Time to climb up on my soap box and scream at passers by: Heed the gods, and be freaking social at Yule!
There is a drive that I just don’t understand to put huge amounts of devotional practice into the Yuletide, stripping away the “secular” aspects of commercial gift giving and empty partying. The problem is the sacral elements are actually the bits the long Christian dark times could never strip away. I am going to tick off lots of people by doing some quoting from the lore, but trust me, I am not quoting it as divine authority for my point of view, but as an example of folk wisdom accepted as truth by our heathen ancestors.
Back when I was a new heathen, I came to understand that Heathens celebrate Yule like secular society does, only we understood why. From those heady days of getting it casually right, now a strain of pious Edda thumping heathenry has emerged in which to be a good heathen means you must become a Christian style god botherer; practicing rituals that are sacred because they focus the gathered folk on the gods, offering to them, praising and honouring them.
This is the darkest part of the year. This is a time where the light is gone from the sky, the warmth is gone from the air, travel becomes hard and sometimes dangerous. At this time when the folk are being driven indoors, where communal outdoor recreational activity is taken away, when we are increasingly driven away from each other to deal with the darkness, cold, and solitude, the gods call upon us to help each other.
34. Crooked and far | is the road to a foe,
Though his house on the highway be;
But wide and straight | is the way to a friend,
Though far away he fare.
Get off your ass and remember the people close to you. Take the time to seek them out and spend some time with each other. During the rest of the year, life gets in the way. During the rest of the year the press of work, school, activities all gets primacy, and our social life takes second, third, fourth place to the other needs of the day. While it withers in neglect for eleven months of the year, at the heart of the dark, in the midst of the cold, the gods have called upon us to relight the fires of hospitality and friendship, of love and mirth.
19. Shun not the mead, | but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none | shall rightly blame thee
If soon thy bed thou seekest.
Party. This one is not hard to understand. You have worked like dogs the whole year long, now it is time to eat too much, of the foods that are far higher in pleasure value than you would ever allow yourself, drink socially (not binging, but enough to relax and have fun), dress up and go out. Party with co-workers, party with friends, party with family, party with the new neighbors you have been meaning to meet but haven’t yet.
41. Friends shall gladden each other | with arms and garments,
As each for himself can see;
Gift-givers’ friendships | are longest found,
If fair their fates may be.
52. No great thing needs | a man to give,
Oft little will purchase praise;
With half a loaf | and a half-filled cup
Full friend found.
Exchange gifts. This is important. Brighten each other’s lives with gifts. This is not crass commercialism. If you have the time and talent to craft or bake or brew them, then this is awesome. If you are like me, then just buy them. Tokens of esteem, offerings of fellowship, or just sharing your own joy at the season, these are all good enough reasons to give. It is about building and restoring relationships.
Offerings to the gods; this is the one part you do not share with everyone in your life, because not everyone will have a religious element to their celebration, and those who do will not always honour the same gods and goddesses (unless the world became Asatru last night). The gods are one of the relationships in our lives, as are the honoured ancestors, and the wights of the lands and waters. As you exchange gifts with all of those that are important to you, you do so with the gods, wights and ancestors as well. I treat these offerings the same as I treat the gifting to friends and family. They are not different, they are the same. They are not the only sacred gifts I offer this season, because the gods have taught us that all the gifting and feasting this season is sacred. Do not fall into the Christian trap of separating the sacral from the everyday. This season’s celebrations are all sacred. Bring sacred purpose into the celebrations, that is understand the reciprocal gifting relationships to brighten and strengthen the lives of those around you is a sacred duty, and does not require that they share or even acknowledge the faith you practice. Do not turn away from family and friends because you want to honour the gods at Yule. Remember the teachings of our gods and ancestors by strengthening all the relationships in our lives at this holy Yuletide.