A mum of four who thanks her teenage “witchcraft rituals” for helping her find love, now enjoys a pagan Christmas with her family – complete with a flaming Yule log that burns for 12 days.
Gerdine van der Linden, 32, an author and homemaker, starts planning her festive rituals on June 1 each year and makes sure her family has 12 non-stop days and nights of cheer, celebrating the natural world.
The mum-of-four, who lives with her husband Peter 35, a fruit quality controller and professional bladesmith, and their children in Barenbrecht, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has made waves with her online tips for planning the perfect pagan Christmas, advising people that it is never too early to plan.
She said: “Every year, on the morning of June 1, I always wake up with a Christmas song in my head such as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime’
“And that, for me, is when I start thinking about it.”
Gerdine also loves some conventional aspects of Christmas, like decorating a tree and settling in with her children – Maria, eight, Alyssa, three, Erik, five, and this year also with Bjorn, two months – to watch a Boxing Day movie.
But she believes the pagan rituals – such as marking the winter solstice on December 21 – bring her and her family closer to nature.
She said: “I wouldn’t say the pagan way is better. But for me it’s more about connecting with nature.
“It’s midwinter. It’s the moment of the year when the night is the longest and the day shortest.”
She continued: “So pagan Yule is all about overcoming the darkness and welcoming the light.”
One of the main symbols of a pagan Christmas is a ‘Yule log’ – not the popular seasonal cake – but rather the ancient tradition of burning a log for 12 days and 12 nights starting on December 21.
She explained: “Before December 21, we prepare the Yule log which is a log that we decorate with pine sprigs and holly and other seasonal greenery.”
She added: “The tradition is that they used to have a very big log that would be kept burning for 12 days and 12 nights.
“At the end, you get a little piece of charcoal which you are meant to ignite the next year’s log with.”
For safety and practical reasons, Gerdine instead burns candles, which she attaches to the log and lights each day for 12 days.
June 1: Wakes up with a Christmas song in her head
July - August: Start making lists, thinking about menus and writing Christmas cards, browsing for cheap presents for the children.
October: Goes to a Christmas show to get inspiration for the next season and grab some decorations
November: Starts to invite guests for Christmas events.
December 5 - Gerdine celebrates the Dutch holiday Sinterklaas - a festival of Saint Nicholas or 'Santa' by exchanging gifts in the evening.
December 6 to 21 - Entertains the children with an activity on each day, ranging from having a Christmas-music dance party to a pagan walk in the forest to gather pine cones for the Yule Log.
December 21 - Yule, celebrate the shortest night with a big pagan feast, complete with a Yule ham and wassail - and do not forget to light the Yule Log
December 24 to 25 - celebrates traditional Christmas with family.
After lighting the Yule log, she and her children have a massive traditional pagan feast on the evening of the solstice, including a Yule ham washed down with wassail – an ancient English mulled cider.
And the mum uses her 12 days of Yule to teach her children more about nature by organising different outdoor seasonal tasks, like making bird feeders and festive suet cakes, collecting holly and ivy, laying fires and understanding about how winter affects the forest.
Gerdine believes now, with the planet under more strain than ever and commercial Christmas packed with wasteful habits such as buying presents covered in single-use plastics, that a pagan approach could become more popular.
“The pagan festival is about connecting with the moment of the shortest day by making sure that we’re not just running around buying presents and having family obligations.
“We have to connect with nature because after all we are nature and we can’t forget that.
“These rituals should stop us in our tracks and remind us and ground us back to nature,” she said.
Gerdine has been performing pagan rituals, in a small way, since she was a teenager – when she teamed up with five friends to “manifest” what they wanted from their future.
She said: “Like many teen girls, I got interested in witchcraft and exploring the darker side of it too, like Ouija boards and things like that.
“We would perform rituals with candles and incense and try to manifest things, which is basically asking for things.”
She added: “One day I did a banishing spell on a bully who used to shove me into lockers – and I never saw her again.
“As well as teenage stuff like that, we would ask to find love, or a good career or money.”
Her rituals seemed to pay off, as she found her husband Peter shortly afterwards, who she met through a mutual friend when she was 18.
“It kind of worked. I have a great husband. I’m not rich but, fingers crossed, that might still happen,” she said.
Now happy with her lot and with four young children to look after, Gerdine keeps the big rituals to a minimum, except for when it comes to the family’s pagan Christmas.
Ultra-organised, she buys Christmas cards each Boxing Day, ready for the celebrations a year on.
“We like simple or historic cards that fit in with our pagan aesthetic,” she said.
Then, in June, she starts thinking about Yule and gets ready to swing into action.
She said: “I think of everything I can imagine and write a list of it all in July. I also buy all my Christmas cards straight after the festivities so they are all nice and cheap for the following year.”
By August, she is planning her décor.
This year, she is preparing star-like Pentagrams out of twigs and foliage, with inspiration from Pinterest, and will enlist help from her children to make their own stars in December.
But she insists a light touch is important, to avoid becoming sick of festive cheer before the festivities even begin.
Sharing her tips for planning Christmas, whether pagan or traditional, she said: “My first top tip is to start planning early – it doesn’t have to be July or August – but starting early means there’s so so much less stress.
“Planning Christmas in December is more expensive and when everyone’s doing it the collective energy is higher, so you end up putting more hours into it.”
As a mother, she says it can be easy to become disappointed when things do not go to plan, because of how the children behave or react to Christmas.
She said: “My second tip would be to not plan everything, because you have kids.
“You can’t plan how kids will behave, so you need to keep some things flexible.”
A link to Gerdine’s instagram can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/pagan_christmas/