While this Pagan was in the middle of the most Christian part of our country, singing “Silent Night” to rooms full of cheery Jesus-folk, a small group of vocal and well represented Christians took up arms in a supposed “war on Christmas,” and now my Pagan brothers and sisters across the internet are all in a tizzy.
Facebook is littered with defensive posts about Saturnalia and Winter Solstice, and as I write these words a boldly entitled essay, Christ is NOT the Reason for the Season, is the most popular post on all of Patheos.com. Many Pagans are spreading the good news that Jesus is simply a stand in for an older and thereby (as their logic would suggest) more relevant deity, and their antagonism is serving well as ammunition for the angry, Fox News sponsored, Christian artillery.
But everybody’s missing the point. And, as with many historical battles, both sides are much more alike than they’d be willing to admit.
Too many Christians and Pagans are making an idol out of historicity.
Our religious and cultural narratives are relevant because they speak to something true about the human experience, not because they are historically accurate. Fundamentalists, be they Christian or Pagan, willfully ignore this point.
The story of Christmas is metaphor. For that matter, the very word “God” is metaphor. As Matthew Fox writes in his book, The Hidden Spirituality Of Men:
Metaphor is the proper language for the Sacred, for that which is bigger than our controlled world of words. It is also deeper and more grounding, more primeval, more child-like, and more bodily than the literal.
The function of mythological stories is not to mandate the way we live our lives. That’s where fundamentalists and literalists get it wrong. And, ironically, that is the mindset which motivated so many of the most vocal, and sometimes historicity-obsessed Pagans to leave their Christian congregations in the first place.
Rather, these stories are meant to help us approach the mystery of the Divine. If they aren’t doing that, then either they aren’t worth telling or we aren’t making ourselves open to their deeper meaning.
The literalist Christians who insists that the Bible is a divine instruction manual which provides the faithful with a five to six-thousand year “historical” record of the life of this planet are misguided. They’re trying to fashion science out of poetry, and they’re botching the beauty and power of the language in the process.
With that said, the literalist Pagans who will hear nothing of the symbolism and metaphor found in the stories of the Bible, or who insists on pointing out every last historical inaccuracy found in the Christian tradition, are also misguided. They are allowing themselves to be blinded by the same, insistent rationalism that their Christian fundamentalist counterparts tout as proper piety.
The problem is not in the story. The problem is in the way we tell the story.
The Christmas narrative need not be about an actual birth of an actual person. Christmas is just a starting point for people to explore the idea of the coming together — the bodily cohabitation — of the Divine and the human. And, it doesn’t have to be about some singular, historical moment when this divine cocktail first was mixed and shaken in the little baby body of Jesus; Christmas can be about this union taking place in every, single human being, at every moment, across all traditions and all religions.
Incarnation is a universally applicable metaphor. The Christmas myth is archetypal. It belongs to all of us, because it speaks to something human, not simply something Christian.
To quote Matthew Fox again,
The archetype of Christmas also speaks to just what a child is. Who is a human child? Not only the son of a king, the son of a president, the daughter of a rock star—not only the identity of a well-known or well placed child, but the “every child,” including the poorest of children born to the poorest of parents in the poorest of circumstances—in a stable, a barn, a ghetto, or a peasant village. What about that child? What is his or her worth?
This can be the meaning of Christmas, and this is a message that is approachable by all people.
Myth — Christian and Pagan alike — is a gift available to all of us, and can be a starting point for a deeper level of engagement with our own humanity. Christmas need not be a time of anger at fundamentalists, or of becoming, ourselves, fundamentalist. Christmas — even for the non-Christian — can become a metaphor for our own expanding compassion. It can come to represent our decision to hold up the worth of every person, of every child, of every moment of this precious life.
It can be that if we are willing to let go of our anger, to release this need for historical accuracy, and to open up to the fragility and strength of our own human hearts.
