Keep the Christ in Christmas

Someone asked today whether either Yule or Solstice get commercialized? I would really hate to imply that Pagans are more spiritual in their holiday practices than Christians, because the lack of merchandising to them makes it seem that they aren’t as commercialized.
I know that Solstice, or at least the Saturnalia, was “commercialized” in Rome. Parties, presents, social silliness. But remember that in the city of Rome proper, the labor was done by slaves, captured for that purpose through incessant warfare. Thinking ahead to New Years Day, during the time of the Republic Roman New year was in March, and they’d have their elections of the new consuls, who’d go out and run the wars. But as they expanded their territory, they had to to farther and farther from the city to reach non-Roman lands to conquer. That made it hard for the newly elected consuls to get to the front at the start of campaign season. Rather than move the elections back (no, they HAD to be on New Years!), they moved New Year’s Day back to the end of December, thus allowing the new consuls time to get out to the legions (and keep sending back conquered slaves and loot). It does show an odd relationship with their holidays that they could change when the year started, but not when elections were held.

Neither Yule nor Christmas could be commercialized as they are now until there was Capitalism, not just the accumulation of wealth, that’s pretty much a constant with human societies, but when gaining and exchanging capital became the way of ‘keeping track’ of power, competitive spending was attached to the holiday. We were no longer simply sharing food with friends, decorating, and giving gifts, but “keeping up with the Joneses”.  When prestige was gained by generosity from your own stores (however they may have been filled), Yule was a time of celebrating what you had, and sharing with those who had less. Massive consumption and distribution of excess proved to everyone how powerful you were. This led to the customs of the poor visiting the rich, caroling, mumming, wassailing, souling, hunting the wren, many excuses to go get a handout. The taxes may have been as stiff, but giving to the poor was how being rich was justified. In the earliest times, they provided the military protection, but later also provided financial protection. And these customs strengthened community ties. It’s not that people forgot the spiritual occasion of Christmas, they remember that, however they are living in a world that has embraced the idea that if you are rich, it’s because you are favored by God, and therefore whatever gets you money, must be His will. The good of the people who work for and with you is no longer a consideration. Part of this is probably also that people follow the jobs wherever they may be, so you don’t have a multi-generational relationship with the land and the people around you.

Once again I think that they have missed something because their grasp of history is so poor.  If the culture doesn’t change, as soon as people with stuff to sell realize there is a market, there will be Solstice and Yule things being pushed at us, with ads to convince us that if we aren’t doing it with their stuff, we aren’t doing it right. We have to avoid accepting the underlying premise that we can judge a person by how much he makes, not how much good he does.

Thinking about the pronouns in that last line, when we look at how much woman are often undervalued because they are so much better at valuing raising children and making a home a safe and welcoming place, not simply trying to ‘make more money’. But don’t let me confuse the issue- men were sucked into the same trap when they moved off their homesteads where they raised the food and built the shelters. Like women, they were and are trying to provide safety and security for their children, so they won’t be cold, hungry, and scared, but they are only offered the option of working for a wage to achieve this worthy goal, and have been gulled into tracking security with larger numbers.
It’s a huge change in how we see the world, and until we can change that perspective, any holiday is at risk of commercializing. If we can help change our societies attitudes toward money and people, it won’t matter what name we give gods or which day we celebrate what they give us. Let us all help each other celebrate that which feeds our souls, and we’ll get through the long winter, the days will get longer, and we’ll all make it to spring together.

Tasks we avoid

I was doing that thing you do when the world is cold and projects are safely in the future (when it warms up), so Clean the Attic, and Clear the Cellar both reached the list.

They are actually slightly different in the category of Tasks to Avoid. The cellar is still full of stuff that was left behind when we bought the house- and the bank promised to have the old crap removed. So my resistance is “I shouldn’t HAVE to clean this up, it’s someone else’ mess.” (I actually have cleaned it some in the past, and my back gets up when I hit the old fridge, and left behind stuff- besides I’d have to pay someone to cart it away.) The attic is pretty much all mine. It’s bags of clothing that even goodwill wouldn’t take because it’s so out of style that we forgot to bring down when the next child grew into them; it’s toys set aside for grandchildren I’ll never have; it’s old Halloween costumes, and decorations we don’t bother bringing down anymore, and books we have no space for on the shelves, and I’ll never read again.

