My favorite time of the year continues – from October to the end of the year I’m loving the energy, the weather, the celebrations and the reflection that ends every year. The older I get, the more in-tuned I become to the quiet part of the year. The cold, dark, sleepy days call to my Spirit and remind me that all things transition, and what dies will live again.
I spend a fair amount of time reading posts from my friends on Facebook, because I like to keep caught up on their lives now that we don’t see one another very often. I also enjoy some of the jokes and cartoons, and the different perspectives on the news. And, let’s be honest – some of the memes are quite entertaining. This time of year come the varying reflections on the holidays, ranging from explanations of the “original” meaning of the holiday (pagan traditions) to lamentations of how folks have taken the “Christ” out of Christmas and are ignoring the “Reason for the Season” (meaning, to them, the birth of the historical Jesus Christ).* Sadly, some of the memes have started flame wars in the comments, sometimes even on my page. These can sometimes devolve into a “my belief’s better than your belief” pissing (sorry) contest, which, to my dismay, further alienates us from one another in this already fractured society.
I’ve done a few radio shows on the pagan origins of most American Christian holidays, so I won’t spend a lot of time rehashing old news. Anyone with the internet or a decent history book can read about the way things were before Christianity started catching on and amassing converts (by choice or force). By now many people realize (or at least have heard) that the traditions of the “Christmas” tree, candles, decking the halls, the Yule log, mistletoe, gift-giving and even the birth of a savior by a virgin are pagan in origin. And look below for my favorite Santa Claus story.**
So then, what is the “reason for the season”? Is it a Christian holiday focused mainly on the birth of Jesus Christ? Is it a Jewish holiday commemorating a miracle in a temple? Does it sometimes celebrate an Eid? Is it a holiday for Africans and African Americans to celebrate their heritage and the principles they hold dear? Is it a Pagan observation of the return of the light after a half-year of waning sunshine (daylight savings time notwithstanding)? A celebration of the day the Buddha reached Enlightenment? A festival in which Hindus honor Ganesha? A secular season of shopping and waiting for a visit from Santa Claus**? Festivus? Hogswatch? Winter Veil?
The answer is “Yes.” All of the above and many, many more. So many cultures, religions and traditions celebrate the ending of the year with countless rituals, festivals and feasts that it would take a long time to research and many hours of studying to understand them all. But I’m pretty sure that the reason to celebrate, when you chain it back to its origin, no matter in which tradition you celebrate, was not to draw a line in the sand, or exclude those who were different or to denigrate those who believe differently. I think it had more to do with a group commemoration of shared experience and a feeling of togetherness, belonging and mutual dependence at a time when half the world is cold and dark.
Whenever I see some of my friends going off on another (sometimes complete with name-calling, insults and sarcasm) about being “disrespectful” of one tradition or another, or failing to understand or acknowledge the “true meaning” of the holiday, I feel sad. That’s the opposite of the effect this season should be having on us – especially friends and family. We may not agree, but there are so many different correct answers to this particular question that it’s silly to dig in our heels and insist that ours is the only proper “reason.” Peace on Earth is at the foundation of each of these celebrations, as is love and sharing. There’s no place for chauvinism.
At this time of year I choose to celebrate not only my family traditions (somewhat unconventional, as you can probably guess), but the idea of memories and beliefs – the common understandings that bind us together as human beings. The sense of wonder we feel when contemplating things that were handed down to us for generations, changing a bit here and there but in general remaining the same beliefs of our parents, and their parents and their parents all the way up the chain of ancestors who became us. That belonging, that sense of common existence, is worth celebrating this time of year; which in some bygone times and places meant “gather together and help one another or die as a community.”
I wish you and yours peace, love and understanding. I hope that you can spend this season celebrating with those with whom you find happiness. And I hope that the sense of belonging to something much bigger than yourself surrounds you and gives you comfort and joy. Blessed be.
*Ironically, the Puritans who came to America to escape religious persecution, and who are often misguidedly touted as leading to the establishment of our country as a “Christian Nation,” banned the celebration of Christmas in their new home, because it had traditionally been marked by drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling and other wanton pursuits.
**At the First Council of Nicaea, a controversy arose when the newly reinstated Alexandrian presbyter Arius began to spread doctrinal views that were contrary to those of his bishop, St. Alexander of Alexandria. The disputed issues centered on the natures and relationship of God (the Father) and the Son of God (Jesus). According to legendary accounts, debate became so heated that at one point, Arius was struck in the face by Nicholas of Myra (guess who), who would later be canonized. This account is almost certainly apocryphal, as Arius himself would not have been present in the council chamber due to the fact that he was not a bishop. But it’s a fun story, nonetheless. St Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, retrieved22 February 2014