Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why we chose Yule over Christmas

Our family has made a tough decision: in the future, we want to be as self-sufficient as we can. Completely, if possible.

This wasn't just a tough decision due to the responsibility that comes with managing a property with enough food and resources to feed, clothe, and house a family. But, due to us living in the southern hemisphere, there was an unexpected decision which needed serious consideration:
  1. Continue with seeing family and celebrating Christmas in Summer, or
  2. Move our celebrations to Yule. Which, in the southern hemisphere, is (of course) in Winter.

Why not just continue celebrating Christmas?

Our plans for self-sufficiency include keeping our own crops, livestock, even horses eventually. In summer, all of these will require multiple-times-daily attention.
Our three geese, when they were young.

If we're away, and our irrigation systems fail, there go our crops. If we get someone to water them, and they forget, there go our crops (which over the past four trips where we currently are, we've had happen twice).

As for the animals, same deal. We don't really trust any automated system to keep our animals alive for longer than a couple days, so we rely on friends to help out, and we pay them if we can't otherwise repay the favour. But what if that person then has a pressing engagement which means they can no longer look after the animals anymore, leaving us to scramble to find someone else, or cut our trip short and come home ourselves (which over the past four trips, we've had happen three times)?
Our geese a month later.
Just a few of our animals needing
our attention.

Maybe we've just had a string of bad luck. Hey, given how often something's gone wrong just for us stepping outside our door for longer than a couple days, it's highly likely. But short of hiring a professional, we've basically stopped trusting people to help out. Because while it's been relatively easy to deal with any of these issues while we're not relying on our harvests, the story would be very different in the future, when we are.

So then, can we really risk it? The idea of being away for a couple of weeks to visit family during Christmas, the same weeks that anyone we get or pay to look after the property will also be distracted by their own festivities?

But what else can you do?

To be honest, at first, there doesn't seem like much of a choice. It's Christmas, there's no option but to go, right?

Hauling a Yule Log (source: Wikipedia)
Yule, the pagan celebration on which Christmas is originally based on, occurs on December 21/22, depending on the year... in the northern hemisphere. For us in the southern hemisphere, however, it occurs in June. All the problems with leaving home during Summer I discussed above are practically non-existent at that time of year.

Trees and crops are either sleeping or not planted yet, with watering sorted in the form of Winter rains. Animals also aren't at any risk of overheating. Long trips away still require organising for someone to check on the animals, but it could be every second day, just to make sure they haven't tipped over their water containers and such.

And when Christmas rolls around, the time of year in the southern hemisphere where crops and animals really need the most attention, we'll actually be around to give that attention to them, personally.

How it's going to work for us

Here's the plan.

In the two to four weeks around Yule (depending on each year), we'll still need someone we trust in the community to look after our property, coming around a few times a week to refill food and water containers, and generally check that everything's okay. If possible, it can be a quid-pro-quo situation, where if they do it for us, we'll do it for them for Christmas. Otherwise, we'll have to pay someone, but as it doesn't require visiting multiple times each day, it won't be anywhere near as expensive.

During these weeks, we visit each of our family's. If possible, we organise a get-together at someone's house and hang out for a week or more together. If not, we spend at least a few days at each family member's house to see them personally.

If they still have work, we still visit, accept that they'll be away during the day (maybe go see a local site or two), and help out each night so that we can enjoy the company of each other. Snuggle in against the cold weather with hot drinks and good cheer.

On the night of Yule itself, whoever we're with can take part in some traditional Yule celebrations with us, if they feel like it.

Basically, we see everyone in our family, personally, over an extended time. And, when Summer rolls around, we're home to look after our land and animals. Exactly as it should be during the hottest time of the year.

The downsides of this tact

If there are indeed any readers out there in the southern hemisphere who have been plagued with this issue before, and are wondering if this idea will work for you, be warned: there are many downsides to this idea.

All of them, at least, are purely social.

1) Expect family members to be extremely confused.

We sent out a mass-email to family members on both sides once we were fully committed to this idea. We explained everything in careful detail, noting the why's and how's, including the fact that we would see everyone each year still, but around the middle of the year for our Yule instead.

It was almost a week before we got our first reply. After that, the replies slowly rolled in from each person, varying wildly from (paraphrased) "Cool idea", to "Oh, well, at least it's okay if we still get to see you all once a year". So, about as good as we could hope for, but it was obvious that, even without asking us further questions, there was a lot of "I still don't understand why they can't just keep doing Christmas" going around.