This is what I wrote to a Christian friend trying to rally in defence of “their” holiday:
I say let santa & corporate consumerism think they have it & turn the other proverbial cheek. Let Christ have all days & end the Catholic-style attempt to marshal mass consciousness in terms of imposed or trying to retain or persuade for mass ceremonial ritual 1% led “Throne” Magic. We can just give humbly everyday in His & our own Name, right. He wasn’t born on that day anyway as most scholars agree & celebrating on that day is a failed attempt to annex Pagan worship, arguably through deceit, which isn’t very Jesus’y anyway, as I understand it. Unless you take the Dead Sea Scroll Gospel of Judas social engineering of His martyrdom to be a template for Churchiness to heart. Or what the hell, going to war for the Dec 25th Winter Solstice could be the way to go. What do I know? ¦]
By the way I shared this with said Christian & on my Facebook wall because it is so well put & important. I totally agree. It’s was more important than the Roman Winter Solstice & the mystery being celebrated would seem to be better celebrated by everyone, everyday. Thanks so much.
Thanks for the comments, Jesse, and for sharing the post with your friend. I’m glad the ideas resonate with you.
I’ve mostly kept quiet about this topic, because I did not know how to express myself well on my thoughts about it. Thank you for saying it so well! I agree with every word!
Thanks for the comment, Mrs B. I’m glad that the post was helpful at expressing what you’ve thought and felt on the subject.
I don’t really care what Christmas is about, or who they stole it from. Beautiful metaphor or not, it’s not my religion, and I don’t celebrate it. I wish other non-Christians wouldn’t celebrate it either. The whole holiday is shoved in my face annually and I resent it. I’d prefer if it would stay in churches and Christian homes where it belongs, and not dominate the headlines two months a year – here included.
Some of us live in Christian homes, like myself. For my family, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter are a few times out of the year where my extended family all gets together. They don’t shove prayers or their meaning of the holiday down my throat, and I don’t shove it down theirs.
For some Pagans it is still an issue they face. Some are fighting for a smidgen of recognition in their families, or the world at large during this season, whether it is personal at the dinner table or discrimination at the vacation times where we work. Others are just trying to navigate the ‘holiday season’ and not get a spotlight shone on them, to live in peace. Pagans will still writing about it because Christmas and other Christian holidays still affects us, and it still molds the world we live in. Sure, we could give more writing space to our own Gods, and I wish we did. On the same note we share our space overwhelmingly with Christians and I find any attempts at reaching across the aisle on both parts to be welcome.
Thanks for this comment, Sarenth. You make some great points. We live in a cultural in which there is widespread Christian influence. How we choose to engage with that is up to us, and certainly is motivated by our circumstances and individual dispositions. I don’t think there is any one right way to have interfaith dialogue. But, as I’ve been open about in previous posts, I think there is inherent value in seeking to have that dialogue.
As someone who came from a religiously Christian, albeit liberal and non-fundamentalist background, but who no longer identifies as Christian, I’m engaging with my own personal narrative about the holiday when I write these posts, and I’m also seeking to uncover the ways in which my feelings and beliefs have changed, evolved, or have continued to stay the same.
This post was not about the commercialized frenzy of November and December, which you and I both take issue with. This post was about how we engage with myth, and the ongoing struggle between literalism v.s. fundamentalism. I’m a little disappointed that, with all of your religious experience, Drew, you would reduce it to that instead of engaging with me in a deeper, more challenging theological discussion.
One needn’t celebrate another’s religious holiday in order to engage in a dialogue about the significance of a metaphor. I took you for someone who would be open to that kind of inter-religious, inter-tradition dialogue. Was I wrong about that?
Thank you. Sharing.
I’d like to add my voice to those thanking you for writing this, Teo. Very elegantly put.
I -would- like it if the popular message were a bit more inclusive; it’s hard to find Solstice cards at a Hallmark store! But that is work that I can do. I can increase awareness of the Pagan celebrations that happen at the same time as the Christians are celebrating, and do so in a manner that isn’t confrontational, but educational. This is the time to celebrate the return of the light, after all, so it’s appropriate to spread some illumination!
