The Most Difficult Time of the Year?

The challenges I face each December can be summed up in two words: heathen problems.

While I was raised a Catholic, I chose long ago to follow a different spiritual path. My adopted faith is called Asatru, which means “true to the Aesir gods,” and it’s a modern reconstruction of the ancient pagan faith of northern Europe. As a heathen – what we Asatruar call ourselves – I venerate Odin, Thor and the other gods of the ancient Norse pantheon, and live by the Nine Noble Virtues: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, self-reliance, industriousness and perseverance. I won’t burden you with how I came to choose this path; but suffice to say, these ancient deities and the qualities they represent resonate within me like nothing else ever has, and I’m proud to have pledged myself to Odin long ago.

Growing up, I celebrated the holidays with my family according to Roman Catholic customs. We opened small gifts after dinner on Christmas Eve, then woke up the next morning to find the things we wanted most of all waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Later that evening, we drove around the block to All Saints Catholic Church on Pierson Road to attend midnight mass. Throughout all of this, I alone was keenly aware of a different, otherworldly energy pulsating in the air on those cold, December nights. It felt as though Lord Odin himself was leading his wild hunt across the sky and I longed to heed the call of his mighty war-horn.

These days, I still celebrate the December holiday in decidedly Catholic fashion with my wife, Rosemary, our children and her family.

Being the daughter of proud Polish immigrants, my wife and her family observe several Christmas traditions. The most important night is Christmas Eve, which they call Wigilia (pronounced vig-eel-yuh), the Polish word for “vigil.” Wigilia dinner begins with everyone trading bites from a wafer of unleavened bread – called an opłatek (pronounced oh-pwah-tick) – and wishing each other a merry Christmas. This is followed by a meal that consists of a wide variety of fish. Fortunately for me, my wife and her family are excellent cooks … even if my brother-in-law often pushes the boundaries of what can be considered “creative cuisine.”

Full disclosure: I enjoy my in-laws’ Wigilia celebrations both for the company and food as well as the fact that it brings me closer to my Polish heritage. That said, I still long to celebrate Yule, the traditional Asatru holiday in December. This would include a feast of epic proportion including many meat dishes and the drinking of ale. The evening’s highlight would be the toast made to Odin, and I would honor the other gods, as they too are deserving of my faith and veneration. Each year, I say I will plan ahead and prepare such festivities; but, life always seems to get in the way. Perhaps I should make hosting a proper Yuletide celebration my New Year’s resolution; truthfully, I can’t think of one more honorable.

But enough of my heathen problems … the holidays are for rejoicing and celebration. So with that said, I wish everyone in my city and the world a season filled with family, food and fun! ♦


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