Living Sacred: A Sacred/Secular Festive Season

The Festive period is often a combination of rampant consumerism and uncertain traditions. Christmas is a secular affair for many of us, which in truth leaves us feeling empty and discouraged without really understanding why.

A lack of ritual, rest and roots for our traditions leaves us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and utterly disconnected during what is supposedly “the most wonderful time of the year”.

Here are a few ideas to recall the 3 R’s and invite the Sacred back into a secular Festive Season.

A candle burns at the centre of a glass bowl which is sitting amongst a clump of ivy. The picture is taken from above.

Ritual

There are a host of celebrations taking place throughout December, all focused around the same theme: Light and more specifically the return of it. Whether this is embodied in a seven-branched candle-holder or as a small child born in a stable, the idea of the Sun(Son) returning is on everyone’s mind.

Not surprisingly really, when you consider that, in the Northern Hemisphere, around the 20th-22nd December is the Winter Solstice. This is the moment when our planet is furthest from the Sun and night reaches its longest stretch; after this Longest Night has passed we move closer to the Sun once more and the light literally begins to return, lengthening the days as we move slowly towards Spring.

Granted there is still plenty of darkness and cold to come after Solstice (in the UK at least!) but that pivotal moment of our planet’s orbit is the root that feeds the cultural and faith traditions that have sprung up around it.

Those on a secular path still mark the occasion, knowingly or unknowingly, by decorating their homes with lights, candles and stars. Celebrating the Solstice itself is common amongst modern Pagans and can be a wonderful opportunity to replant secular traditions in sacred soil.

*  When turning on your festive lights, take a moment to give thanks to the Sun or call upon its bright, life-giving energy and ask it to carry you all through this darkest time.

* Solstice Night is a great time to gather with friends or family who you might not see over Christmas. You can exchange gifts, drink mulled wine and light candles in celebration of the returning Sun.

* At Sunset before the Longest Night begins, light a candle to ‘capture’ the strength of the dying Sun. Let this candle burn through the Longest Night (in a safe container/place), carrying your hopes and determination to begin a new cycle with the return of the Sun.

* At Sunrise after the Longest Night, go out to watch the light change. When the Sun has risen/returned, blow out your candle and celebrate with warm drinks, the exchange of simple gifts, songs and poems.

Rest

December is notoriously busy for almost everyone, with the approach of Christmas and all the implied and accepted expectations it brings.

In the natural World however, December is a time of retreat; of keeping warm and safe, dialling down energy output, storing and resting to ensure survival in Winter’s extremes. Our ancient ancestors would have done the same; retreating from their work and remaining indoors as much as possible, sharing heat and resources with family and community, wiling away the darkness with story, celebration and song.

Embracing the festive period as an opportunity for rest can seem anathema to our modern brains, but our bodies and spirits would certainly benefit from the opportunity to recover themselves in preparation for the new year ahead.

* Plan your celebrations and excursions carefully; leave plenty of time for travelling and book in days of rest where there is no expectation to go anywhere or do anything.

* Choose your activities carefully; consider (honestly!) which will actually feed your soul and which will take more than they give.

* Practise saying ‘No!’ to those things!

* Simplify the season; ask yourself which traditions/obligations still resonate and which are old habits/ideas that can be released.

* Consider a ‘one on/one off’ policy; one year have a full and busy festive season, followed by a quiet, ‘fallow’ festive season the year after.

A row of nine Hawthorn trees receding into the distance. There is snow on the ground and on their branches
© Keli Tomlin

Roots

A faith tradition is a foundation in which its followers can plant their rituals and their ideas about the World and its workings; trusting it to uphold them and their belief in times of celebration and crisis. For those who don’t follow a specific faith path, or whose spirituality is expressed in less canonised ways, it can be easy to feel uprooted as though our ideas are less substantial for having less obvious historical roots.

But we humans have walked this Earth for many years and there are roots for all of us to rely on through the Winter; in the familiar sights, experiences and traditions that we experience at this time of year:

Walk in the fresh Air
The Earth tells us that Winter is a time for rest, recovery and replenishment.

Look to the Sky
The Solstice tells us that during the Longest Nights we have a unique opportunity to reflect and see clearly, as life hangs in the suspension of an endless moment.

Be alone
The Darkness urges us to be alone with ourselves, to use solitude as a way to hear the voice of our heart and to uncover the truths of our dreams and desires. Journal, meditate, think, ponder, dream…

Gather
The Light encourages us to join with others, to seek love, warmth and nourishment with our families and communities. Celebrate!

Gift
Christmas reminds us to cultivate a generosity of spirit; that to give and receive is about more than material goods. It is about time, space, touch and empathy; a gift of being human we should be generous with and grateful for.

A wooden wheel laid on the ground covered in snow
© Keli Tomlin

May all these things, and the stories and traditions of your family and friends, bring you a sacred and joyful Festive season.

Featured image photo credit: Cornelia Kopp welcome new light via photopin (license)