Meán Geimhridh, the hearth

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

— Christina Rossetti

The snow still coats the garden and the leaves on the house's north side as an ice-bright sun gazes down.

Meán Geimhridh: the heart of winter. Of the eight holidays on the great wheel, it has long been my least favorite, too evocative of the forced merriment endemic to the season. The Christmas Monster, clad in wrapping paper, credit cards and Advent candles, ordering everyone to be happy or else.

Traditionally, Meán Geimhridh is a time for me to put on a Druidic rite and either a.) fumigate the house with smoke or set it on fire, or b.) set myself on fire. The Gods laugh at me during midwinter, probably because I take everything too damn seriously. 

This time, I took a different path. I joined a women's hearth group set to put on the local Pagan community's Yule celebration. The focus was on the skills of our female ancestors — growing and preparing food, and the like — with the intentions of sharing the Hearth Goddesses' and ancestors' blessings and skills for the winter solstice.

And so. The year didn't turn out as expected. The wettest year on record prevented many of us from achieving good harvests. Life — including devastating flooding and its aftermath — prevented us from diving whole-hog into food preservation and the like. The ritual itself shifted and changed.

But it went well. It was probably the best Meán Geimhridh I've been to in a long time: simply a party, in which we made holiday decorations, chatted and feasted, and toasted the Gods and ancestors. We boasted, too, sharing our blessings, even those who struggled to find the year's blessings. I tended Brighid's altar throughout, a sacred duty I was glad to perform, and showed off my prize squash.

And this is really what the season is about, whether you call it Meán Geimhridh, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas or Saturnalia: the sharing of laughter, food and company. If we were forced into primitive self-reliance — on what we would have produced during this bleak, rainy year — we would have starved and sickened. The Hearth Mother warms us on the darkest night, lighting our way not because of our solitary piety, but the animal warmth that marks us — all of us, no matter how reluctant — as social animals. We congregate near food, warmth and company, as creatures turn their faces to the sun.

Have a blessed Meán Geimhridh, all.


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