When I was just beginning to explore paganism, I was–for some reason–befuddled as to what a Wiccan would decorate her Yule tree with. All my mother’s ornaments seemed to be the exclusive property of Christmas, though I have no idea why. Aside from a few crèche or angel ornaments, nothing on our tree was strictly Christian. If you consider Santa Claus and candy canes Christian symbols, then we had a few more Christian ornaments–but, by and large, the ornaments on our tree had nothing to do with religion at all. We had artificial fruits, shellacked cookies, artificial birds, animals, toys, and pretty much anything else you could imagine.
Now that I’m a grown-up, I’m fully of the opinion that anything that I deem “Yule-tree worthy” is acceptable on my Yule tree. While I probably won’t be out buying crèches or angels, I’d proudly display any that I received as gifts or inherited from relatives. And I proudly feature all the crazy ornaments that have no religious significance whatsoever, but are each evocative of a personal memory. For example, my goldfish ornament reminds me of my youngest brother winning a goldfish just when he was learning to talk and proudly proclaiming that he’d name it “Golden Opportunity.” A pair of matrushka doll ornaments remind me of my friend Angela who gave them to me, and of my trip to Russia, where I made myself say goodbye to the first man I loved. An ornament that says “Drink Green Tea” reminds me of my days working for Adagio and networking with the teaophiles.
Frankly, I think these types of ornaments are the most important ones on the Yule tree, but if you’re looking to make a pagan statement, there are a few types of ornaments you could incorporate on the tree.
- Stars. This is pretty much a no-brainer for the Wiccan set, as the pentacle is our main religious symbol.
- Lights. Again, this is all but a no-brainer. We light candles and decorate our homes with lights on Yule–the darkest day of the year–as a sort of sympathetic magic to bring back the return of increasing daylight.
- Greenery. What better way to festoon a pagan tree than to bring nature in? Weaving pine cones, ivy, holly, mistletoe, and oak branches or acorns in among the evergreen boughs will certainly make a statement, and looks incredible.
- Birds and Animals. Ornaments with a bird motif are really popular–particularly brightly colored birds like cardinals, goldfinches, and bluebirds. They are, of course, another natural motif, but pagans can also view them magically. In her book Wheel of the Year, Pauline Campanelli notes that bird ornaments are a bit like working some sympathetic magic: they can be viewed as charms to hasten Springs return. Incorporating wrens and robins are especially significant because, as Ms. Campanelli writes, wrens were hunted and killed on Yule in many European countries “in order to let its replacement, the robin redbreast, reign” (12). Other animals also contribute to the nature motif, but some–such as stags or reindeer–have special significance to the God.
- Musical Instruments. Ours is a bardic religion, and music and dance plays a large part in how we raise magical energy. As Pauline Campanelli writes, symbols of music “represents continuity, ancient and unchanging.”
- Food Items. Incorporating different fruits or representations of baked goods can represent luxury, wealth, or hearth and home.
- Santa Claus. Even though the modern Santa Claus bears some similarity with the Christian saint Nicholas, who gave little children gifts, Santa Claus is not St. Nicholas. In fact, he’s not even an ancient figure: the modern conception of Santa Claus was largely shaped after artists Thomas Nast and Clement Clarke Moore started churning out images of a fat, jolly, red-clad man and department stores started using it to sell their products. To be very cynical, Santa Claus could probably be considered a god (or a false idol, depending on an individuals religious persuasion) of rampant commercialism. But the Santa Claus mythos is also informed by various pagan figures such as the Germanic god Odin, and the general figure–an old man clad in fur and holly colors–makes him an appropriate representation of the Holly King.