The Winter Solstice

Though I’m a fairly agnostic atheist now, I was raised neo-pagan. My mother is a Druid High Priestess, my father a Wiccan priest. Several people have asked me to write about my experiences being raised this way — sometimes I consider it. In the meantime, here’s a snippet.

I grew up surrounded by Christians, particularly Catholics. I know their mythology, their traditions. I’ve gone to midnight Mass on Christmas eve in a beautiful Cathedral, just for the experience. I grew up with Christmas all around me – but my family altered aspects of it, since our own holiday, Yule, fell right around the same time.

The Winter Solstice is December 21st, and it’s a holiday I still celebrate, even as an atheist, because it is an actual astronomical event in which the day is shortest and the night is longest. There’s something powerful about recognizing the quarters of the year, and so though I no longer praise the gods of my Celtic & Norse ancestors, I still celebrate the holiday, in a mishmash of the typical mainstream secular Christmas spirit, rekindling my pagan experiences, and a re-purposing of common traditions.

For example – I was decorating my house this past week with lights and ornaments, when I went from humming to singing my favorite Yuletide carols. My roommate noticed my lyrics were different than his. I realized I didn’t know the “normal” lyrics. I’ve always known my lyrics were the pagan versions, but it was one of those situations where I take for granted that I had that in my life.

So, for those curious about pagan versions of Christmas carols, or those seeking them to sing for yourselves or your own children, I’m going to post the lyrics I grew up with.

Back when my family lived in Seattle, a group called The Greenwood Grove had a choir and recorded an album of Yule songs with these lyrics. My family played that tape every winter, over and over again. I wish I could link to a copy, but I have none.

The other pagan Yule album I listened to most often was Mother Tongue’s This Winter’s Night, which you can purchase online (lyrics here).

There are few places where pagans have compiled alterations to common Christmas carols. I have no attributions – I have no idea who made up the new lyrics, and at times in my childhood I changed them myself to fit the song better.

Honestly, many of the carols just involve replacing references to Jesus, the Lord or the son of God with references to Goddesses, Sun Child, the reborn Sun… and replacing “Christmas” with “Yuletide”.

So here’s a snippet of my pagan childhood…

Gods Rest Ye Merry Paganfolk

(In the tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”)

Gods rest ye merry pagan folk – let none of you dismay
remember that the Sun returns upon this Solstice day
the growing dark is ended now and Spring it on its way

O, tidings of comfort & joy, comfort & joy
O, tidings of comfort & joy

Though Winter’s worst still lies ahead – fierce tempest, snow & rain
beneath death’s blanket on the ground, the spark of life remains
the Earth shall blossom once again – the air be sweet & clear

O, tidings of comfort & joy, comfort & joy
O, tidings of comfort & joy

Within each blessed apple lies the promise of the Queen
for from this frozen field shall rise the orchards fresh & green
the sun’s warm rays caress the seeds to raise life’s song again

O, tidings of comfort & joy, comfort & joy
O, tidings of comfort & joy

Oh Holy Night

(I’ve put two versions, since I remember singing both as a child)

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Sun’s rebirth.
Long lay the world in cold and darkness pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt his warmth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
All nature sings! Oh raise your joyous voices!
Oh night divine! This night the Sun’s re-born!
Oh night divine! Oh night, oh night divine!

Alternative to that:
Oh holy night, the stars shine in their brightness.
It is the night of our dear Sun’s rebirth.
Long lay the world in growing cold and darkness
‘Til He appeared, casting light o’er the earth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
All nature sings! Oh raise your joyous voices!
Oh night divine! This night the Sun’s re-born!
Oh night divine! Oh night, oh night divine!

Silent Night

Silent night, Solstice Night
All is calm, all is bright
Nature slumbers in forest and glen
Till in Springtime She wakens again
Sleeping spirits grow strong!
Sleeping spirits grow strong!

Silent night, Solstice night
Silver moon, shining bright
Snowfall blankets the slumbering Earth
Yule fires welcome the Sun’s rebirth
Hark, the Light is reborn!
Hark, the Light is reborn!

