A Wonderful Yule Tradition from An Unlikely Witch

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

A handsome stack of Yule presents under the tree

I know I’m not alone in associating the Yuletide with ample gift giving (and receiving!).  It’s fun to plan what to get each loved one, it’s a blast to fuss over brightly colored paper and wrapping your gifts attractively, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the anticipation and joy on your giftee’s faces as they unwrap your presents.

And yet, as the Christians say, the commercialism and materialism behind the culture of this sort of gift-giving is decidedly not “the reason for the season.”  Worse still, too much focus on gifting things can turn any jolly old soul into a major Scrooge.  I know that in my leaner years, I looked upon the list of people I wanted to gift, then looked at my bank account, threw up my hands in despair, and basically avoided holiday functions altogether.  Frankly, that’s a damn shame.  The December holiday season is one of the best excuses to be merry and celebrate with your loved ones that our dominant culture has, and the general practices we have of Yule itself are so close to the secular celebrations of Christmas that it’s a great way to gently share our faith and love with those who might not be accepting in other settings.

So what’s a gifting tradition we can adopt that eliminates the Scrooge potential and gets more to the heart of the spiritual importance of this time:  the return of the light?

Well, last year the answer came to me in an unexpected vehicle:  a then-recently published novel by Debora Geary.  Since March of 2011 with the Kindle publication of her first novel, A Modern Witch, Ms. Geary has prolifically created three related novel series tying together characters in her “Witch Central” universe–basically groups of contemporary magical practitioners in Berkeley, California and Nova Scotia who all help each other improve their lives in incredibly healthy ways.  Franky, Witch Central is one of the best treatments I’ve seen seeding a solid reality into a fantastic universe.  I’m not going to say that Ms. Geary produces amazing and masterful literature–really, this is the level of “chick lit” without a heavy romantic focus–but the books are so satisfying that I happily buy each one as soon as they’re published.

The cover of Debora Geary's novel "An Unlikely Witch."

The cover of Debora Geary’s novel “An Unlikely Witch.”

Ms. Geary’s Winter Solstice 2013 publication was An Unlikely Witch, which was itself set around the Winter Solstice.  In fact, the driving force behind novel’s greater plot is a scheme that Nell’s 11-year-old triplets–Mia, Shay, and Ginia–devise.  Essentially, they create a new gift-giving strategy for the enlarged Witch Central community.  They assign each member the name of one other member and give them the task of making one of that person’s dreams come true.  It’s like a secret Santa exchange, but without the emphasis on purchasing an item under a dollar amount.  In fact, the gifts the triplets propose giving are priceless.

Now, this being a work of magical realism, some of the dreams tackled are incredibly tall orders with very magical solutions–such as taking on a woman’s infertility (though that dream is ultimately solved mundanely) and making it snow in southern California–but others are quite simple.  The non-magic Nat, for example, discovers that her giftee, a recently homeless girl, has a secret talent and love for painting.  Not only does Nat find a way to get this girl supplies in a way that doesn’t make the girl feel like charity, but she also positions her to have her work seen by many and gain lucrative commissions in the process.  In other words, she sets the girl on the path to becoming that which her heart most deeply desires:  a professional artist.  Another person, the octogenerian spitfire Helga, finds a way to give her giftee, a teenage boy, space away from the tight-knit community to pursue a first love without interference.

I think it would be a wonderful Yule tradition to put something like this into practice within our own communities–whether in a coven, family, or association of adopted loved ones.  Sure, Yule is a great time to give physical tokens of affection–desired store-bought trinkets, homemade sweets and savories, etc.–but it’s also the best time to shine a little light on some of the dreams we lock away in the deepest darkness of our subconsciousness.  In the process, we’ll end up giving our giftees something far more important than a bauble they’ll forget they wanted in a few years:  they’ll get glorious memories of time spent together with those they loved as well as help in becoming the best versions of themselves.

Who could ask for anything more?