Thank you, Robert. I appreciate the kind words.
I, too, would like it if there was more balanced religious representation in our cultural landscape. And I think your approach — to be educational rather than confrontational — is ultimately more effective to that end.
Again, thank you for joining in the conversation.
If a Pagan (or anyone for that matter) were to make printable cards for the Solstice season would you buy them? What do you look for in a Solstice Card?
I have no problem with people offering up the concept of Christmas as a mythological rather than literal truth. I think it’s more credible and powerful that way, if anything. You will, however, find essentially zero takers for that in the modern Christian community. If they want to assert that the Nativity was an actual historical event, that’s no skin off my hide either. A reasonable speculation made from their own accounts would place that event in early-mid September.
I will not tolerate them telling me a bold-faced ahistorical lie which says that Winter Solstice is their holiday and that all of us and our public officials must pay homage to that “truth.” At that point, they’re not just neighbors who can agree to disagree. It’s more akin to an uninvited house guest who barges in, takes over your favorite chair, complains about the food and proposes to charge YOU rent for living there. That ain’t gonna fly, and they’re gonna get a steel toed Doc Marten prostate massage all the way to the property line!
This year’s “War on Christmas” propaganda is even worse. There’s some fools over on the deacon’s blog and elsewhere lambasting the Rhode Island governor for refusing to call an evergreen tree a “Christmas Tree” as if it were a copyrighted and primary symbol of Christianity!
Yes, I know the thought is that we should all just let it ride in the spirit of a universal brotherly sort of holiday, but there’s a problem with that. Unchallenged lies sooner or later become accepted conventional wisdom. The fundamentalists in our society understand very well the power of language. They know that who controls the terms of dialogue and the definitions is a long way toward controlling the debate itself. They know that there is no lie too big to sell if you say it loudly and often enough. It is why they are able to hit well above their demographic weight in our culture and politics.
I guess we have to find a balance. We don’t want to let ourselves become angry, embittered nuts like they are, but at the same time, too much passivity will hurt us in the long run too.
You bring up a lot of interesting ideas, Kenneth. I’ll start at the end of your comment.
I think there is a way that “passivity” implies inaction, and I don’t think it should. We can choose not to participate in hateful or violent speech, but still be a part of the dialogue nonetheless.
Your idea that “who controls the terms of dialogue and the definitions is a long way toward controlling the debate itself,” says something to our cultural obsession with control, and also the difference between dialogue and debate. One might win a debate, but there is no need for victory in dialogue. Dialogue is simply the attempt to better understand one another, and hopefully to foster a deeper respect for those with differing opinions.
I will politely disagree with you that there are “essentially zero takers” for a mythological viewpoint of the Christian story from within the Christian community. That just isn’t true. I know people who care nothing about the literal history, and who seek to engage in a mythic, mystical relationship to the narrative. These folks aren’t always the most vocal (perhaps because they’re somewhere deep in a meditative state! 🙂 ), but they exist. There were a number of them in the Episcopal church I attended in my early 20’s.
You and I are in agreement about balance. That’s what this dialogue is, in part, seeking to do.
Teo, I think this does say something about our “cultural obsession with control,” but there’s also the fact that control can be unilateral, and the controller often does not care about “rights.” They care only about Right (as they’ve defined it, and as they feel should be self-evident to the controlled). I think one of the first and most consistent responses of an abuser when the abused rises up and says, “You have to stop that!” is surprise. Doesn’t matter if it’s a man who beats his wife and children, or a despot in charge of a national government. Or an elite in charge of a global banking system.
No one is EVER the villain in their own script.
I love to engage in dialogue — it’s one of the things that drew me into Paganism in the first place, the fact that dialogue is possible. But if the other person doesn’t want to have a dialogue, but a debate, the dialogue is over. You then have to figure out your response to their attempt to take control.
