Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Twelve Days of Yule = Twelve Days of Giving

There are so many traditions associated with the dark of winter. Some are ancient, some more recent, some stand-alone, some co-opt earlier ideas. For me, any celebration with family and friends that expresses an attitude of gratitude is a wonderful thing. As for these late-December fests, I hope we can agree that they all celebrate the idea that we have reached the darkest the season has to offer, and light is on its way back.

We call end-of-December celebrations "mid-winter," but really winter doesn't begin until December 21. Mid-winter actually falls on around February 2, Groundhog Day (half-way between the first day of winter and the first day of spring). Also shifted in the calendar and in common culture are traditions like the German/Scandinavian festival of Yule. This 12 day tradition originally began on December 21 and ended on January 1, making for 12 days of good times to mark the fact that we've made it past the darkest point in the year. Ancient folk could take a look at the foodstores and calculate survival until spring, and then splurge a little on some feasts (because we're good planners and put up more than we needed, right?). This is also a time when you gave to those who wouldn't have enough to make it, because taking care of each other is what we do (or should do, anyway).

In our home, we've been seeking to add some seasonal traditions to our days. I like the idea of celebrations that mark both the cycle of the year as well as give us some specific times to celebrate with gratitude. Many festival dates seem so arbitrary to me, but things like astronomical events just are. So this year, we're experimenting with marking the twelve day Yule celebration. And the best way I can think of to express gratitude is to give stuff away. Stuff stuff, or dollars that can be stuff. We're already swamped time-wise, so for us this year, I'm thinking small monetary donations; there's no reason to destroy the budget over this. Take the maximum you can afford, and divide by 12. Even Wikipedia recognizes that if we all gave a couple bucks, there would be more than enough. 

Since celebrations are more fun with a theme, our twelve days of giving will be based on the song The 12 Days of Christmas. Now, before you start schooling me on the hidden Christian meanings in the song, please do your own research in discovering that's simply not the case. It's a sweet idea, but it was imposed on the lyrics late in the 19th century, well after the earliest print version of the song in 1780 (which is some time later than its actual origin). It is true that the 12 days in the song are meant to fall between December 25 and January 5, but the idea of '12 days' of celebration over the dark days of winter is much, much older. 

For each of the 12 days, we're going to pick an organization, charity, group, cause that is based (even loosely, sometimes very loosely) on the verse theme of the day. For a reminder, and because there are some differences in the later verses, here are the twelve we will be using: 
Day 1: partridge in a pear tree
Day 2: turtledoves
Day 3: French hens
Day 4: colly birds
Day 5: gold rings
Day 6: geese laying eggs
Day 7: swans swimming
Day 8: maids milking
Day 9: drummers drumming
Day 10: pipers piping
Day 11: ladies dancing and lords leaping
Day 12: bells ringing

I tried to be creative in choosing the donees. It was important to me to keep it local if possible, and to think beyond the usual corral of organizations. Our donor dollars are often aimed at museums, but there are nature groups, arts groups, and educational initiatives. There are so many groups out there doing really amazing things. I used Charity Navigator both to get some ideas of where to donate and to check the charitable "health" of a group. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole shpiel, and if you follow along, or do a bit of your own yuletide giving, I'd love to hear about that too.

Image by justalittleknotty at DeviantArt

Twelve Days of Yule = Twelve Days of Giving is a personal initiative by me at the SoMil Homesteader to bring some focus to a holiday about gratitude. I don't have any official connections to any of these organizations, other than being a very small donor. Peace out. 

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