Modern Heathen Concepts

Yuletide – Be Historical, not Hysterical

 By Sid Simpson


In Arch Heathen times Yuletide was the proof of correct resource management, appropriately ostentatious wealth display, socially ritualistic gifting, and socially ritualistic hospitality. Think of the math, the time management, the personnel and employee management, the long term planning, the contingency plans (well, no deer were found last week, get that spare pig!), the generational knowledge passed down. These 12 days would have been pulled off with no refrigeration, no Tupperware, no 24 hour Walmart when you run out of brown sugar, no scotch tape or Command Hooks. Superimpose the need to maintain tribal tradition as well as lineage tradition, the need to plan for honoring honored guests, sequestering the Warband, the plan of action when that guy takes that girl behind the wall hanging and now there is an inheritance issue to begin negotiating. Think of the manpower, the management, the scheduling, the nuanced and loving manipulation to weave Frith when everyone is in close quarters round the glogg cauldron.

Here is where prosperity, or sensible celebration despite the lack of it, is laid bare for all to add to their reported Gefrain of the host and his people. Hard decisions must be made about how any resources should be spent in revelry and saved for the rest of the winter. Accountability rules all- a mistake in distribution or a lack of good accounting and budgeting can mean hungry men and shivering women come February. This is the Superbowl. This is what almost everything for the whole year has been moving towards. And this is almost entirely engineered by the woman of the house (she who holds the keys to the spice chest, the linen closet, the silver cupboard).

Yuletide is the proving ground for the Lady of the House/Tribe/Theod. This is where her magic and mettle come to the line and hold all earned Honor and Worth steadfast for her people. Tremendous pressure, tremendous responsibility, tremendous pay off when it all goes well. The Lady bears a cup, but also garlands of greenery, trays of sweets, and pillows for heads drooping on benches. In this light, our seasonal ministration and related frustrations are historical.

For modern Heathens, these joyous duties have been watered down a bit. In today’s world, the work is delegated out between a wider ranges of people. Women are not the solo engineers of seasonal events, though they often remain the head coaches. People, having been given the modern world’s wider range of opportunities and choices, thus have been able to figure out the better person in the household for things like gift wrapping and cooking the holiday feast. The seasonal intersection of the secular and religious gifting traditions is fraught with dangers of budget pitfalls and ugly sweater miscues.

Is what we are giving them too much or too little? Do I have the right outfit for the party dress code? Should I skip the office Secret Santa and save cash, but loose camaraderie I need to do get the support I need at work? The societal differences of modern life make it all too easy to stretch ourselves and our wallets past a reasonable limit. We are at the greatest risk of giving an inaccurate account of ourselves at this time of year. And that risk brings great danger if it turns out badly. The means are different, but the ways to display Wealth, build alliances and Frith, and ensure good Gefrain reports that will affect the future are still there.

And what of Frith in these times? The modern world has glamorized the holiday blues- but they are real. They stem from many different sources, but cast a sad pallor all the same. How do we deal with those? Whose blues are our responsibility to lift? How do we weave Frith and peace when we ourselves have hearts of the deepest shade of navy? And to what cost do we hold Frith? At what point has the behavior of Grandpa gone from grumpy to abusive? How do we figure that out? Who figures that out? Why should we have to figure it out? Pass the hot toddies, please.

Hearth Cult practices are at their strongest at these times. People might say that they have no Hearth Cult. But, they do have a set date they always make the cookies, or a specific spot for THAT decoration, or a tree topper from Great Grandma that no one really likes but MUST surmount the tree every year. These are the cult practices that bind families and friends together. The feasting, with all of the expected dishes, is an area of praxis development. Dare we take a risk with a new green bean casserole recipe? If it is great we will keep it. If it offends Uncle Hans, then we won’t serve it again. Praxis- researched, developed, judged, its outcome studied happens now over the crock pot of cocktail weenies.

It is from these frameworks of Yuletide self-honor and celebration that we can find a bit of comfort. The new casserole may be awful, but look at that tree topper that has survived so much. Cousin Brad was so sad, but he is smiling over the boys driving everyone crazy with that fart noise toy he brought. I/We/He/She is so tired after all of the cleaning, and preparation, and cooking, and game facing, but look at what has happened. Look at how different it is than in the past. Look at how it can be made better in the future. Look at all that I/We/He/She can do in spite of everything. Look at all I/We/He/She can do because of everything. Praxis in Hearth Cult observances provides the framework upon which Frith can be maintained and wealth and honor can be enjoyed.

How conceited of us to think this is anything new. How understanding our great great great……….great grandmothers would be of our exhaustion now.

Modern culture suggests that it is acceptable to face all of this holiday activity with hysteria. But that doesn’t really serve us well. It doesn’t reflect our success, it displays our unpreparedness, it dissolves and overburdens Frith. Perhaps we should not allow ourselves to be hysterical. Instead we should strive to be historical. From the Arch Heathen angle to be a gift giver and a cup bearer is a privilege. So too the holiday festivity is a privilege. And like the general hospitality we offer, our holiday celebration should be tempered with what is right and good for us to provide given what Wealth and Honor we have earned. Arch Heathens were leery of over gifting and over hosting because they understood that the risks did not always pay off. We should take honest account of our budgets of money, time and energy and be accountable for our success and appropriate in our displays. We should act in Frith and good will within out hearths that the reports of Gefrain we generate represent us as genuine and generous, but wise and well measured.

Sid Simpson

Sid Simpson is a special education teacher in Florida who dreams of living in a land of Autumn leaves and picturesque snow. She has spent more than 30 years exploring the Historical Heathen era through historically based recreation societies, living history activities, and experimental archaeology research in the U.S, and the U.K.. Ms. Simpson is focused on “domestic sciences” such as textile and clothing production, cooking, and the overall resource management and material culture of the Arch Heathens and how these things translate into modern living. A staunch Reconstructionist Heathen, she feels strongly about the development of Hearth Cult as a basis for ensuring overall congregational prosperity. And she really likes dogs.

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