The least violent — and when possible, the most effective — is to ignore them. Disengage and walk away. But that requires a degree of self-sufficiency. If the other person also controls the media feeds, or the website content, or the meeting agendas, or the purse strings, or the food and water supply, it becomes impossible to just disengage. So then you have to confront them.
There are different models of confrontation. The standard one — and the most effective in the short term though much less effective in the long term — is to pick up a rock and smash their heads. If you do a thorough job, you are now in control. The problem is that you become them, if not worse, and you’d better cultivate some paranoia and wear a good helmet. Even then, “uneasy is the head that wears the crown.” They’ll invent new weapons to get around your guards and helmets.
The least effective approach, I think, is to engage them in debate. Debate is a spectacle, like a boxing match. If you lose, you will always have supporters who call for a rematch. They aren’t going to change. You aren’t going to change. But the onlookers will be entertained for an hour.
One approach that can be effective is peaceful resistance, but it requires a basic level of human decency from the other side, and a willingness on your part to be killed — whatever “killed” means in the context, but often it means quite simply, “killed.”
We visited the Sand Creek Massacre site last spring, and spoke with one of the conservationists, an historian. The savagery of the US Army in the prosecution of the Indian Massacres was as bad as anything you’ve ever read, anywhere. No “peaceful resistance” was possible, any more than it would be possible for cockroaches to hold a peaceful “sit in” in your kitchen to demand that their monthly Twinkie be dropped behind the refrigerator, like the last tenant used to do. Most people’s attitude toward a cockroach sit-in would be, “Thank goodness they stayed still, so I could squash them all.”
That was pretty much how the Army approached the “Indian Problem.”
The description of Mohandas Ghandi’s sit-in on the beach, where the British soldiers shot and killed the protesters, only to watch others take their places and wait to be slaughtered, ended in part because the soldiers found a human core to themselves and were sickened by the slaughter, and in part (I suspect) because he higher-ups realized there were more Indians than bullets. Had it been a smaller gathering — like an #OWS rally, for instance — they’d have been slaughtered and carted off to a mass grave. Diplomats and politicians would thank the officers privately and then decry the violence publicly.
The “Christmas Wars” are a much smaller issue, and so far as I know, no one has been killed over it. When it’s just the Fundie Church down the street ranting to the faithful, amused disengagement is the appropriate answer.
When it’s Fox News…. I’m not so sure.
Teo has already made some of the points that I was going to make. I would add that I have stopped reading Deacon Kandera’s blog, as well as Elizabeth Scalia’s. They are too infuriating. For awhile, I attempted to engage the bloggers and commenters in reasoned dialogue, but there really was no point. Their delusional, self-reinforcing agnotology (as Fred Clark calls it) is impenetrable, and the time taken to compose reasoned comments is better spent elsewhere.
Re. the “War on Christmas™,” I suspect that a good deal of it is ginned up as a get-penny for right-wing religious organizations. They profit from it by selling “information packages,” bumper stickers, and so on; as well as by exhorting their followers to contribute funds to allow them to continue fighting the good fight.
i’m with Robert Graves: i don’t care *what* you call the Holy Child, as long as you don’t start oppressing other people in his name.
Thanks for the comment, and for the enthusiasm!
You hit the nail on the head, I think. The problem isn’t in any one mythological character; it’s in what we do with that character that matters.
I recently had a conversation at work (!!!) with a Hindu and a vehemently apostate Catholic. The Hindu was asking why some people make such a big deal out saying “happy holidays”, rather than just wishing people a merry Christmas, “since that’s what most people here celebrate”. The apostate Catholic started in on how zie takes Christmas as a purely secular holiday — an opportunity to gather with friends and family, exchange gifts and eat a lot of comfort food.
So I found myself in the position of trying to explain how othering it can be for people to simply assume from the lens of the dominant paradigm that of *course* everyone celebrates Christmas and that I strongly prefer the more inclusive “happy holidays”, personally, as most faiths (that I’m aware of) have some sort of festival of light during the dark part of the year.
