Explore the weird, winding, and wonderful ways in which we Pagan-types mark cyclic and special times, events, and celebrations in our everyday lives.
Happy holidays, people! Or, should I say Merry Christmas? Or Good Yule? Or maybe Happy Hanukkah?
It’s that time of year: the height of the winter holiday season and a time when most folks engage in one or more celebrations, all focused on concepts of light and rebirth. However one observes his or her holiday of choice, you’d think it would be done with communal joy and happiness and a big smile on one’s face. It’s a time for joy and friendship and sharing, right? So…. Why does the idea of joyful greeting seem, all too often, to fall by the wayside, or even to be replaced with curmudgeonly anger?
Problem number one is that many people today simply don’t greet each other. Heads own, agendas in mind, and eyes glued to smart phone screens, they push through the store aisles and mall parking lots, swallowed up in their own maelstrom of holiday must-dos and never lifting their eyes to look around, let alone to wish their fellow humans well. (Scrooge, anyone?)
And then there come the signs….
Driving through my local area, I’m “greeted” by confrontational signs on businesses: “We say ‘Merry Christmas’ here—not Happy Holidays.”
Not so much of a greeting, is it?
Then there are the neighbors with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” lawn signs. A couple of Facebook friends have posted messages along the same lines: “I say ‘Merry Christmas.’ Jesus is the reason for the season. Get over it.”
(Facebook posts are a kind of cyber lawn sign—wouldn’t you agree?)
The problem with these sentiments is that while Christians may celebrate Christ’s birth on Dec. 25, religious historians seem to agree that Jesus’ birth likely happened in late winter or early spring, around lambing times—probably somewhere between late February and the end of April.
And of course, there’s an even bigger problem—an unfortunate subtext. An insistence on saying “Merry Christmas” denies and marginalizes the celebrations of those who are not Christian or who observe other winter holidays: the winter Solstice (or its Wiccanized version, Yule), Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, St. Nicholas’ Day…. The list goes on. This is all important because in the U.S., we have the freedom to worship (or not worship, in the case of atheists) as we choose, and this is a right our founders intentionally built into the Constitution. Simply said, we are not a Christian nation but a nation that recognizes the intellectual and spiritual freedom of its citizens. Therefore, the assumption or imposition of exclusively Christian festivals—to the point of ignoring others—is just not right.
This isn’t to say that the Pagans—or other faiths—are without blame! Au, contraire. This season seems to bring out the crabby in many, and recently, I’ve seen a gush of blog entries, Facebook posts, and web articles from Pagan and Druid friends who seem to delight in giving it right back to the Christians with in-their-face messages about how the Christian church stole all the holidays from the Pagans and all the so-called “Christian symbols” of the season are really Pagan and so on and so forth.
These messages are typically even angrier that the ones they’re replying to. Sigh….
Technically, these crabby Pagans are correct. The familiar symbols of the winter holiday season—the lights, the greenery, feasting, gift exchange, a holy rebirth—date back to ancient pre-Christian traditions. And, there is abundant historical evidence demonstrating how the Christian church co-opted those traditions and deftly wove them into their own practices as part of attracting new members.
The problem isn’t with what anyone is saying: it’s with how they’re saying it.
This is a season of love and light. It’s a time to share joy and love in the world: not to tell anyone his or her religion is annoying or misplaced or in some way wrong. We’re all in this together, and even those who don’t count themselves as religious can’t help but observe winter’s seasonal changes… the silence of bare trees and darkening Earth, the short days, the Sun rising in a blunted arc into the sky each day, the promise of snow. We’re all humans on Spaceship Earth, all bound together by life on this planet, and friends, it’s winter. It’s cold, and it’s dark, and all we want, collectively, is for the Sun to return, filling our world with brilliant warmth.
In my imagined perfect December, we would greet each friend or acquaintance with the holiday blessing of our choice, offered with a smile and an open heart. Our goal would be nothing less than the conveyance of delight and a joie de vivre. And that friend would then reciprocate with her own greeting, also offered joyfully. When someone gives us this type of welcome, it becomes a blessing of sorts—a kind of “go in peace and may all be well.” I don’t know about you, but I'll take all the prayers and blessings I can get, and I'll take them from anyone who wants to offer them, regardless of their tradition. The words settle gently about my shoulders like a soft, warm blanket.
As for me, my friends will all receive a well-meaning and enthusiastic “Happy Holidays”! From there, I’m likely to add focused wishes to those I know well: “I hope you have a wonderful Christmas” Or, “Happy Hanukkah!” Or maybe “A blessed Solstice” or “Good Yule!”
I challenge you to do the same.
And from me to you, I offer a holiday blessing, a wish that your holidays be safe and wondrous and full of joy, and a living demonstration that I honor and respect your relationship with the sacred just as I honor my own.
The light will return. All will be well….
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