This is the problem with cleaning, it’s admitting that the futures we had planned for are not going to come true, and that’s hard. Sometimes like “grandchildren I won’t have” it’s a big regret. Cleaning the closet is having to admit “I’ll never fit in that skirt again”, or that the dress I really love has not been worn because it’s too stained to be worn in public. I have an entire wardrobe of “can only be worn at home” clothing because my views of what’s too worn-out to keep and societies differ. (Is it because I have an historical view from the days when every garment represented processing flax or wool, spinning, weaving, and sewing, or that I’m the “adult child of people who lived through the depression”, and figure that people only need one special outfit, and one or two for work?) Cleaning the `fridge is more of an acknowledgement that I wasted food- didn’t use that leftover up before it went bad. That’s a hard one for me to face.

I expect that now, especially during the shutdown, there are people avoiding looking at bills because it’s depressing when you realize that you simply don’t have the money to pay them. When there’s nothing you can do about a problem, it’s easy to want to avoid it. I left a handprint on the mirror over my dresser for many years. I’d put my baby sister up on the dresser and she left the handprint there. Allow me to say that it was probably sheer pre-teen laziness that accounted for the first year or so of not cleaning the mirror, but after a while, I didn’t want to lose that little mark of innocence. I probably left it there for six or seven years, until I’d smeared it wiping around it. I’m not good at letting go of the past.

From not taking down the Christmas Tree because you don’t want to face the end of the holidays, to not giving away the clothes of a spouse who has died, there are things that look like cleaning chores that are really letting go of the past.

I don’t think knowing that makes it any easier.

Spirits of Christmas- Nisse/ Tomte 12-13-17

Please join Tchipakkan on the New Normal 8 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2017 (St. Lucia Day), from 8 to 9 p.m. edt. Listen on your computer at

If you missed the live show, it’s archived here:

By the way, this image is by Sussi1 over on deviantart- available for non-commercial use only.

This week I’ll be talking about the Swedish Tomte, the Danish and Norse Nisse, the Icelandic Yul Lads, English Brownies, and other spirits associated with the winter Solstice holidays. They are generally small, from a few inches to a few feet tall, often with conical or knit caps in red or some other bright color, and look a bit like garden gnomes. Nisse gained popularity during the romantic era and are popular Christmas decorations- along with amanita muscara mushrooms!
These spirits seem to partake both of the ancestral spirit as well as the house or land spirit, and are protective of those whose space and family they share. There are also many tales showing that one shouldn’t disrespect or take the Nisse lightly- for instance the story of the year the farmwife buried the butter in the Christmas porridge, and when the brownie thought he’d been stiffed, he killed the cow. When he ate the porridge, he discovered his mistake and switched the dead cow with a neighbor’s live one. Generally they protected the livestock and often seen with the farm cat.

The Yul Lads (and their mother’s cat) were less benevolent (Mom and the cat were known to eat naughty children) but have been made more safe for company in the modern world. But… I’ll be talking more about these stories on Wednesday and I’d love to have you to call in with questions or stories of your own: 619-639-4606 (live only).

If you can’t make the live show 8-9- and have a question or comment, please feel free to write me a message and I’ll read it on the air.
Want to listen later? Live archives its shows by date, and I archive them by date, guest, and topic on my website:

Hope you can join us Wednesday night from 8-9 at the New Normal.

There’s an amusing interpretation of a nisse here:



War on Christmas on the New Normal 12-16-15

war on Christmas memeWhat a thing to be arguing about! Let’s have some discussions about how to find a way we can share this time in a positive way.

I’m a pagan, but I love the holidays. I love the trees, the music, the cookies (especially the cookies) the colored lights, gathering of friends. I like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, and the way so many people open their hearts to joy, and to giving. I don’t like the stress, and the over-spending on things we don’t want, and the way pushing too hard to be happy can make us feel even lonelier sometimes. But I’m a bit weirded out by this “War on Christmas” concept. (I already blogged about it once.) Yes, I realize that Joshua Feuerstein is an internet preacher who apparently repeatedly comes up with weird things to rant about, not only that Starbucks seasonal cup design isn’t Christian enough for his idea. I look at all these snow scenes and wonder why the rest of the country doesn’t get annoyed about the whole Northern Idyll, when sleighs and snowmen were never part of their Christmases.

