Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learning To Shop Less And Love More

Learning To Shop Less And Love More

Wish Father Altar 2008

I used to be one of those people who went whole hog at Christmas time. I'd buy everyone I knew a present whether I had the money to spend or not. I'd adjust my bill payments till I had squeezed my bank account for that extra penny and pushed my check book to its limits. I didn't care. Christmas was for SHOPPING and sharing love with people. Of course somewhere along the lines I mixed up things and love but whatever.

Skip ahead a couple of years to me getting married and inheriting two kids (yup I got three guys with my marriage how cool is that?).

Me and my two little boys at the wedding

The husband and I are both pagan and both strong believers in making the world a better place for everyone by starting with cleaning up our own crap first. This apparently meant we got to work on our issues around Christmas together. The first year we were together we did the whole "if I give you a present you must know I love you and you must love me back" thing. We swore up and down the aisles of Toys R Us that we were fine with what we were doing and how much we were spending. But wouldn't you know it, when Christmas morning rolled around and our offerings were not mirrored back at us our resolve crumbled. We swore never to do that again! Yeah. Right. It took a few years but things did get better.

Now add those kids back in, the ones the husband came with. For the first few years of our relationship the kids were living with their grandmother and we had them on the weekends. That was pretty cool, and a whole other blog post about the differences between part time and full time parenthood. After the wedding we had them 24/7, which means we had them for Christmas, that's when life really got interesting.

My husband and I were both raised in households that were only sort of religious and predominantly Christian, so we both had the basics of Christmas as part of our cultural and spiritual histories. In both our cases our parents are open and welcoming of our pagan beliefs so there's never been a problem talking with them about our practices or our choices. It's more the noise that many people who are not Christian deal with around this time of year when so much of the Western world is focused on this one holiday. Add to this the fact that Wicca and Paganism share a number of symbols and mythic elements with Christmas (and no, I am so not getting into the discussion of which ones and who got what from where) and things start to get pretty muddy.

As Pagan parents, my husband and I have always tried to include our children in as many of our Sabbat rituals as possible. They have celebrated Imbolc with us and been wrapped in hugs by Brigid, welcomed the spring with Ostara, helped danced the May Pole at Beltane, laughed with their father when he and our High Priest were the very sill priests for our Summer Solstice ritual, helped act our the story of John Barley Corn, enjoyed the harvest from our garden at our harvest feast and learned about divination at Samhain. And of course they have been to coven Yule where they got to dance a Mummers Play and exchanged gifts along with everyone else at the party. All those celebrations were easy compared to celebrating that holiday with presents under the tree and the jolly fat man in the red suit. We wanted the holiday to have meaning for us as Pagans and for the kids as kids, but the kids had picked up as much Christmas as we had, so they were expecting Santa Claus and baby Jesus. As a compromise we tried, once and only once, to do the whole present opening thing on Yule itself instead of Christmas day. That worked. Sort of. And yeah we did have Chinese food for dinner on December 25th.

In the long run though, my husband and I chose to stick with celebrating on December 24/25th but with a twist. At our house we get a visit from Santa's magical cousin Wish Father.

Odin plaque by Paul Borda

The whole Wish Father thing came about because both my husband and I, while wiccan trained, are also Norse leaning pagans. Wish Father is a use-name for Odin who is the All Father and High Lord of the Norse Gods. Now I know some people see him as an unholy terror, and I admit he can be a pain in the arse, but he is not only a military god, he is also a god of magic, of knowledge and travel, of leadership, and though he'll protest for the sake of it, of tricks and trickery. As Wish Father he is the one who brings us our dreams and wishes, so he's the perfect guest on a cold winter's night. Now-a-days many people see Thor as connected to Santa or Saint Nick because of the red suit and the beard and thick stature, but Thor isn't a god of magic or dreams. He's a good god, but he's more about protection and straightforward action that gets the job done. If you want someone sneaking in your house late at night to leave something shiny and rare under your tree, then the god you want is Odin. So, Odin = Wish Father.

