Changing the Pattern: The Yule Reset

This is one of those “file away for later” blogs I sometimes write: information that isn’t applicable right now but may be useful to have on hand in the future. 

I reset Yule this past December. The last tendrils of that practice are wrapping up as we round the bend toward March and I wanted to record the different techniques I used before they fade from thought during the rush of springtime.

December is historically a tough month for me. A few people I deeply love passed in various Decembers: Katherine Savery Gray, a dear friend and one of the founding members of Kindred Crow, died on December 7th, 2018. My beloved father died on December 29th, 2020, one of the million+ deaths from the Covid pandemic. RJ, my brother in law, passed on December 4th, 2017. And, this past December, I headed into the Yuletide season with two recent deaths of beloveds weighing heavily on my heart: my longtime friend Rebecca Oubouzar in May and my wonderful dog Corey in July. 

It’s…a lot. Add the weight of grief to the shorter days and longer nights, and the mix is a recipe for disaster on a mental health front. Since 2018, December has been a month I’ve survived rather than lived. I’ve mostly resented Yuletide and struggled to connect to the joys of the season. The bright lights, calendar obligations, highlighted commercialism, and holiday music only served to accent the sorrow I carried. I often felt like I was alone, looking through a window at the merriment but unable to reach it myself. 

And y’all, I loved Yule when I was younger. I’m one of those lunatics that would go on days-long baking sprees, wear a Santa hat all month, cover my home in lights, and otherwise completely embody the holiday. But all that death wiped away my ability to connect in that way. 

It was time to try something different. 

People who’ve taken workshops with me know that I’m a big believer in “10% better.” Many aspects of life aren’t completely fixable, but getting a little better is often an option. This past year, I decided to do what I could to make December, and Yuletide, 10% better. And, as is often the impact, I landed around 50% better. So, I wanted to share what I did in case you also struggle with December or know someone who does. 

I completely changed my Yule decorations. Like Yggdrasil, this choice has three deep roots. First, I wanted to connect to the oldest ideas about Yule: the sacred time in winter’s darkness is about reaching toward the sunlight again. Winter was a dangerous, dark time for our ancestors in northern climes – the growing season was over, the cold was an ever present adversary, and the stores put up during harvest needed to last til the earliest harvests of the coming year. It was a time to connect to the people you love the most and hold on tight. And, our ancestors watched the sun, praying for its return. In the words of Terry Pratchett, “It’s all about the sun, master. White snow and red blood and the sun. Always has been.”

The second place this technique roots is in my community. I don’t make a lot of money – no one becomes a professional witch in order to become rich. So, I asked for help in September: as people got their Yule ornaments out, if they had some old gold or sun-themed ornaments they no longer needed, to please send them my way. My amazing community responded with a cascade of ornaments: old ones from their own trees, inexpensive ones they found at secondhand shops, leftovers from office decorations in years past, sun-shaped objects that could easily become ornaments, handmade solar blessings, a handful of new, gifted ornaments and more. The aspect of reshaping my Yuletide that I hadn’t expected was how it would feel in my home with the very real blessing and love of my community shining at me from every surface. Even on the hardest days that month, the message of “you are loved and not alone” was powerful enough to help me get through. 

And, the last deep root here is about change. Although I loved my silver-purple-and-black ornaments, that collection of Yuletide decorations bore witness to and was the backdrop for some very hard years. I may yet bring that ornament set out again – I’ve kept it – but changing the entire tone of the house and tree decorations from cool silver to warm gold was a good choice. My home, my Yuletide, looked different, and that difference was important when it came to shifting the energy of December. 

I adopted a candle lighting practice that is only wrapping up now. Within contemporary Heathenry, a new practice called “Sunwait” has become popular. It’s inspired by the Christian practice of Advent. In the five weeks leading up to the solstice, a different rune is honored, and a candle inscribed with that rune lit, for each Thursday (or Sunday in some households) at sundown. The final candle is lit at sundown on Yule. As a contemporary practice, it’s customizable. There are a set of runes that many people use, but you can also choose your own as we did. Our focus was on the runes whose blessing we wished to invite for the coming solar year. 

We chose to use medium-sized pillar candles for our Sunwait candles. In addition to lighting them on the appointed days, we placed our Sunwait candles on the dining room table. We sit down to dinner together most nights. During Sunwait, we lit the candles during dinner and we have continued to do so. At the time of this writing, we are down to one last candle with wick still left. It’s been beautifully anchoring to see the candles slowly burn down and out as the daylight increases. 

Observing Sunwait helped keep me focused on the spiritual connections of the holiday season, and reminded me of the holiness of the dark. 

I did less. I blocked off most weekends in December (I created an all-day calendar listing with an all-caps “NOTHING” as its title) with the awareness that the weight of my grief frequently means I don’t have the same kind of bandwidth for activities. Having more space for simply being at home, reading, working on my various projects, and enjoying the quiet was really helpful for me. In previous years, I’d tried to “keep up” my standard Yuletide activities, and it was just too much on top of the grief. 

I added one fun activity that had nothing to do with Yule. This was kind of an accident, but I definitely plan to do it next year. A Jim Henson exhibit was visiting one of the Baltimore museums and included puppets and props from some of my favorite Henson movies (The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth). A good deal of my internal symbolic world was influenced by Henson’s storytelling, and seeing Aughra, the Gelflings, the ballroom costumes from Labyrinth, and some wonderful friends from Sesame Street in person was soul-healing and connecting in ways I don’t think I can properly put into words. Immediately after going to the exhibit, I joked that “Crying at the Jim Henson Exhibit” was going to be my new autobiography title. 

So, next year, I plan to include a visit to an exhibit or attraction that holds a good deal of interest for me. This adds a thread of joy and meaning wholly separate from the cultural whirligig that is the holiday season. 

I was fierce in my dedication to my self-care. I went into December knowing that I struggle and consciously weaving the threads of softening that blow. This meant that I was on my yoga mat nearly every day, never missed any of the various medications and supplements I take, protected my sleep patterns, scheduled additional therapy sessions (I’m normally at a “maintenance” pattern) and went walking outside whenever the weather allowed. I’m unfortunately not disciplined enough to be that good at self care all the time, but prioritizing it for the month of December did a world of good. 

I let the tears come when they needed to. I still had a few big meltdowns, a few really bad days. But this year, rather than taking on grief as my entire experience of December, I allowed the waves of grief to rise and fall without attaching any larger theme to them. I was simply present to my emotional state, wept and railed at the gods when I needed to, and was gentle with myself afterward. I found that these moments of release were needed, and also that the grief didn’t completely take over the month as in previous years. Some of this may be the passage of time and its gift of grief integration, but I think some of it is the way I approached Yuletide this year. 

So, there you have it. This was my recipe this year, and it worked better than I could possibly have hoped. I was able to connect with some of the joy of Yuletide, some of the deep sacred meaning around the solstice, and that change held my grief in a different and better way. 10% better indeed. I hope this set of ideas helps others who face the same challenge. 

If you also struggle with December, what are some techniques and approaches you’ve used to soften the edges? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your idea is exactly what another witch needs to read. 

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