Yule Ornament Idea: Pasta Angels

It’s been my experience that angels are something of a divisive issue in the Pagan community.  There’s a very vocal camp that maintain that they’re a unique creation of the Abrahamic religions (and Zoroastrianism) and that there’s no place for them in Neopaganism.  There’s another camp that reminds us all that angel-like creatures are not unique to the Abrahamic religions and that important influences upon contemporary Paganism placed a good deal of emphasis on them.  In particular, Theosophy–an esoteric philosophy repopularized under Helena Blavatsky in the late 19th century that influences a lot of contemporary Paganism–developed a concept of devas (a word taken from a similar being in Buddhism), which were essentially solar or planetary angels that could be reincarnations of human beings.  In Theosophy, Nature spirits, elementals, and fairies also share a lot of similarities with these angelic devas.  In addition to Theosophy, another influence on contemporary Paganism, the Hermetic Qabalah, also insists upon angels, and incorporates 10 archangels into its magical system.

If you’re a pagan who uses the concept of angels in your practice, this “craft-tastic” holiday ornament might interest you and your family.  Break out the dried pasta and acrylic paints and get ready to return to pre-school!

A couple Pasta Angels perched on my Pentacle.

A couple Pasta Angels perched on my Pentacle.

What You’ll Need:

  • Twine or other thread/ribbon for hanging
  • A bobby pin to help thread the twine through the head
  • A number of wooden beads to serve as heads
  • Ditalini pasta (n. 45) to serve as hair
  • Rigatoni pasta to serve as bodies (squatter, thicker rigatoni shapes work better than longer, thinner rigatoni)
  • Farfalle/Bowtie pasta to serve as wings
  • Elbow macaroni to serve as arms
  • Thumbtacks to serve as candles
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue sticks
  • Acrylic paint: at least 1 white bottle and 1 colored bottle (keep in mind that green doesn’t show up well on a tree).
  1. Paint the farfalle pasta white on both sides.  Paint the rigatoni pieces, too.  You may need to do two coats, depending on the paint thickness.  If you desire to paint the ditalini or elbow macaroni a color, do so now as well.  However, these pieces are very small and painting them will be very laborious.
  2. Poke the closed end of the bobby pin through the wooden bead and thread the twine through it.  Pull a loop of twine through the head and knot it at the bottom of the doll’s head.  Cut the twine off next to the knot.
  3. Using the hot glue gun, glue the ditalini to the head to look like curled hair.  It is best to try to lay just enough glue to tack three pieces to the head at a time.  Continue to glue ditalini to the head until the entire back of the bead is covered.
  4. Run a bead of hot glue around the knot at the base of the head bead and fix a rigatoni to it.
  5. Dab a bead of hot glue onto the back of a farfalle and affix it to the back of the angel, about halfway down the rigatoni.
  6. Dab hot glue onto one side of a macaroni and attach it to the front of the rigatoni so that the open ends of the macaroni point upward.  Repeat with the other macaroni in a mirror image of the first.
  7. Dab hot glue onto the top of the two macaroni openings in the center of the angel and fix the top of a thumbtack to it so that the point is upward.
  8. Let the angel cool completely and hang it from your tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Simple Felt Santa Drops

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Aren’t these little drops darling? And they’re so easy to make, too!

After the year I made a million Christmas mice, I definitely warmed up to the idea of using felt in making Christmas ornaments.  It’s really easy stuff to work with, and–if you buy wool felt and stuffing–pretty darn eco-friendly.  I decided to whip out my felt reserves again this year with this incredibly simple collection of teardrop Santas (or Oak and Holly Kings, if you want to be so inclined).  All you do is cut out a couple tear drop shapes, some flesh-toned circles, and some white beards, glue (or sew) the circles onto one tear drop and tack down the beard with a few red stitches.  Add a cute little button to the belly, and sew two drops together, and you’re done!  Should these little fellows appeal to you, here’s what you’ll need:

  • This Santa Pattern, which is a printable .pdf.  All the words are in German, but it’s easy to figure out what is what.
  • A few scraps of felt in an assortment of colors.  Shades of red, green, and blue will all be especially ‘holiday’ themed.  Darker greens don’t show up very well in trees, though.
  • Thread to match the body colors
  • A few scraps of felt in flesh tones
  • A few white scraps of felt
  • Bright red embroidery floss
  • Black embroidery floss
  • Fabri-tac fabric adhesive
  • Fabric paint OR blush for cheeks
  • Batting
  • A chopstick
  • An assortment of small buttons
If using a sewing machine, you might find it more convenient to stuff the ornament while it's still on the machine.