Presents under the tree 2006

In our house the tradition is that the kids set out a plate of cookies for Wish Father and carrots for the reindeer and beer for Wish Father (because really milk for a Norse god?). Then they leave him a note. They ask him questions about his year or his trip or just say hi and thanks for the presents. Then it's off to bed.

Bottle of Beer and Plate of goodies for Wish Father 2006

Now the trick with Wish Father is something that has taken me most of my life to learn. Wish Father is like every other spiritual power we bring into our lives in ritual. He is a god that we host or trance or whatever word you wish to use. He doesn't have a physical form or voice, so he borrows ours. This is part of the magic. As the parents, we offer our energy to the god to allow Him to come through us and gift our children and ourselves with a bit of fairy dust and dreams because we all have a right to beauty. We carry this idea through to the Wish Father presents as well. In our house each person gets only one Wish Father presents each year. For the kids there are two presents. The first gift is a stuffed animal that appears on their beds sometime in the middle of the night wrapped with a bow or ribbon. They know its from Wish Father because... well because when we first started this tradition we all got stuffies and made a big deal about the stuffed animals turning up and not being from us, so now the kids look for them. The second present is under the tree and is always something truly special, usually something "spendy" or "big" feeling. Something we really want and wouldn't just buy for ourselves. It might seem a little frivolous to someone else, but to the person getting it, the present is a wish fulfillment. So no clothes unless that's what the person really really wants, and then it has to be something completely awesome.

The remains of Wish Father's snack (and a stack of Wish Father presents - they were small but mighty that year) 2005

Once the kids are off to sleep, my husband and I pull out the special Wish Father paper. This paper is completely different from all the other wrapping paper in the house, it's usually metallic or iridescent or glittery or all of the above. Whatever it is has to be spectacular. It is only used for the Wish Father presents. As a final touch, all the other presents we get each other are wrapped in normal "plain" holiday paper and have to be under the tree before the kids are in bed. Since my husband is the better wrapper of the two of us, he does all the presents except his own (I get to wrap his!) while I write out the labels in my best Wish Father formal handwriting.

Stack of Wish Father presents 2008

Next we eat our way through the cookies and carrots, being sure to leave teeth marks in a couple of the carrot stubs and cookie crumbs as evidence. The hubby drinks the beer and responds to the kid's letter on behalf of Wish Father while I fill the stockings.

Then we sleep, like every other exhausted parent on Christmas Eve.

Somewhere after 7:00 am and before Noon, breakfast happens. My kids are sweet and, thank the gods, not morning children. My husband, however, is. This works in my favor though because it means he makes breakfast! So with breakfast in hand we all gather around the tree and scope out the additions from Wish Father. The new presents are always set out a little apart from the others. Its not like you could miss them with their amazing wrapping paper, but Wish Father still wants to make certain we see them I guess. Wish Father's presents are the first ones that we open, and then the ripping and tearing continues as normal.

The boys Yule morning with their Wish Father Stuffies 2005

In raising two children, and figuring out how I wanted to explain this crazy thing called the winter holidays to them, it seems I have finally managed to grow up a bit and learn a thing or two about what it is to share love, not just money. As corn-ball as that might sound, it's absolutely true. When my kids come up blank about what to get each other for gifts or for their assortment of grandparents, I remind them that all anyone really wants is to know that they are thought of with love and kindness. I think 15 plus years of repeating this must be wearing off on me. This year we have the fewest presents ever under the tiniest tree ever and the stockings are nearly barren, but I really don't mind so much. I have my two amazing kids and my awesome husband. I have friends and family who love me just as I am - glitter and silliness and all. Really, what else do I need for Yule-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-Hanukkah-Hogmanay-Twelfth Night?

This years tree, stockings and Wish Father altar all in one. Small but sweet!

May your holidays be blessed with glitter and love and may Wish Father bring you your hearts desire.