The conversation ended with the Hindu giving us a lecture on how Hindus “just celebrate everything” and how it would be better if everyone else did it that way, too.
… I found tremendous amusement in this, and hope you do, as well. 🙂
That’s wonderful. Just wonderful. What a wonderful message for your Hindu friend to bring to the conversation!
You use the gender-neutral pronoun, “zie,” and in doing so you bring up a very good example of how one might engage with another in conversation about their religious holidays. Transgendered people often advocate that people ask which pronoun they prefer — he, she, zie – at which point the person has the opportunity to express something deeply personal, and also superficially useful about themselves.
There’s no reason we couldn’t do the same for religious holidays.
“What do you celebrate this time of year?” we might ask one another.
Solstice? Well, Happy Solstice! Christmas? Well, Merry Christmas. Nothing? Well, Happy Day to you!
Just a though. 🙂
Wonderful article. I am with Mrs. B in my agreement with every word. Now I just have to live by it. A challenge? Maybe. Is it possible? Yes.
Thank you, Cainwyne. I’m glad the post resonated with you. Yes — living by the ideas we hold up is a challenge, but worth it… and totally possibly.
Blessings to you.
Interesting discussion going on here, lots of viewpoints to consider. The celebration of Christmas or any of the other festivals of light observed at this time of year does not bother me one iota and in fact I enjoy the decorations that abound as they speak to me as well those of other faiths. I have even been known to attend “Bethlehem Village” at a small local church with my mother and have enjoyed it quite a bit (think 1st century Ren Faire). I do, however, think that the history of these celebrations is important. It is important for Christians to be aware that Christ was not born on Dec 25th and that the celebration of the Winter Solstice was appropriated from Paganism (along with various other Pagan holidays). If they understand from where their holidays stem, perhaps they can be more accepting of our celebrations, perhaps they can see that there is not so much difference between us, perhaps it will prevent them from looking at us (or the secular world) as appropriating what they percieve as their holiday.
Thank you for your comment, Natalie. I’m glad that you joined in on the conversation.
I agree with you — the history of our cultural and religious celebrations is important. It just needs to be put in the proper perspective. I also appreciate your attitude of hope about Christians being more open to the Pagan perspective of the holiday season. I would like for more people to experience that kind of cross-cultural validation.
Teo, I enjoyed your article very much. Yes, the Solstice holiday was appropriated by the Church as a celebration of the birth of Christ (though even from the Bible stories it’s obvious that it didn’t take place in the winter) to apply the “light returns to the world” celebration to the Biblical salvation story; Christ, the divine Light, comes to the world, rescuing it from the darkness of sin. It was a parallel that those new Christians could easily grasp.
Even though Christmas is, mainly, about a real historical person, your point that it is ALSO about the deep myth of our worth as human beings, and how we relate to each other and to the world is very well-taken.
However you celebrate it, may this Season of Light bring joy to you and those you love, and may that divine Light shine through all hearts as those hearts have been given that Light.
Thank you, Mark. I’m glad to see your comment and read your perspective on the subject. May you and your loved ones also experience the blessings of the season, and the Peace which passes all understanding.
This is an incredibly well written observation. While I am Christian, I have long known of the tie-ins between old religions and Christianity. The Church thought it would make easier converts of pagans if it consolidated holidays and saints with old practices and gods. Jesus was not born on Winter Solstice. But tell that to fundamentalists and they’ll scream at you. Definitely NOT WJWD. The War on Christmas is intended to keep Christians deliberately riled and paranoid about coexisting with people of other faiths.
Your words, “The War on Christmas is intended to keep Christians deliberately riled and paranoid about coexisting with people of other faiths,” could not be better worded or more to the point, Indigo. Thank you for sharing that message here. I’m glad to see you a part of this dialogue.
