We seem to be a mixed bag of heathens, athiests, christians, and..um..`other`..here
I was wondering what traditions folks practice this time of year?
I have two trees, a fake one I`ve had for years and am too sentimental to get rid of, and a real one on order (oh for the days of my youth when I could go out and dig one up, and run away from the English landowner, getting healthy exercise at the same time, sigh...)
Still waiting for my real one to come but it will and I`ll bully..erm...politely coerce, my loved ones into helping to decorate it.
I`m an oddity, I always put decorations up really early, the first day of December, only this year they went up the middle of November because my lovely man is staying here with me, and was due to return to Flanders before Jul, so I put the decorations up early for him.
He changed his mind though and is staying on for Jul, yay...
My family`s traditions include this, putting up the decorations for the whole month of December. This takes in the Solstice, you see, and they are taken down the last day of the year, for a fresh start in the New Year.
On the night of the Solstice, a dish of milk, honey or flavoured porridge is put outdoors for the wights of this place, and a small dish of the same set beside the hearth for the house brownie, a type of sprite that attaches itself to a household and brings luck.
When I was fairly small I watched my mum putting outdoors the dish of milk for the wights, then watched one of our cats lick it clean. In anger I went to her and said, "You`ve been lying to me, the wights don`t take it, the cat did!"
She made me be responsible, for a while, for leaving out the milk, for it`s also left out at other times too.
Still angry at her, I didn`t bother to do it.
Whether or not you think it`s coincidence I`ll leave to you to decide, but soon afterwards little things started to go wrong...animals getting ill or injured, garden crops failing, and a general malaise and discontent in our household.
She exlained to me, yes, the cat got it, though it could also have gone to a hedgehog, wildcat or pine marten. The point she made was, through these beasts, the wights do get the offering.
I laid out the bowl and gradually, things got back to normal.
So Solstice night the offering goes out, and it`s a tradition if weather permits to light a bonfire outside too and skywatch for a while.
Presents are also exchanged on this night, and all the time when I was a small girl growing up, me and my sister had a stocking, a large one knitted by my granny, and in the morning would be a satsuma, an exotic thing to us, in the toe of it, some chocolate coins, a hand knitted teddy and various other wee toys.
In Scotland, I always decorated the house with swags and wreaths of real greenery, and above all I really miss that here in Orkney...the only real thing I can get is the tree and that is shipped in from mainland.
Fairy lights are strung over the tree with glass baubles and tinsel, and lights are also strung around the house, a small defiance against the darkest days of winter.
Being heathen, christmas day itself is a public holiday to me without any religious meaning but I do respect those who keep it as a holy day.
When people wish me `Merry Christmas`, I don`t get on my high horse and tut, saying `I`m heathen!`, I simply wish them a Merry Christmas back. It creates a smile to do so and costs me nothing in effort.
Another tradition in my family was to make the plum pudding, putting small coins in the mix for folks to find as they ate. Yes, I know..not a good idea for kids but the adults love it.
Mistletoe, that symbol of fertility, is strung over strategic places to kiss under though this year it`ll be fake.
Rowan twigs would be placed in the barns for the darkest day of the year, to ward off evil wights and greedy spirits who would harm the livestock, throughout the dark days of winter when the beasts are interred indoors.
I make a small sunwheel to welcome the return of the sun after the Solstice. This is simply made from a round of twigs or wood, bound about with straw and any dried herbage you can find. It`s set afire and either rolled downhill or put onto a chain and folks take turns at swinging it around their heads, making wishes for each round.
Special biscuits are made, in the shape of stars and Jul trees, and decorated with coloured icing.
I`d be interested to hear others traditions and plans. And many thanks to Wintermoon for inspiring this thread for me, it brought back many happy memories.