Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or Blessed Yule-Whatever Floats Your Boat.

For years, perhaps decades, my favorite time of year was "The Holidays."  As a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday, and my favorite day of the year.  Yes, I liked getting things, but I also loved spending time at my grandparents house, and feeling my family close to me.  Christmas was always this weird mix of exhaustion, anticipation, exhilaration, closeness, and quite contemplation so that it appealed to about every emotion I had as a kid.

While I was absolutely in love with Christmas:  the traditions, the decorations, the food, the TV specials, I always felt it was about more than just one day or just one religion.  Even when I was young I knew that ancient pagans celebrated Yule (yay!), and that Hanukkah was being celebrated at nearby households.  Instead of being bothered by those other holidays* I embraced them, with the thought that there's something truly special about sharing feelings of peace and love with nearly everyone.  I've always believed that the shared characteristics of Midwinter holidays outnumbered the differences, and that light, snowflakes, and giving were universals, and that "The Holidays" could be something that united everybody.

Even at a young age I knew that Hanukkah wasn't always on Christmas, and that "Yule" was a few days before, but I always them imagined running into each other, and since everything was closed on Christmas, maybe there was "carry over" for those of other faiths.  Happy Holidays meant New Year's too, so everyone got a chance to celebrate something over the course of about fifteen days.  I've always been "all about the party," and the more parties the better.  I'll celebrate your thing if you'll celebrate mine, and since they use the same decorations, even better!



When I was in the fifth grade I probably listened to that song above about one hundred times.  The idea that "364 days in the year they fuss and feud and fight.  364 days in the year who cares who's wrong or right . . .and then suddenly it changed, how very very strange, suddenly they see the light . . "  Perhaps inspired by the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War One, I lived my first fifteen years on Earth with the belief that people didn't fight on Christmas, or even about Christmas.  It wasn't even so much about Jesus either, it was just the idea that for one day each year that we should all be able to forgive one another, and spend an entire day with the ones we love with none of the outside world intruding.  Even in my early twenties I had trouble believing that there could be negativity involved with The Holidays.  Of course that's changed, and not just because I've grown more cynical.

I know that the modern Christmas has always been about "selling stuff," but it's also turned into a cultural battlefield, more about dividing people than bringing them together.  Check out this facebook meme I stumbled into over the weekend:



    "WHAT A CROCK!! ..... We can't say Merry Christmas now? We have to say Happy Holidays? We can't call it a Christmas tree, it's now called a Holiday tree? Because it might offend someone. If you don't like our "Customs" and it offends you so much then LEAVE.. I will help you pack. They are called customs and we have our traditions If you agree with this...please post this as your status!! IT'S MY FREEDOM TO SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS! Do you have what it takes to repost this?"




Yes, the federal government has been taken over by atheists and will monitor all the discussions in your home. If you use the phrase "Merry Christmas" you will immediately be sent to a re-education camp in rural Iowa.  I'm sure that the person who originally wrote the turd above was upset that their local Macy's ran a banner with the words "Happy Holidays" on it, but how did that hurt their free speech?  If a local business wants to use the phrase "Happy Holidays" and you object to that, aren't you tramping on their right to free speech?

The phrase "Happy Holidays" has been around since at least 1942, when the move "Holiday Inn" premiered.  It's not some new thing that appeared out of the ether in the mid-90's.  (To be completely honest, the song was originally called "Happy Holiday" and was sung on New Year's Eve in the film.  The song does reference Santa, and the "Holiday Season" making it inclusive.)  When I was young Chicago's WGN Superstation used to run a commercial featuring Bozo and their newscasters set to "Happy Holidays"which ran the entire month of December and the first few days of January.  Loved that!  It made the greeting about the season, and all the holidays, and captured that inclusive feeling that I still cherish.



While Pagans aren't quite so misinformed about the definition of "free speech" there are many Pagans who get upset by the phrase "Merry Christmas."  Yes, it does reference "Christ" (from the Greek "christos" which means "anointed one") but I think we all know how much Jesus there is in Christmas-a few scattered nativity scenes, and a long soliloquy by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and after that the "Christ in Christmas" becomes more of a private or only shared at church sort of thing.  As it's a federal holiday I've always found it difficult not to celebrate Christmas, even as a Pagan.  If I don't unwrap presents that day, what else am I going to do?  It's not like I can really go anywhere.