2) Expect family members to be pretty darn annoyed.

Christmas is, after all, a time for family to get together. So in the family member's eyes, it doesn't matter if you want to spend over a week with them every year to celebrate Yule if it's at the wrong time of year. Well, as far as they're concerned.

Until it becomes a regular occurrence (most likely after many, many years of doing this), expect this to continue. For some family members, possibly indefinitely. Spend as much time with your family over your holiday Yule period as possible, but otherwise, there's really not much to be done about this if you're truly committed to the idea.

It's also good to note that not everyone will be like this, of course. There can be just as many family members who, while they may not still fully grasp or agree with the concepts of why, will at least understand that it's not a decision you made lightly, and will support you.

3) Gift giving becomes a little trickier.
Hand-knitted socks, by my wife, for me, for Yule.

We now give our presents at Yule. We're celebrating at Yule, so it makes sense to give any presents to our family members around Yule as well. This does lend itself to a little confusion, though...

At least in this first year, where I don't know if any of our family members took our decision seriously, everyone was pleasantly surprised with, and very thankful for, our gifts. But as most of our family seems to be forgetting about our Yule idea, will they be expecting more gifts at Christmas time? Not wanting to give gifts because they're not going to get any at Christmas? Simply still giving gifts at Christmas, but with the potential to be a little disappointed because they're not getting one back (forgetting they already got a gift six months earlier)?

This con of the idea is tricky, with just as many chances of hurt feelings as the first two cons. It isn't at all insurmountable, though, it's just another point to keep in mind. If there are years where, due to hard feelings or simply confusion, you don’t get a gift back, don’t sweat it, and keep giving your Yule gifts each year. After all, the gift for you should be in the giving, not the receiving, right?

Other unexpected benefits

There are, at least, a few other unexpected benefits of this idea.

1) Travel during your holiday period is a lot cheaper.

If you can just drive over to see your family, this point may not apply. But if you have to book accommodation, flights, or anything else really, then it definitely does.

School holidays are usually anywhere between mid-June to late-July, depending on the state you live in. So if you plan your trips around Yule in mid-to-late June, the first half of your trip will be in the off-season for holidays. Depending on your state, the second half may be, too. A lot of money can be saved because of this.

2) Getting time off work may be easier.

Over Christmas, everyone wants time off work. Over Yule, not so much. As such, at worst, it will be just as hard to get time off. But at best, almost no one else is asking for time off, so it won't be difficult to get your Yule time off approved.

3) No more having to share a single day.

Whichever house we're at, we'll have our Yule traditions on the night of Yule (obviously). Other than that, though, we're not placing any particular importance on any single day or night. Rather, we're concentrating on getting to see everyone for a minimum of at least a few days (preferably around a week or more) for some good holiday cheer.

Compare and contrast with Christmas in its current form. If both sides of your family live close, many people spend Christmas traveling between family members, never spending the supposedly special day with any particular person for more than a few hours. Others, especially those where their respective family members live far apart, have to sort out a schedule along the lines of "We'll spend Christmas with you, but New Years with them, and then swap year after year". Both of these options have the potential to create hurt feelings, unfortunate ideas of "Why can't you stay longer with us though", or "Why can't you keep spending Christmas with us and just be with them for New Years each year?"

Granted, we're potentially creating even more hurt feelings with our way of doing things. But at least we're skipping all of this.


Mudgee, our sheep, when she was just a
few days old.
Yet another animal who'll appreciate us being
home for summer.
We're trying to do what's best, what makes the most sense from a self-sufficient and ecologically-sound point of view. If we want to live self-sufficiently, that just won't be possible if we decide to leave our animals and crops for a fortnight or longer during the hottest part of the year. It just doesn't make sense.

The fact that we're not having Christmas anymore is mostly just an unintended casualty of the idea. It's not that we don't want to see our family anymore, but moreso that we'd prefer to see them when it actually makes sense: in the colder time of the year, when the land needs very little attendance.

If we're lucky, our family and friends may still not agree, but will at least understand in time. If not, we'll still sleep soundly knowing that we're sticking with our principles, and doing what we believe is right. In the end, that's a very comforting thing to hold onto.

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