If using a sewing machine, you might find it more convenient to stuff the ornament while it’s still on the machine.

To begin, cut out all your body shapes, faces, and beards.  Glue the faces to half of the body shapes using Fabri-tac or sew them into place, either with a straight stitch on a sewing machine or hand sewing with a blanket stitch.  Give the face red cheeks either by wetting a scrap of fabric or a Q-tip, dabbing it in a drop of red fabric paint, blotting off the excess, and dabbing the scrap onto the cheeks or by carefully working a little bit of blusher into the fabric with a Q-tip.  Using black embroidery thread, sew eyes onto the face.  I think using 1-3 parallel stitches here gives a cuter look than using french knots, but do whatever you like.  Using red embroidery thread, affix the beard to the face with 3-4 to form a smile  Sew on a button below the beard.

Using a straight stitch on a sewing machine or hand sewing with a running stitch, sew two teardrops together, right side out, leaving a chopstick-sized hole.  Use a chop stick to push batting through the teardrop layers, then sew up the hole.

Thread an embroidery needle with ribbon or red embroidery floss and push it through the top of the tear drop in order to create a hanger.  Knot off the thread, then put the ornament on your tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Birdseed Ornaments

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

While we’re in the habit of creating holiday bits and baubles to decorate our homes, it’s also a good time to think of things we can do for the other creatures in our community.  Winter is a harsh time for all the animals in our ecosystem.  Cruelly, they need more food to fuel their metabolisms and stay warm when there’s not as much food available.  It’s a simple thing to set out salt licks for deer and maintain birdfeeders for our feathered friends, but–if you’re feeling crafty–you can find ways to make attractive, edible ‘ornaments’ for the creatures, too.

This is one such craft.  You essentially bind birdseed together with flour, gelatin, and sugar and press it into attractive molds, then suspend the ‘ornaments’ from tree branches outside.

If you’ve got a collection of seasonal cookie cutters, feel free to use those.  Snowflakes, stars, and gingerbread men look adorable and catch a lot of attention.  Of course, a muffin tin will work, too.  My favorite is just to make thin circles using my canning jar rings, or thicker ones using old tuna fish cans (which I’ve repurposed for English Muffin molds).  See what you have lying about and how creative you can become.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons corn syrup
4 cups birdseed
A variety of molds (muffin tin, cookie cutters, etc. I use a lot of canning jar rings.)
nonstick spray
drinking straw or thick nails
waxed paper
biodegradable twine or raffia

  1. Combine the flour, water, gelatin and corn syrup in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well-combined.
  2. Add the birdseed to the mixture, stir until well coated.
  3. Spray your molds with cooking spray, and spoon birdseed mixture into each mold. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack it down, and make the top smooth.
  4. Poke a hole through top of each birdseed mold using a drinking straw or nail, making sure it goes all the way through.  Leave the straw/nail in the
  5. Leave the birdseed mixture in the molds for two to three hours. Then, remove the straws/nails and lay out a sheet of waxed paper. Gently remove the hardened ornaments from the mold, and place them on the wax paper upside down. Allow them to dry for at least two to three more hours, or overnight
  6. Cut your twine and carefully put it through the hole, knotting the ends to form a loop.
  7. Hang your ornaments on an outdoor tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Baby Sock Countdown Calendar

As I’ve done for the previous two years, I am posting Yule ornament and decoration ideas on each of the four Mondays before Yule (December 21st, 2013!). Enjoy the crafting!

A kid-friendly way to avoid the "When is Yule?!" interrogations.

A kid-friendly way to avoid the “When is Yule?!” interrogations.

