COME December 21, the majority of people in Herefordshire will be doing their last minute shopping, having already spent hundreds of pounds on Christmas but somehow feeling it’s not quite enough.

But for hundreds of Pagans in the county, they will be enjoying their Yule celebrations with family and friends in a style much simpler than the Christian festival of Christmas.

Many believe that Christmas was born from Pagan celebrations, as the choice of December 25 for Christmas Day is believed to have been made by Pope Julius I in the 4th Century AD as it coincided with the pagan rituals of Winter Solstice on December 21.

And it certainly does hold some striking resemblances to Yule, with the decorating of a festive tree being just one of them.

Annemarie Fairbairn is the regional officer of The Pagan Federation and has celebrated Yule since she decided to embark on the Pagan path at the age of 16.

Coming from a devout Catholic family, the 41-year-old from Pembridge felt the worship of the earth, nature and all things in it resounded with her more than worship in churches, and his since raised her two children, Megan and Dominic, to be Pagans too.

“Yule has many similarities with Christmas simply because we did it first,” she said.

“December 21 is spent mainly doing craft activities and family things. We have a natural tree - which acts as a place for the wood spirits to keep warm - which we decorate with oranges and apples as food for the spirits. Bells are hung from the branches so you can tell when a spirit is near and a pentagram goes on top of the tree, which is where the star at the top of the Christmas tree comes from. We will make a Yule log and sit around the table to eat, with no television or internet, and we talk about all things we have achieved in the year. Paganism is really about paying things forward and Yule is just a special, magical day.

“I do have to laugh at people who spend hundreds of pounds at Christmas. Yule isn’t commercial and about material things. It’s about celebrating nature and family and the rebirth of the sun.

“My children have known this since birth and have never missed out. Their father is Catholic so when they spend time with him over the holiday they can join in with the Christmas celebrations. We fully accept the beliefs of others.”

But, as Annemarie has found, being accepting of others doesn’t always mean others will accept you.

“I get a lot more people than you would expect coming to me and asking if I worship the Devil – which of course Pagans don’t as the Devil is a Christian concept. We don’t sacrifice babies and I’ve never once seen a naked ritual performed,” she added.

Jennie Russell-Smith, from Hereford, believes there is less difference between the two celebrations than some think.

The concert promoter for Rebellion Festivals, who has been a practicing Pagan for 19 years, said: “I don’t see any difference between Christmas and Yule in terms of celebrations – it is just two different practices celebrating the same time of year in their own way. For Pagans it is the birth of the Sun and for Christians it’s the birth of the Son. It’s a seasonal celebration on the wheel of the year which brings people together whatever their beliefs.”

“For Winter Solstice my family and I will head off to Glastonbury, which is where our daughter was born, and we’ll go to the Chalice Well gardens where she was named in a druid naming ceremony and partake of their lovely Yule ritual there.

“We do all the usual stuff such as cook nut roast, bake cakes and give presents. I like to spend the whole holiday doing family things and just hanging out.”

Whatever your beliefs - if any at all - Jennie sums the holiday up perfectly.

She said: “I love the whole season. The earth seems to stop and hold its breath over Yule - it’s a good time to stop in our busy lives and breathe deeply.”