Monday, 20 December 2010

Yuletide - a time of giving, symbolism and celebration

Well Christmas is finally upon us and after the magical but colossal amount of snow we are all running around finishing our shopping and planning our festive delights. For me this year has been a very handmade Christmas, of course the usual amount of creative activity making things to sell... and for pressies too.  Handmade is so much more personal than supermarket buys, often one of a kind. It hasn't stopped at crafts either.  This year it has extended to cooking, baking, sewing everything that is self sufficient and  addictively satisfying.  The cold weather( with more to come it seems) forcing many of us to stay indoors can sometimes fuel the desire to return to a simpler way of living - just being - with your loved ones, pets, garden and countryside...things that quite often get forgotten in this time of shopping mayhem...when the expectations are high and money invariably tight.
With my wedding behind me now and a year of highs and lows I can honestly say that if things don't get done...they don't get done. 
What is Christmas all about...good will to all, thought for others, the act of giving and celebration.  Its all these things and many more things beside...but don't forgot extends to you too.  Goodwill to yourself! This is not a message to be selfish when I say that sometimes all you hardworking parents, partners, office workers etc should take a little time to sit back and think, what about me? I know so many people who strive for the perfect Christmas...the kids have got to have that, your parents are expecting a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings or I have to attend the office party...they're expecting it.  Pressies and booze aside, whats important is that you spend it with those you love. Your loved ones have you!...and if you can't be there in body like so many of us...spend Christmas with those you love in your thoughts and in your heart.  But remember -It's so hard to please everyone.

Yule is fast approaching marking the the shortest day and for the Celts and many pagans, the rise of the Oak King as the days lengthen a little at a time.  The Oak Kings reign runs from Yule right through to midsummer's day when the Holly King again takes his throne through to Christmas. This year the rare occurrence of a full moon on the winter solstice is graced with another rare event - a lunar eclipse. So it is particularly important this time to really understand the significance of this Sabbat on the 21st of Dec (Northern Hemisphere).

Our Christmas as we know it today is a tapestry of cultural traditions. It's a time when both pagan and Christian values and stories meet.  There has always been some speculation about the exact date that Jesus was born, some say late January so of course this has given rise to the idea that Christmas was moved back to coincide with the pagan Sabbat of Yule, easing the transition of paganism to Christianity.  So much of ancient tradition has been muddied over the years that we can't be sure. It may have been an adoption of the idea that the pagans celebrated the return of the suns power, hence the birth date of the son of god.  Traditions have blended together along with many of the symbols of the holiday such as gift giving and the decoration of the home. Many would perhaps think that the gift giving idea originated from when the three wise men brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh - but gift giving and the celebration of life goes back even further to the Celts.  Gold has always been one of the dominant colours of Christmas thanks to the three wise men but also to the Pagan celebration of the sun.  It's quite possible that the giving of fruit such as oranges at Christmas has it's roots in the past too as the ancient peoples often associated such fruit with the symbolism of the sun, the giver of life.

The decorating of a tree became popular in Victorian times... however, they didn't invent it - they rediscovered it and put it into every home. The use of foliage as a celebration or as protection is present in many worldwide cultures including the Celtic peoples.

Another of the popular rituals in Pagan times was the burning of the Yule Log honouring nature and celebrating the return of the sun.  The log was usually from a birch tree, the tree of renewal so Yule marked a time of transition and the sweeping away of negativity.
Other trees and plants that have long been connected to Yule are of course holly and mistletoe.
Holly, the oak trees winter counterpart held wisdom at a time when life was at its hardest.  It brought positivity to the home and protected the people from hostility.  Another connection made from a pagan point of view is that both holly and mistletoe represented fertility.  The berries of the holly being the blood of the menstrual cycle and the mistletoe, the semen of men.  Mistletoe was sacred to the druids as it grew without touching the ground. This poisonous plant was also used as protection and to unlock the secrets of immortality and to bring vivid dreams.  The reason that we hang it in our homes today could be because of it's past connections with protection and it's very likely that we kiss beneath the mistletoe because of its connections with fertility.
Our Christmas is no doubt a collection of cultural rituals that have evolved and blended together over thousands of years. No matter where the symbols come from and what they originally stood for it's important to remember that it's a time of celebration of life... even in our modern times.  These world traditions, whether from the middle east or ancient Europe make us who we are today.  They give us a very special holiday to enjoy and, somewhere in the back of our minds, connect us to our past and our deep unbreakable bond with natures cycles.
So have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and a very festive Yule!.. remember that there is so much more to it than overeating and watching the Christmas movie. :)

Another reason that mistletoe is used for kissing today - take a look at this link

Thursday, 2 December 2010

December Picks with a local flavour

I wanted to feature a few of my favourite finds that had a local flavour to start the December blog off.  Many of these are sourced from the midlands UK, particularly Nottingham.
They are not all strictly Fantasy based but I have picked them for their enchanting qualities, stunning colour or for their suitability as Gifts.
In this international world of consumerism it's important to fly the flag for Britain once in a while.  We have  many exceptional artists, designer makers in this country and sometimes it's easy to get lost amongst so many great artisans and websites worldwide.










Hope you liked my selection showcasing some local talent - be sure to keep an eye out for more inspiration over the next few weeks :)