My husband and I celebrate Christmas in our own way; he has his tree and I have mine. His is one of those neat silver trees from the Sixties with the rotating color light base at the bottom. Mine is plain green, but it suits ornaments of a more traditional, European flavor. Together, we have a house full of spirit.
We might be considered unusual, particularly in this part of the world, because we do not celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts. This has nothing to do with religious preferences or being anti-materialistic; it's that we've already got plenty of junk in our house and we don't want any more.
We arrived at this decision, to not exchange gifts, when I went through a pile of stuff "to be filed" in September one year. Going through the pile, I found Christmas gifts that had not even been opened since the previous December. One of those gifts was a box of Godiva chocolates — wasted, because I had so much I didn't even know what I was missing.
That's when I realized that my family, and my husband's family, and our family's extended families, were wallowing in trading debt and exchanging full closet-loads of gifts with no particular meaning.
Since then, we decorate our trees, and we drive around to look at holiday lights, and we try to remember what Yule is all about and to embody that spirit.
Yule has been celebrated for centuries by cultures all over the world. Yule originated as a Germanic holy day celebrated by the ancient Norse tribes and by the Celtic Druids.
Yule begins at the start of the Winter Solstice and lasts for 12 days and nights. It was believed by the Norse and Celtic tribes that focused group consciousness could "hold the Light in place" on Earth when the sun was most distant from the planet, so honor was given to the trees, believed to be the receptacles of Collective Memory.
Many cultures have adapted their own traditions to celebrate both the birth of Christ and the incoming Second Ray of Love and Wisdom, traditionally embodied by the colors blue and white, or silver.
Other colors associated with Yule are red, believed to symbolize purpose, and green, symbolizing fertility, abundance, and manifest Creation. Gold embodies material wealth, but is more closely associated with harmony between the material and spiritual planes.
The Norse peoples would "hunt" for trees, and preferred using ash trees because of their strength and durability. The ash tree is not conical, as we now associate with Christmas trees, but this suited the Nords just as well because it was the sturdiness of the tree that was important.
When the right tree was found, the Nords would take turns offering thanks to the tree before chopping it down. A blessing was offered to "seal the wound" where the tree was cut, and when Yule was over, the tree was burned and its ashes scattered over the stump.
The Nords kept the trees in their homes or collective meeting halls, and would hang all their possessions on the tree. Since Nord possessions were few, and generally consisted of swords, furs, battle axes, and a drinking horn, the tree needed to be strong enough, and spare of leaves, to get all the possessions to hang properly on the tree.
It was believed that by hanging their possessions onto the tree during Yule, the strength and wisdom of the tree would flow to the possessions and would bless the Nords with enough luck to survive until the next Yule.
The Druids did not chop down trees; they decorated them in the wild. They preferred conical trees such as firs and pines — not because they were easier to hang things onto — but because they believed that the shape of the tree represented infinity, and that the top point of the tree served as a "finger" to touch the sky, and Spirit.
Druids kept a candlelight vigil around the tree through all 12 nights of Yule. Twelve Druids would sit around the tree at different positions, and each would be sure that the twelve candles remained lit.
All the Druids participated in decorating the tree. Each Druid would hang something onto the tree, and every thing that was hung was done with a dedication of thanks for a particular blessing. There was no set number of ornaments; whatever an individual had to offer, or the number of blessings one perceived, were how many ornaments were put on the tree.
The Christmas tree did not become a mass custom until Prince Albert, married to Queen Victoria, revived the Germanic custom and established it in England in the late 1800's.
We use our Christmas trees today to remember our blessings, and to multiply those blessings as we confer those good wishes to others. It is not the tree nor the ornaments that make Yule sacred, but the love that is shared, recognized and bestowed upon the ones we love.