I recognize the value of not wrapping the whole country up in a big white Christian package and ignoring and marginalizing all the people who don’t fit into those images. But we’re still feeling our way into a more balanced multi-culturalism. One hears stories about Churches being told not to put up their nativity scenes, and schools having to “generic down” their holiday celebrations- even though the vast majority of the kids are Christian. It feels like when they say “one of the kids is allergic to peanuts, so no one can bring PB&J sandwiches for lunch in case he wants to trade with you.” Really? At the same time my pagan sites are full of stories about how Christianity stole most of its traditions from us, and how all their symbols are really pagan. They seem to want to rub people’s noses in their research, even though more research would show that most of the time these borrowings were entirely intentional and acceptable. Symbols, being what they are, are capable of many layers of meaning, and even having the meaning shift. It happens all the time.

war-on-christmas-731x411So how can we live together amicably? If we can’t do it during the holidays, when can we?



“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season;

the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church;

the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue;

the atheists went to parties and drank.

People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!’”

~ Dave Barry

Maybe there’s nothing we can do, but maybe we can figure out what is underlying the discomfort we are feeling, and find a way where we participate in a pluralistic society without unintentionally offending others. Celebrate each other’s joy.

Please call in with any questions stories or ideas: 619-639-4606

To listen live: open a window on your computer to, sign in, and click on Shows, and the New Normal to listen. To listen later at your convenience, shows are archived by date on here, and they’re organized by date, topic and guest on .

Victorian Christmas Ornaments


As mentioned elsewhere, I have been having a Solstice Feast since the 70s. One of the things I ask people to bring (or make here) is a home-made ornament. Some have broken, but the rest continue to accumulate. Clearly, I need to make a photo essay of them.  I consider them some of my most precious treasures, and was really thrilled that so many survived the fire in 1995.

One of the most mysterious is a paper mache purple winged creature that turned up one year in the 70s and we never found out who brought him. Over the years we’ve made many ornaments ourselves- painted and jeweled eggshells, paper, lace, embroidered, stuffed, carved, molded…. This is not mentioning the edible ornaments: cookies, popcorn, cranberries, wafers, candycanes, etc. One year we strung multicolored swedish fish, which were lovely when the light came through them!

This year we are doing a Victorian theme and so I looked up some of what Victorians put on their trees. (usually fresh on Christmas eve, which probably made use of candles much more safe) and not necessarily intended to be saved from year to year.

Sebnitz Ornaments These ornaments, are now collectors items, but we could make some in this style from old Christmas cards. Sebnitz ornaments were produced starting around the 1880’s in Germany. They were made from wire, cotton, and the perforated sheets leftover from making sequins, with additions of wax baby Jesuses, Dresdens, beads and celluloid paper.

Dresdens were cardboard that was printed embossed, and sometimes painted. Some were made in several pieces and assembled. Often tinsel, lace and other additions were added.

Kugels were the earliest blown glass ornaments. Kugel means ball, and they started as unsilvered glass- like fishing floats or Witchballs, but then were silvered on the inside like the garden globes still popular. Shapes were created by blowing the glass bubbles into molds- grapes were the most common molded shapes.

GewGaws were anything that shined- paper, bits of jewelry, tinsel, whatever they could find and make an ornament out of.

Cornucopias paper or lace cones, decorated with bits of trim or cut out pictures, filled with candy or nuts

Wax ornaments were molded in the shape of people, angels, animals. I think some were poured in molds and some formed as we make trinkets with fimo or oven baked dough.

Scraps were any decorations made from paper- sometimes saved in “scrap books”. Flags were popular, as well as birds, Santas, and other images.

They also hung treats, and wrapped and unwrapped gifts on the tree (if they were small and light enough). They used dried fruit, flowers, pine cones, and other natural objects. They used the skills they had in embroidery, lacemaking, knitting, carving, painting, and other crafts to make unique decorations. Part of the charm is the ephemeral nature of these items, and that the reason most survive is sentiment.