The only problem i’ve had with many , not all Christians , is that they can’t even fathom the idea that jesus isn’t the reason for the season .If you try to tell them he wasn’t born in december on the 25 you get looked at like your figgin nuts .As far as i know there is no mention in the bible of what time of year jesus was born , except they were headed the jeruselem to pay taxes, register etc. I’m not sure they will ever except us if they can’t ever accept thier own history.We know the bible was meant to used metaphorically , but a large amount of Christians take it as god given absolute truth . A phrase i’ve heard after scripture readings is ” this is the word of god”. The bibles stories are meant to be parables , not absolute truth . The problem is many Christians see the bible as truth.An example is our freinds the Creationists . These folks believe the Earth is 5k years old and we existed w/ the dinosaurs . That the Flintstones cartoon is a documentary.Altho i enjoy the Holidays myself , the lights etc . My celibrations are Pagan in nature , for the origonal, proper reasons , on the solstice ……….the proper time .I have no problems w/ my Christian family and freinds celibrating thier approprieted holiday as long as they leave me alone to celibrate mine .Even if they never acknoledge it as such. Kilm
Teo, you have a nasty habit of being reasonable when provoked. 🙂
The ‘War on Christmas’ topic raises many, many questions: too many to cover in a single blog post.
I think you are right when you say that historicity is being made into an idol, albeit a contested one. To do so presumes a single interpretation of where authenticity resides in religious matters. That said, I think it isn’t unreasonable to propose alternatives to a privileged Christian narrative that dismisses (in the face of considerable evidence) any connection between Christmas and Pagan winter solstice observances. I certainly don’t think it constitutes ‘Pagan Fundamentalism’.
To paraphrase an excellent quote: refusing to submit to the persecution of others does not automatically mean I am in turn persecuting them.I suspect the reason why the Christian artillery (such apt imagery!) is so intense on this issue is that the Pagan critique of Christmas and its origins has hit too close to home. There are implications that extend far beyond a single holy day, to the very basis of Christian self-identity.
Thank you, Gavin, for the compliment. That’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever told me on this blog. 🙂
I agree with you that it is perfectly reasonable to offer alternatives to what you call the “privileged Christian narrative” (a phrase that has my head churning), and I wouldn’t suggest that doing so constitutes fundamentalism.
My motivation for using that term came from an online conversation I had with a small group of Pagans in which I was witness to a kind of singularly focussed, narrow-minded, intolerant language towards Christians and the “Christian filter” that was nearly identical to the language of fundamentalist Christians. The information that the Pagans used to justify their perspective may have been different, as was their enemy, but the style was the same.
I think for literalist Christians, a discussion about the historicity of their tradition (or lack thereof) does hit close to home. But, there are plenty of Christians who don’t need for their tradition to be backed with hard evidence in order for it to have meaning. For them, I imagine, this “War on Christmas” may be less meaningful.
I’m curious – what are the implications you see of the Pagan critique of Christmas and its origins?
Ah. Well. It is all part of my evil charm 😉
Okay, as to the possible implications to a Pagan critique of Christmas and its origins. Here are a few:
– Accept that Christmas may have pagan origins, and it calls into question the origins of other Christian observances.
– To some extent it also revives the accusations by Celsus that the early Church plagiarized from the pagan faiths around it: accusations that many of today’s Christians (those who consider the matter) complacently assume were rebutted by Origen.
– It casts the assiduous efforts of the Early Church to demonize and exterminate its pagan contemporaries into an even more sinister light – a matter of self-interest rather than moral imperative.
– Associated with the last, it brings the issue of the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe, and Christianity’s interactions with every other indigenous tradition since, closer to the fore: an important and long overdue discussion, and one that is more complicated than simple condemnation.
– Cut out every condemnation of polytheism, idolatry etc. within the Bible and it shrinks considerably. Accept the notion that paganism and Christianity have intimate links and that text might need revision of one of its core messages.