Advent Calendars are pretty popular holiday traditions amongst our Christian friends.  I’ve never really seen the appeal of them before–despite growing up Catholic, my parents did not see the point in maintaining a countdown when my brothers and I were perfectly capable of looking at reading the family calendar.

However, this past year I visited some Christian friends and their very small, very excitable children.  These children have no patience at all.  I swear, whenever I’ve gone with this friend to any place, her toddlers spend the entire trip backseat asking “are we there yet?”  I positively dreaded staying with them for more than 20 minutes during the Christmas season, but the kiddos were perfect angels.  Their mom attributed their new patience to her adorable advent calendar.

Following Martha Stewart’s lead, my friend strung up a whole bunch of baby socks and tagged them with numbers.  She stuffed each sock with a couple treats–Hershey Kisses, novelty crayons, Dollar Store matchbox cars, stickers, Silly Putty, etc.–and every morning after breakfast, the kids got to ‘open’ a stocking.  It was just enough of a novelty for the kids to be satisfied, and it gave them a really strong visual (Mom took each sock away after it was unclipped) to show them how long it was until Christmas arrived.

Us Pagans could totally adopt this trend.  In my house, I can definitely see stringing up a bunch of little socks and treats the day after Thanksgiving with a countdown until the Solstice.  It would be so cute!

You Will Need:
Enough socks to go from your start date to the Solstice.  If beginning from December 1st, at least 22 (11 pairs).  If beginning from Thanksgiving, at least 30 (15 pairs).
Ribbon
Number stickers
Round stickers
Pushpins
Mini clothespins
Gifts and Candy

1. Gather up to 15 pairs of socks in colors that go well together (vary the sizes, if you like). Lay them out in the order you want to hang them, leaving spaces in between.

2. Cut the ribbon to the desired length; to find how long it should be, measure across the row of socks and add 12 inches.

3. Use number stickers to label each sock. If one has a busy pattern, place the number on top of a solid round sticker so that it’s easier to read.

4. Tack the ends of the ribbon to a railing or mantle with the pushpins; if you like, you can fasten the ribbon in several places to make a few swags.

5. Use mini clothespins to clip the socks to the ribbon; overlap them if you need to save space.

6. Tuck a gift inside each. If the item is heavy, use a larger clothespin to secure the sock.

Note: Gifts must be small enough to fit in tiny socks but safe for your child’s age.

V.’s Hot Buttered Rum

Oh, doesn't that just look sinful?

Oh, doesn’t that just look sinful?

There was one holiday season of my childhood where my dad took me–just me!–to a performance put on by the Anderson Symphony.  I remember three things of that night:  1) I finally got to wear one of my good party dresses, 2) it was too late for my little self and I fell asleep not long after the performance began, 3) my dad let me sip the hot buttered rum he got at intermission.

I was no stranger to the taste of rum even at that precocious time, since my parents were very fond of their holiday rum cake, but that drink was memorable for how awful it was.  It was watered down rum with an oily slick of butter on the surface.  Blech!  No wonder Dad pawned it off on me!

Fast forward some 20 years, and I’m spending the 2012 Yule with my friend V. and her family.  The Yule day was a flurry of frenzied cooking for an enormous pig roast that was to be that evening, and V. started it off by whipping up a batch of her late father’s hot buttered rum batter.  This stuff is transcendental.  The batter tastes very much like chocolate chip cookie dough batter, but without the flour.  You take a serving tablespoon and drop a dollop or two of the frozen batter into a mug, throw in a shot or two of dark or golden rum, stir it into a slurry, and fill the glass up with hot water.  Stir to combine and drink the ambrosia.  Now this is what hot buttered rum should taste like!

I think I’ve found a new Yuletide tradition, but V. won’t share her father’s exact recipe for any bribe I can imagine.  However, I did see most of the ingredients that went into the mix, and I’m fairly certain that this recipe will come close.  I don’t think there’s any cinnamon in V.’s though.

Hot Buttered Rum Batter

  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened till very liquidy
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1 pound dark brown sugar
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg (or one whole nutmeg, grated)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Place the softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on a medium speed until it is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the sugars by cupful until they are completely incorporated.  Add the spices and beat until they are incorporated, too.  Add the ice cream and incorporate, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides as needed.  The finished batter will be smooth and silky.