Silent night, Solstice night
Quiet rest till the Light
Turning ever the rolling Wheel
Brings the Winter to comfort and heal
Rest your spirit in peace!
Rest your spirit in peace!

Carol of the Bells

Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, “Throw cares away.”
Yuletide is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold
Ding, dong, ding, dong, that is their song,
With joyful ring, all caroling
One seems to hear words of good cheer
From everywhere, filling the air
O, how they pound, raising the sound
O’er hill and dale, telling their tale
Gaily they ring, while people sing
Songs of good cheer, Yuletide is here!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Yuletide!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Yuletide!

On, on they send, on without end
Their joyful tone to every home
Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, “Throw cares away.”
Yuletide is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold
Ding, dong, ding, dong, that is their song
With joyful ring, all caroling.
One seems to hear words of good cheer
From everywhere, filling the air
O, how they pound, raising the sound
O’er hill and dale, telling their tale
Gaily they ring, while people sing
Songs of good cheer, Yuletide is here!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Yuletide!
Merry, merry, merry, merry Yuletide!

On, on they send, on without end
Their joyful tone to every home

Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful!

Oh, come all ye faithful
Gather round the Yule Fire
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye,
To call the Sun!

Fires within us
Call the Fire above us
O, come, let us invoke Him!
O, come, let us invoke Him!
O, come, let us invoke Him!
Our Lord, the Sun!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee!
Born again at Yuletide!
Yule fires and candle flames
Are lighted for You!

Come to thy children
Calling for thy blessing!
O, come let us invoke Him
O, come let us invoke Him
O, come let us invoke Him
Our Lord, the Sun!

Glory to the New-Born King

(In the tune of Hark the Herald, Angels Sing) 

Brothers, sisters, come and sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Gardens peaceful, forests wild
Celebrate the Winter Child!

Now the time of glowing starts!
Joyful hands and joyful hearts!
Cheer the Yule log as it burns!
Once again, the Sun returns

Brothers, sisters, come and sing!
Glory to the new-born King!
Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the newborn Sun

Through the wind and dark of night
Celebrate the coming light!
Sun’s glad rays through fear’s cold burns,
Life through Death the Wheel now turns!

Gather round Yule log and tree
Celebrate Life’s mystery
round the Yule fire
brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun.

The Holly & The Ivy

The holly and the ivy
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry tunes
As we Pagans sing with cheer

The holly bears a blossom
White as the lily flower
The Goddess shares the Solstice Sun
Days grow longer with its power

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
We celebrate with joyous hearts
The Wheel of the Year

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
The Goddess brings the Solstice Sun
To allow our hopes to bud

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
These blessed signs of life’s renewal
Will banish any fear

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn
The Goddess lights the Solstice Sun
As we welcome the new morn

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The Green Man and the Holly King
Are always welcome here

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall
The Goddess gives the Solstice Sun
For the wonder of us all

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
In perfect love and perfect trust
May our hearts be ever clear

The holly and the ivy
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry tunes
As we Pagans sing with cheer

Ye Children All of Mother Earth

(In the tune of: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”)

Ye children all of Mother Earth
join hands and circle around
To celebrate the Solstice night
When our lost Lord is found.

Rejoice, the year has begun again
The Sun blesses skies up above
So share the season together now
In everlasting Love!

Mother Berta‘s Coming to Town

(In the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”) 

You better watch out when winter comes nigh
You better not doubt, I’m telling you why
Mother Berta’s coming to town

She carries a sack made out of skin
She dumps the toys out and stuffs the kids in
Mother Berta’s coming to town

She rides on Master Skeggi
A Goat whose back is strong
Her beard is grey and scraggly
And her tail is ten feet long!

With six or eight horns, a moustache or two
Make a mistake, she’s coming for YOU!
Mother Berta’s coming to town.

She knows with whom your sleeping
She knows with whom you wake
She knows each thought you’re thinking
So don’t THINK! For Goddess sake

So when the winds howl way up in the sky
Listen as she and Skeggi pass by
Mother Berta’s coming
Mother Berta’s coming
Mother Berta’s coming
Mother Berta’s coming to town

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