Christmas. That could be writing down some of the things you would like to leave behind in the coming year and burning the list in a candle or a campfire.
“For me, Yule’s focus is really on hope because it’s so dark and cold in so many places, and yet after this longest night of the year the sun is still rising and the days are getting longer. This rebirth of the sun is really what pagans and witches celebrate most of Christmas, ”he said.
“Things get brighter, they get warmer and they get better.”
Christmas practices can also include figuring out what will happen in the new year through fortune telling, like reading tarot cards or candle wax, Mankey said. Some can perform magical blessings to ensure prosperity and happiness for the next 12 months.
“So there will be many of us doing things to get rid of what has happened and certainly many of us doing things to ensure a better, more prosperous and safer 2021,” he said.
For Mankey, the short winter days are a good time to perform rituals and magic to get rid of anything undesirable – to “magically cleanse the house and push out all the bad energy that is gathered there during the year”.
He enjoys inviting magical gift giver La Befana to his home in Northern California to help with the chore while he sweeps the floor clean with a broom. The Italian holiday witch traditionally brings gifts for children similar to Santa Claus, and her broom sweeps bad energies out of the house and prepares them for a Happy New Year.
Lots of Christmas characters like La Befana, the Icelandic Yule Lads and Krampus seem to be getting more attention in recent years, he said. Mankey even discovered Swedish tomtes at Target, tiny ghosts that look very much like Santa Claus.
“I think people are just very curious about the holiday season and try to bring as much magic into them as possible – maybe this year especially. I know people whose trees were already there on Halloween, ”he said.
Mankey also usually hosts friends for a toast, boiling cider in a crock pot, and adds ingredients to bring health, wealth, and other positive things to the year – sometimes whiskey or rum, sometimes a little cinnamon for spices and light.
Like everyone else, the 2020 witch and pagan holiday celebrations have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mankey said he plans to try a toast over Zoom this year.
Byron Ballard, senior priestess at Mother Grove Goddess Temple in Asheville, North Carolina, shares her daily reflections on Facebook, which count up to the winter solstice.
Considerations include brief essays on singing the sun when their daughter was little, descriptions of the goddesses associated with the season, and explanations of why wreaths are especially important during the Christmas season.
In addition to burning things to be left behind, Ballard said people could clean themselves and their homes with sacred smoke like mugwort. They may also want to put in place energetic protective measures called “wards” or write down their dreams and visions for the coming year and place them in bundles on their house altars.
“We are all ready for a fresh start, new hope and a vision of how we can move forward after this trauma year,” she said.
The pandemic hasn’t changed too many Christmas practices for Cat Heath, a pagan and founder of the cult of the spinning goddess. Heath and her family, who live in Maryland, usually begin their Christmas celebrations at sunset on the winter solstice, offering food and mead to the Norse gods, omitting sacrifices for the local spirits, and giving their ancestors a table and feasting.
They will spend the next 13 days together, eating good food, going for a walk and video calling distant relatives.
“It’s just something wonderful to hang out with the people in the world you love most for a while and just enjoy each other’s company. That will never matter much, ”she said in an email to RNS.
And members of the cult of the spinning goddess are not only spinning wool together in late 2020, they’re also encouraging each other to do something at least once a day to fend for themselves and sign up for each other on Zoom, she said.
Sometimes, at the end of a bad year, Heath said she would do a 12-night spinning ritual. For the first four nights she will spin black wool to catch bad luck, then red wool for luck and amulets and finally white wool as an offering to the spinning goddess.
She is not yet sure if she will perform the ritual this year.
“I think 2020 just feels too big to shake off with cleansing spells and rituals. I mean, shaking off your personal bad luck is one thing, but shaking off a completely out of control pandemic and political upheaval is quite another! “Said Heath.
It’s not just the past year that Magdalene wants to shake off, but also the last four years, as 2021 also brings with it a new president.
“It was a really dark time for a lot of people – a lot of workers, a lot of marginalized communities -” said Magdalene, who is a transsexual.
So they’re going to burn a Christmas tree trunk and decorate a tree with their partner and cats at home in the Seattle area.
They’ll be a little sad that they can’t share many of their favorite traditions with their friends: usually they also invite people to write their hopes, aspirations, and worries for the coming year on a calendar. They refer to the calendar year round – spend time, energy, and intentions working for their friends or praying for them – and then burn it.
“2020, I think, was just a car fire in a dumpster fire for a year for all of us,” said Magdalene.
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