Transfer the batter to a freezer-safe container and freeze.  To make a serving of hot buttered rum, put a soup spoon’s worth of batter into a mug with a shot of golden or dark rum.  Stir to combine, top the mug with hot water, and stir again.  Top with whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg if desired.

The batter will last at least a month in the freezer, though it will likely store for up to 3 months if you still have any left after a big party.

Yule Ornament Idea: Crocheted Snowflakes

An example of homemade crocheted snowflakes. There are so many patterns, it is hard to duplicate any one flake!

I feel a little guilty about offering up this idea for DIY Yule ornaments.  The fact of the matter is that when it comes to fiber arts, I’m a dedicated knitter.  Crochet makes absolutely zero sense to me, and I have no intentions of ever taking up the craft.  That being said, I really can’t get enough of crochet snowflake ornaments.  My mother had several on the Christmas trees of my childhood, so they remind me of her and of that great time, but they’re also jaw-droppingly beautiful.  I’ve seen entire trees decorated with nothing but lights and these snowflakes–no two the same!–and thought them the most beautiful trees I’d ever seen.  The white thread of the snowflakes stands out beautifully against evergreen branches, and when you’ve got a collection of a bunch of different sizes, they add a great sense of dimension to your tree and help unify your existing (and almost certainly eclectic if you’re anything like me) ornament collection.

A tiny tree decorate in only white crocheted ornaments. Sweetly pretty!

Since I have no intentions to begin crocheting anytime soon, I took the most devious way out of this project.  I asked my mom for some.  Darling mother then decided she didn’t feel inclined to make them either…so she bought me a lot on Ebay!

As it turns out, Ebay’s not a bad way to acquire these ornaments.  Crafters apparently make them all throughout the year and then unload them during the holiday season.  You can acquire several dozen for under $20.  Etsy, of course, also has numerous listings for different snowflakes and snowflake groups.

Another great tip from my mom, who is a nursing home nurse, is to call up the area nursing homes and ask if any of the residents would be interested in making any for a fee.  My mother says she often has many patients who crochet items just to keep their hands busy, and many would welcome the chance for a commission.

My mother also admitted that she didn’t make the ornaments that hung on my childhood trees.  Even though she took credit for it in my youth, she actually purchased them at a church gift sale.  Apparently these are a fairly popular bazaar item in many parts of the country, so it might be a nice idea to frequent one or two of those.

Wherever you get them, I’ve found that they store best after the holiday season when put into individual baggies against a piece of cardstock or cardboard.  This keeps them from getting crumpled or tangled up in each other.

If you do know how to crochet and are itching for patterns, there’s no need to go out and buy a book or anything.  The Internet is full of patterns.  I highly recommend those published by Snowcatcher on her Snowflake Mondays.

Yule Ornament Idea: A Mistletoe Kissing Ball

Martha Stewart’s Mistletoe Kissing Ball

It doesn’t get much more Pagan than mistletoe, does it?  Contemporary Pagans regard it as an all-purpose magical herb, so it finds its way into all sorts of potions and charms.  Ancient druids held it in great esteem, and we’ve got centuries of folk practice under our belts regarding the herb…the most famous of which is the contemporary practice that a girl (or anyone these days) cannot refuse a kiss if she is standing under the herb.

Growing up as I did in the Midwest, few people had cause to fear the mistletoe kisses.  It wasn’t a very prolific plant in the area, so most people never came across it.  Since we also didn’t have large numbers of forest wanderers and wildcrafters looking to make a holiday buck, you couldn’t purchase it either, so nobody followed the custom.  I was in fifth grade before I even saw anyone hang a ‘mistletoe’ kissing ball and–to be bluntly honest–they used holly.  Along both American coasts, though, the holidays do see many forest people climbing trees and hacking down bundles of American mistletoe, which then gets sold in tiny sprigs for $2-$5.

