Yuletide

Briony Greenhill
9 min readJan 2, 2023
(Image: Getty Images)

I quit Christmas a few years ago.

Since then, each year I have been exploring what and how I do want to celebrate in the midwinter. I have been cultivating my practice of Yuletide.

This is what I call it.

Yule is from the Old Norse Jol, root of our ‘joy’ ‘jolly’ and ‘joke’.

‘Tide’ Old English tīd “point or portion of time, due time, period, season; feast-day, canonical hour,” from Proto-Germanic *tīdi- “division of time” (source also of Old Saxon tid, Dutch tijd, Old High German zit, German Zeit “time”).

My first husband was Jewish and I got to know several Jewish practices well. Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish new year, are 10 days of time out of time — time for reflection, repentence, clarification of what goes into the ‘book of life’ in the New Year, and also gathering. “High Holy Days” the whole thing is called.

I like this 10ish day liminal period between one year and the next, this time out of time.

I’m calling that Yuletide. I celebrate 12 days of it, from Winter Solstice on the 21st December to New Years’ Day on January 1st. I do it in a few ways.

  1. I borrow the Menorah from Hannukah

When my husband was Jewish we had a Menorah each Hannukah (Jewish midwinter festival) and I love it. When you light the Menorah, you gather around, drink slivovitch, play dreidel, and sing songs together — any songs at all that you all know.

Now I’m back in the UK, exploring how to express my earth-based spirituality in localised ways; I use a Menorah for the 12 days of Yuletide. Ok there are 9 candles on a Menorah so it’s a bit of a fudge, but it’s a sweet practice. Tracking the arc of Yuletide, one extra candle each night until on New Years Day they’re all lit.

2. Winter Solstice — descend into the velvet black

It all begins with winter solstice, the entry gateway into Yuletide. Some say the solstice is a festival of light. I disagree. I enjoy it as a festival of the dark. Permission to delve into the deep black, the velvet black. To Rest.

My friend Connie used to host winter solstice meditation fires on her land up in the hills near Santa Cruz. There would be an outdoor fire (it was California); and people would come and go quietly in their own time; and sit in silent meditation together around the fire.

It was a time of emptying out. The lead up to Solstice is typically so busy, a canter becomes a gallop — it’s all you can do to sit quietly all evening until the dense mental noise starts to float away, and you can start to make contact with a bit of space, a bit of stillness, a bit of rest.

This year my partner and I stayed home, exhausted; lit the first Menorah candle; made slow love, went to bed at 9pm and slept for 12 hours. Perfect.

3. Yuletide period

So many important themes!

a) Time off work! Stop working! 12 days. Yes. Rest ultimately improves your performance and productivity, your longevity, your wellbeing. If you need convincing, here’s a Ted Talk about the power of time off.

b) Yule! Fun! Jolly times! Parties. Gatherings. Hosting. Attending. Mulled wine. Mince pies. Night markets. Chestnuts on the open fire. Wonderful. Wonderful.

c) Gathering with loved ones. Who are your loved ones? It is easy to not quite know in a social media, I have 3000 friends but who am I close to kind of world. It’s interesting to have invitations to clarify; to prioritise certain relationships. Family. Connecting with family, if that’s healthy. Inclusion.

d) Gratitude and generosity

I could go further into this. There’s something important about looking back over the year, who have been the cast, what have they contributed? I find it so so precious, the people in my life, I’m so incredibly grateful for what each person gives. I don’t usually fully realise that until New Years reflections so maybe the cards come at the wrong time. Humm. More tinkering with the process.

Midwinter is also typically a time of charitable donations and gifting. I think this is really important and would like to do more of that in future if I possibly can. This year I gave to Holly Ebony’s Crowdfunder; she sings beautiful super progressive music as well as running a forest school. Go Holly!

e) Feast and Rest

Feasting had an important role in pre-supermarket world. When January — March was going to be a fallow time for food, the hibernatory winter quiescence where folks rested and lived off body fat and stored supplies; when not all the food would keep through the winter; it was important to Feast. To gain weight, to eat up supplies, in order to get through the months ahead.

Now we have supermarkets, for the time being, feasting is more questionable.

I’ll tell you this, though, for me this year: I’m pregant and having a hard time with digestion as your stomach gets majorly compromised by having to share your tummy with a baby.

I was taking a small-alkaline-portions route which mainly consisted of vegan soups and stews, but I tell you, by solstice, I was feeling super weak and I got a cold (which never happens).

“You need meat, salmon and bone broth” said an American friend; “otherwise he’s going to get his protein from your muscles and his minerals from your bones.”

So midwinter feasting with family did the trick! Christmas dinner! Bannoffee pie! Meat meat meat! Puddings and pies and no exercise for 2 weeks! Now I’m a powerhouse. Running on Rennies. Humm…..