I’m sure there are others, including some that aren’t related to history, but it is getting late here, and the laptop battery is nearly flat 🙂
I think your statement, “more complicated that a simple condemnation,” might just be the ethos of this discussion.
You bring up brilliant points, all of which may or may not shake the foundation of a Christian’s faith. But, the point is not to destroy someone else’s religious tradition; the point is to have a long overdue dialogue, and to be afforded, as Pagans, many of whom trace back our cultural and spiritual ancestry to pre-Chrsitian, indigenous peoples, a place at the table.
I agree, but that place at the table is directly affected by the privileged position of the Christian narrative. In the West, Christianity as the dominant religious paradigm gives a particular understanding of what religion is, and what it can be. This understanding revolves around ‘right-belief’, obedience to authority and transcendence. The other faiths most visible to the Western gaze, Judaism and Islam, only reinforce these notions. Modern paganism proposes very different notions of what religion (or at least, spirituality) can be: chiefly, as something you do with your body, rather than believe with your mind. However, because Christianity in a very real sense dictates the terms of the discussion to which you are referring, even otherwise irreligious people dismiss paganism as quasi-religious, or even an eccentric form of make-believe. Maybe this is why folk on both sides are bringing up historicity as an issue – it is an argument to settle the more basic question of what religion *is*.
I like Christmas. Always have. Probably always will.
Oh, some years the tree is a pain, and we don’t set it up. Some years we really get into it, and go all-out decorating. Some years we have family over, some years we mooch at other people’s houses, some years we travel, some years we pull the curtains and spend a quiet evening reading and sipping spiked egg-nog.
One thing I always appreciated about the season is that it is such an eclectic, ahistorical mess. If you scratch more than surface-deep, Christmas is a complete fabrication. Complete. See my essay at http://www.treehenge.org/Themon/Themons_Musings/Blog/Entries/2011/12/7_Christmas_Wars_2.html.
But so what? The fact that it is so completely made-up is part of its charm.
Brilliant. I love the article, Themon. And yes – the hodgepodge fictionalization of our current tradition is part of what makes it beautiful.
A thought-provoking post, and many thanks for the link to the Matthew Fox piece for Tikkun – swoon!
Here are my thoughts. I am not now, nor have I ever been a Christian – I was blessed to be raised in an agnostic household. As a child, I loved the magic of the Yuletide Season…until I was an earnest 13-year-old with a crippling depressive humbug about celebrating a Christian holiday despite not being a Christian.
Fast-forward to my early 20s: I found myself on the Pagan path and I resented the hegemony of Christmas…until I realized that many of the public symbols (tree, greenery, Santa) have Pagan underpinnings.
(I think the crass consumerism that dominates the Winter Holidays is greater t hreat to any true meaning of the Season…but that’s another riff.)
In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the Dark Time, the time when clan gathers, the time when we set the darkness alight with our festoons and our festivities. Yes, historically, the Winter Solstice is the Reason for the Season. And yes, it is infuriating when some Christians – who are enjoined to “love thy neighbour as thyself” – cannot bear to recognise that people of many different religious and secular traditions celebrate this wonderful season of Light in the Darkness.
And blessings to you, Jocelyne. Thank you for sharing a brief bit of your personal history, as well as your perspective on the topic. I’m glad that your voice was a part of the conversation.
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I think this is a great post. I know a lot of people take Christmas in different ways. some people do it because its tradition. Other do it just to give gifts or to spend time with family because they don’t have work. I like to do it because it is great time to spend with family.
Thanks for the comment, Robert, and for sharing your experience of Christmas. Glad to have you a part of the conversation.
I had heard auruments stating that Jesus was born in the late spring . Thats when the shepards watch thier flocks by night, during the lambing season in late spring from may thru june . When the new lambs are born . I’ve aso heard that is when the Jewish kingdoms collected taxes . Wasn’t that why Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem? Kilm
Depends who you ask. A fair number of the December 25 skeptics, including many Christians, will say early to mid September is more likely for several reasons. One has to do with clues in Luke about how the Jews measured their lunar year and how that lines up with other events such as when Gabriel supposedly paid Mary a visit. Shepherds also would have had their flocks out then after the summer harvest as there was still some stuff for them to eat in the fields.