As much as I support the idea of people learning aspects of wildcrafting and as much as I respect the very poor doing what they can to earn a little cash, I always refuse their mistletoe.  Unfortunately, almost everyone views mistletoes as an unrepentant parasite sucking the life out of their host.  Therefore, when they collect the plant, they often take the entire thing on the grounds that they’re performing a life-saving service to the host tree.  In reality, though, the mistletoe infestation is almost never so prominent as to be a dangerous vampire to the tree, and it might actually be giving its hosts something back.  As researcher Susan Milius found in her 2002 Science News article “Mistletoe, of All Things, Helps Juniper Trees”, the mistletoe berries attract more birds to the juniper trees.  Somehow, the trees end up producing a greater amount of berries themselves, which the birds then eat and spread about the forest.  In the end, mistletoe ends up having a very positive effect on the biodiversity of an area.

Between the variables of questionable availability and questionable harvesting practices, then, I have become a major proponent of using artificial mistletoe in holiday decorations.  Luckily, Martha Stewart’s amazing staffers have developed a very convincing and sophisticated DIY artificial mistletoe kissing ball.  Using Dupioni silk, iron-on vinyl fabric stiffener, pearl floral pins and some florist tape, beautiful mistletoe sprigs are just a quick craft away.  The sprigs can then be assembled into little ornament corsages for Yule trees and wreaths, or they can be fashioned into a traditional (and beautiful!) kissing ball, instructions for which follow.

With just a couple hours of work, you’ll end up with a classy product you can re-use year after year.  If the idea of losing the magical influence of real mistletoe bothers you, it’s a simple thing to sprinkle a few bits of dried mistletoe into the hot glue securing each glass ornament to the styrofoam ball.  Doing so will infuse the entire ornament with the appropriate energy while at the same time eliminating the need to secure fresh herbs every holiday season.

If there’s any questions in assembling the kissing ball, refer to the rather hilarious video of Martha Stewart and Stephen Colbert making this craft.  It’s beyond obvious that Martha doesn’t watch the Report or have much patience for Stephen’s antics…and that alone is worth the price of admission.

Tools and Materials

  • Iron, binder clips, scissors, hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Light green Dupioni silk (about 1/4 yard)
  • Iron-on matte vinyl
  • Leaf template
  • Green and black permanent markers
  • Floral pins with 1/4- to 3/8-inch white pearl heads
  • Small pine cones (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size)
  • S-shaped floral pins
  • Floral wire
  • Small (1-inch) white ball ornaments, enough to cover Styrofoam ball
  • Glittering glue
  • Glitter
  • Styrofoam ball (any size from 3 to 8 inches will work)
  • Large screw eye hook
  • Metallic silver floral spray paint (make sure spray paint is for use on floral items; regular spray paint will melt the Styrofoam)
  • Silk ribbon in a coordinating color

How to create the ball:

  1. Cut silk into an 11-by-17-inch piece. Apply an iron-on matte vinyl to one side of the silk, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Fold the silk into quarters accordion style, lengthwise, with the vinyl side facing out so there are 4 layers. Cut off any excess and clamp with binder clips.
  3. Print leaf template and cut out. Trace leaves onto vinyl of folded silk with a green permanent marker. Cut out leaves with silk still folded, so you are cutting out four leaves at a time. Move binder clips as you cut to keep layers from shifting.
  4. Use pearl head floral pins to make berries. Make a dot on each of the pin heads with a black permanent marker, and wrap pins together in twos with floral tape. Wrap silk leaves around the paired pins and secure with more floral tape to create small mistletoe sprigs. Repeat to make enough sprigs for your kissing ball (we made about 35 for a 6-inch ball).
  5. Attach pinecones to S-shaped floral pins with floral wire.
  6. Paint glue on the small ball ornaments, and glitter using an assortment of colors (we used White Gold and Coarse Crystal). Paint glue onto pine cones, and glitter. Set ornaments and pine cones aside to dry.
  7. Insert a large screw eye into the Styrofoam ball and spray paint the ball with metallic silver floral spray paint.
  8. Start assembling the kissing ball by inserting the small ball ornaments into the Styrofoam ball, side by side. Poke holes in the Styrofoam ball with the stem of the ornament, and add a little hot glue to the hole. Insert the ornament back into the hole. Repeat until the whole ball is covered. (Note: It’s OK if there are some small blank spaces between some ornaments; these will be filled in with mistletoe and pine cones.)
  9. Finish decorating the kissing ball by inserting the pine cones on pins and mistletoe sprigs into the foam all around the ball.
  10. Attach a silk ribbon to the eye hook to hang the kissing ball.