4. Approaching New Year

I do a change of year reflection process, partly using this structure from Christopher Kuntzsch; a coach (and beautiful singer) rooted in the Art of Mentoring / 8 Shields culture who co-leads the Ecology of Leadership program I did in 2013.

I spend time alone on the land; I look back at the year gone past; I remember it, analyse it some. I spend the days between Xmas and NY doing this in bits and bobs, letting the reflection digest over sleeps and showers and so on. I print up Christopher’s template and answer his questions.

Around New Years Eve / New Years day I take a walk on the land, create a threshold, cross it into protected space / time (no phone use, staying present etc), then walk the journey of the year coming to an end making a bouquet of the year, the peaks, the struggles, the gratitude, the acknowledgements. When I’m done I bind the collection of twigs and leaves and so on in grasses. It’s my 2022 bundle.

Then I look forward to the year coming — a beautiful blank canvas ahead — and navigate my priorites, intentions; what I’m asking for help with; what I’m praying for or calling in. I clarify the intentions for my life such that I, and Life Itself, can organise ourselves around them. I ask Soul and Spirit to be with and move through me, to guide my intentions, to shape my life and service, to help me balance the pieces. I make my 2023 bundle and, when I’m done, wrap the midwinter bouquet in grasses at its base.

I’m Cherokee Initiated. In Native American spiritual practice it is so important to, in some ways, show your gratitude to nature, creation and life. To make offerings. This can be tobacco, a liquid libation, a song, a dance, paho (sacred prayer powder) or any number of ways. You give it to the air, earth, fire or water as your offering of gratitude.

So I take my bundles, usually to a river. I hold the bundle and sing the song of it, then give it to the river. This year Ollie was there, and after separate time on the land we gathered and told one another our stories, witnessed each other, then in my way I made my offering to nature and to spirit; giving the bouquet to the river and singing the song of it all.

5. New Years’ Eve / Day

I do whatever makes sense for where I am and who I’m with. This year it was a barn party with Skidaddle playing and seated, injured after a saw had gone into my foot (less bad than it sounds) and 7 months pregnant, on a chair in the middle of a heaving dance floor rocking out to Skidaddle, with Ollie protecting me from drunk people falling on me while having a good old dance himself. New Years day was a rest and a roast and a walk and the culmination of the rituals described above.

Plus a whole bunch of home care, baby clothes sorting, family visits, and long sleeps with no alarm clock; and these have been this year’s 12 days of Yuletide.

Almost no presents.

Why Quit Christmas?

Before I quit Christmas, there were several years I went to bed in tears. My body felt awful from the excesses, my heart felt awful from the materialism and ways of relating.

To celebrate a virgin birth of the son of a father sky god — hell no.

Christianity has shamed female sexuality — we are healing from this. Celebrating virgin births — hell no.

Father Sky God — sacred feminine, sacred earth: hell no.

Ascendancy religion. As Connie Batten put it in the recent Call off the Thought and Sing, the world from Ireland to China put their worship — broadly speaking — in the air, up on stilts — ascendancy, higher and higher, the sky — up there, over there, away.

The Americas, Australia and Africa, historically, placed their worship here on earth; in nature, in right here, in us, in you, in me.

It was the sky god worshippers who tended to become the colonisers. Those looking for the holy up and over there. Those sat on the earth finding the holy right here, didn’t tend to become colonisers.

Consumption. When we are wretching with the problems of using too much stuff and producing too much pollution, in a way that is directly contributing to the 6th mass extinction and threatening the future of many species, including our own — a culture of rich Westeners living in cluttered homes making ceremony of giving each other Yet More Stuff — hell no.

I’ve opted out of family presents for years. Ollie and I gave each other one or two small lovely presents on Xmas morning as he still likes Christmas. His family, my new family, gave me very lovely gifts but from next year I will be politely opting out of those too.

I know what brings me joy, upliftment, laughter; and sitting around eating and drinking, endless shopping, rushing, and bringing up a car load of new clutter, is not my idea of it.

Additionally, in my view, cultural trauma runs in family systems and in my family of origin, Christmas was the time when it all blew up. No conscious communication, few repair skills apart from put it under the carpet and wait for time to pass — ouch! And…. no.

Space; health; singing, dancing — we had a winter Solstice Folk Ball here in South Devon — Marvellous. Tomorrow will be my dancing day.

I neither want nor need to participate in an orgy of over consumption to celebrate the virgin birth of the son of a father sky god.

I do want to celebrate the holy here on earth; the sacred web of we; the human and more than human community. I do want to touch and express my gratitude. I do want to gather. I do want to see my family in light, short enough to be un-triggering, ways; I do want to rest, to sort, to prepare, to mark the turning of a life cycle, to be conscious with the intentions around which I whittle my life, not alone.

This, I call Yuletide.

Happy New Year :) ❤ ❤ ❤

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Briony Greenhill

Briony Greenhill is a folk-soul improvisational artist who teaches Collaborative Vocal Improvisation (CVI); formerly a researcher with a 1st in politics.