Not so in the winter. Winter over there isn’t like North Dakota winter, but it’s still cold and rainy with some snow. People would also not be traveling en masse for things like taxes or census in the winter. They would have in the fall as the weather was still reasonable and there would have been some leftover things in the fields and orchards for the poor folks to eat. Taxes in the ancient world were also often shares of a harvest, and the kings liked to get their cut right away, which also argues for a harvest rather than planting time. Based on computer modeling of the location of various stars and planets at the time and the texts, some place the birth date on Sept. 11! I’m sure the “War on Christmas” folks would love that!
There may be spring connection though. There’s a school of thought which said the Wise Men didn’t visit the night of his birth but some 18 months later, maybe Persian magi who as Zoroastrians would have been interested in redeemer prophecies. At any rate, the Greek word for “child” not “newborn” was used in Matthew.
At any rate, if Christians or anyone else wants to glom onto Solstice as a vehicle for the return of hope and goodwill and all that, that’s cool. If they want to assert Dec. 25 as a literal truth, they can fall in with the Creationists in the roped-off section with all the other Demonstrable Fools.
The “war on Christmas” was begun by commercial interests long before it became a catchphrase. We are all being manipulated and driven mad by the clever and cynical activation of guilts and longings. We all suffer. I am firmly convinced of that.
What matters more to me is this: I think that, for many of my fellow Christians, religious education ends at about 6th grade, and so we never learn a more grown-up version of all the childhood stories unless we seek it out for ourselves. Many do, but others circle the wagons around untenable concepts. I wonder if perhaps there is an equivalent to this in the Pagan community, as well.
I am convinced that when many different traditions tell the same – or roughly the same – story, that means there is truth in the story, maybe not facts, maybe not the particulars, but in the wide sweep of the thing: the light returns, God inhabits us, we are not alone. Sometimes there is a sun god, sometimes a manger. The story is told in different “languages” to give each of us a point of entry. The angel’s song is the language I best can hear, but it does not have to be yours – in fact, I am enriched, and hear mine afresh if yours is different.
When I started reading mythologies and other religions’ foundation stories, and found floods, and angels, and virgin births everywhere, I was thrilled.So many similarities! It meant that the big story must be TRUE.
Didn’t understand what all the arguing was about then, and I still don’t. Light candles! BE candles! Invoke the directions! Sing the O antiphons! God rest us merry!
My freind Laurel, read down a bit , youv’e missed the piont ………….Jesus isn’t the reason for the season . the Catholic church approprieted the holiday , by papal juristdiction, to make it easier to convert pagans to Christianity. There are other , predating Jesus, birth myths in world religions , mithras, for one …………meaning it’s not a new concept for Christianity, this doesn’t renforce your beliefs , just says there are previous others.All we and others are saying , that in a predominatly Christian society the war on Christmas is absurd. kilm
Hi Kilmrnock –
I think I did read everything that was up when I was on the site, though more has been added. Great blog, Teo! But I may not have been clear enough in my comment. I did not say my discoveries of the same stories reinforced a belief that my story – the one I grew up with – was THE real story. I am saying those repeating refrains sang to me of one big, true story that has been told in many mythic and spiritual languages over time. I know that Mithras stories and celebrations preceded the christian ones, and that others no doubt preceded Mithras. Churches were built over pantheist
temples which were built over pagan wells over earth’s pure springs. This has always
happened. What matters to me is that all those many generations recognized that spot as sacred, and my point was that where there are so many “sightings”, there must be something to see.
Thank you for sharing your insights here, Laurel. I’m very grateful to have you as a part of this dialogue.
Bright blessings to you.