Yule Ornament Idea: Yule Log Favor Boxes

Who wouldn’t love a Yule Log gift box for little holiday treats?

Only Martha Stewart could take an old toilet paper tube and turn it into ridiculously cute gift wrap.

The premise behind these Yule Log gift boxes is easy:  take a toilet paper tube and a piece of cardboard.  Trace the ends of the tube onto the cardboard and cut out the rounds.  At this point, you can either fill the tube with the gifts and tape the rounds onto the ends of the tube or you can fashion the ends into an insert-able lid.  One method is to measure the inner circumference of the tube and cut a strip of cardboard to that measurement, tape it into a loop, then tape or glue that loop to the back of one of the end rounds (which would make it look a bit like the lid in this photo.  At that point, you could cover the tube in faux bois paper, tie it with a ribbon, and add any desired accessories.  You could then fill the box with treats when you need to.

I think that these would make great gift boxes for manageable amounts of homemade candies, or perhaps as a box for a handmade ornament.  The toilet roll-sized tubes are also a decent ornament size in themselves.  As with the gilded walnuts I wrote about last year, I can totally see making up a bunch of these, stuffing them with candies, putting them on a tree, and letting holiday party guests choose their favors/gifts.  You could also tuck a few of these onto the Yule tree on Solstice Eve and let children search for them in the morning.  There’s definitely room to play here.

The 2009 Martha Stewart BoxesIf you really want to get fussy, you could check out this tutorial from MarthaStewart.com.  The main benefit to this tutorial is that it includes a downloadable .pdf of the birch bark image, which you could then print out on a color printer.  (You can also get that here.)  It also shows a way to create insertable end-caps out of wooden disks, which basically amounts to gluing a strip of cardboard just inside the tube at the depth of the disk.  However, you have to find wooden disks that are the exact diameter of the toilet paper tube, and I haven’t been able to find any.  This particular solution, though, could make the boxes usable for more than one year.

As Martha demonstrates in the December 2007 edition of her magazine, you don’t have to limit this box to the size of a toilet paper roll.  You can take a hacksaw to a mailing tube or a larger cardboard cylinder.  Something that size would be a cute way to present the annual socks and underwear, t-shirts, or any other easily roll-able item.

Lori Marie’s painted boxes

I am also a huge fan of the favor box method Lori Marie of the blog Pretty Little Things developed.  Essentially, she brushed a tube in Elmer’s glue and attached blank newsprint to the exterior, crinkling it up a bit for texture.  After it dried, she took acrylic paint and painted the tube a base color.  When it dried, she painted lines on it in a contrasting color to look a bit like wood grain.  Finally, she cut out a couple paper egg cups from an old carton, glued them in, and painted them a contrasting color then adding wood rings in a lighter color.  The effect is really adorable, and a good bit easier than fussing with expensive faux bois paper or Martha’s hyperrealistic pdf.  You’re also not limited to a natural color palette, if that suits you.  As Lori Marie demonstrates, you can go crazy with pinks and blues.

No matter what you choose, though, you’ll end up with a very Pagan-friendly package or ornament.

Yule Ornament Idea: A Yule Goat!

Just like last year, every Monday between Thanksgiving and Yule (Dec. 21st this year), I’ll present a post about homemade tree ornaments. It makes me feel festive!

A sweet little Yule Goat guarding the presents under the tree.

With as fond as the Pagan community is of making corn dollies and burning sacrificial Yule logs, I can’t believe more of us haven’t adopted the traditional Scandinavian Yule Goat into our holiday practices.  It would make a stronger Pagan Santa Claus myth for families with young children, too.

But I should back up a little and maybe define what a Yule Goat is.  Today, it’s basically just a straw or wooden effigy of a goat tied with red ribbons.  It’s been been used as a holiday decoration in Scandinavian homes since the late 18th century, and he playfully serves to guard the gifts under the Christmas tree (which was imported to Scandinavia in the 1700s).  In recent decades past, he’s also been something of a gag gift:  you sneak a goat into a friend’s house, and they have to dispose of it in a similar way after they find it.  Many Swedish towns also erect massive straw or pine goats in the town centers, and vandals end up burning them down just about every year.  Apparently some families now emulate this vandalism and burn their own goats after the holiday season.

The Yule Goat is such a common motif throughout Scandinavia–where he is called Julbock in Sweden, Julebukk in Norway, Julebuk in Denmark, and Joulupukki in Finland–that he’s got to have some sort of deeper meaning that’s been watered down since the introduction of Christianity and contemporary commercialism.  One major hypothesis is that the goat symbol is is a vestigial solstice symbol.  In Norse mythology, the god Thor had a chariot pulled by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.  When Thor arrives as a guest in someone’s home, he slaughters, skins, and cooks the goats, shares the meal with his hosts, then resurrects the goats the following day with the help of his hammer, Mjöllnir.

John Bauer’s “Christmas Goat” (1912)

Now, there’s nothing in the Prose Edda that links Thor’s goats with the winter solstice, but with Thor being the popular god of the blue-collar pre-Christian Scandinavians, the solstice being an obvious moment of solar resurrection, and people generally being a lot more hospitable during the cold months, I would guess that the goat became a handy symbol of the spirit of hospitality.  It is know that in Pagan times, a young man dressed as a goat would “die” during the winter solstice festival in a pretend slaughter and then spring back to life.  In some parts of Sweden, this Juleoffer was practiced as recently as 1960.  Sir James Frazer described the practice in his 1890 book, The Golden Bough:

The actor, hidden by a coverlet made of skins and wearing a pair of formidable horns, is led into the room by two men, who make believe to slaughter him, while they sing verses referring to the mantles of various colours, red, blue, white, and yellow, which they laid on him, one after the other. At the conclusion of the song, the Yule Goat, after feigning death, jumps up and skips about to the amusement of the spectators.  (1994:553)

I would speculate that the spirit of the Juleoffer persists in the vandals burning down the large town Julbocken of today, such as the Gävle goat.  Even though the goat burns just about every year, the towns resurrect a new goat the subsequent Yuletide.

At some point, the Yule Goat became associated with bringing gifts to Swedish and Norwegian children, and in Denmark and Finland it became a figure that sort of terrified children and demanded gifts or at least sort of ensured holiday preparations would be done correctly.  In many cases, the goat eventually became the mode of transportation for a Santa Claus-type figure (alternately, Odin’s horse Sleipnir took this role).  A protective spirit in Scandanavian folklore–the Swedish tomte, the Norwegian and Danish nisse, or the Finnish tonttu–rode the goat and delivered gifts.  Today, these figures have morphed into the Santa Claus figures Jultomte (Sweden), Julenisse (Norway), Julemand (Denmark), and Jolupukki (Finland–note the name here is still Yule Goat).

I think that there’s a lot of room here for contemporary Pagans to rework the goat into our contemporary Yule myths.  We can play on the sacrificial angle, the hospitality angle, and we can even use it to craft a more Pagan Santa figure for our children, which might help them differentiate our Yule from the secular Christmas (especially since we have lots of symbols in common with the secular practices of the holiday).

Should you seek to integrate a Yule Goat into your holiday practices and are an American, the easiest way to procure the goat is to make him yourself.  Failing that, you could try your local IKEA.  The Swedish big-box retailer has been offering two goats for a couple years now:  the 20-inch tall JULMYS ($9.99) and the 6-inch tall YRSNÖ ($2.99).  IKEA also offers a 28-piece straw ornament package that includes four hanging goats ($5.99).