As long as someone is wishing me "Merry Christmas" with the very best of intentions, it's hard to get angry with them for saying it.  Sure, if someone sends you a Christmas Card with "Keep the Christ in Christmas" while knowing your religious beliefs, they are being disrespectful and it's fine to be a little angry.  However, if they say it while unaware of your religious perspective, there's no need to have a teaching moment.  The Holiday Season shouldn't be a mind-field where everyone is forced to tiptoe around certain words.  Most of us get Christmas presents regardless of what we believe, it's a custom not so much born out of religion (pagan or Christian) but by the media and advertising.

As a Pagan I've always been able to strike a balance between Christmas and Yule (Midwinter, the Solstice).  One of those holidays is about the turning of the wheel, and the rebirth of the sun.  It's a religious or spiritual observance, and as such, it's an internal thing, how those reflections make me feel is personal thing.  It's something that can be put into words, but the majority of people don't come up to me and ask "What are you reflecting on this Yuletide?"  While I can spend Yule with people, what makes it special is something that goes on inside of my head and heart.  The hope I have for the world and those around me is something I dwell on more at Yule now than on December 25th.

Christmas on the other hand is a secular gift-giving holiday.  It's an excuse for parties throughout December and it's a family obligation.  I'm not sure I could ever tell my Dad, "Hey I'm not coming over this year because I don't celebrate Christmas, you can have my piece of the Turducken."  It's not like the Old Man has ever held my hand and led me in prayer that day.  Hell, my grandparents didn't do that either, nor did they send me to bed with visions of mangers and shepherds.  The holiday was about giving and peace, and spending time with the ones you love.  If it was about Jesus to any of them, they put Jesus where he should be, inside their hearts, and the religious aspect was internalized.  Instead of bitching about the "War on Christmas" people like Bill O'Reilly would be better off reflecting on what it means to them.


*Remember, Jason was a right-wing Christian in his formative years, though even then he had a love of heavy metal.  

2 comments:

  1. the version of that meme I saw frequently on FB was this: "This is what I believe. I am sick and tired of every year when CHRISTMAS comes around, there are people who want to take CHRIST out of CHRISTMAS because it might offend someone. Well, how about all of the CHRISTIANS? What about offending us because you are taking our CHRIST out of CHRISTMAS!?!?... CHRIST IS CHRISTMAS!!! If you aren't celebrating CHRIST then why are you celebrating? CHRISTMAS is about the birth of our SAVIOR! CHRISTMAS is one of a few holidays left that celebrate my CHRIST! Leave my holiday alone!!! And tell everyone MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holidays! Repost if your not ashamed.....♥ Thank You"

    here was my response, posted to any of my friends who posted the first thing: as a non-christian, I have never complained about a cross, I have worked more christmases (at horrible jobs) than I care to count. I now work for a company that is both closed on christmas (so I'm not volunteering to go in!) and where I do not feel comfortable asking for my holy days off. SO, let me tell you why I celebrate christmas. It is the one time of the year that most people in my (mostly christian) family can get time off work to come home. We have a big meal, we sing carols, we have a fire, we decorate a christmas tree, we drink eggnog, we welcome the sun and the son and the miracle of the oil and festival of lights (oh yes, four winter holidays across three generations in one house!) My mother cooks a ham, and there's more consternation and ringing of hands about what she's going to feed me and my other vegetarian sister than the fact that we call god by different names. I suspect if more of the world worked that way, it would be a much nicer place to live. So, go ahead and be offended. Me, I'm going to enjoy love and family and companionship and celebrate another successful trip around the sun. OH! and make little old ladies cry! I almost forgot about that. That's my favorite tradition! my family goes to my grandparents' retirement home and spends 4 hours caroling the halls, taking requests, and singing to all the old people who can't be with their families this year, or to their families if they happen to be visiting. They always cry when we sing Silent Night.

    That said, it isn't the nameless faceless hordes of non-christians that take the christ out of christmas, it's the christians who buy into the inundation of advertisements that the only way to express your love is to by bigger and more expensive plastic crap made in sweat shops, or blood-washed diamonds... every year, the "christmas creep" gets worse. It isn't about christians or christmas, it's about making a profit. don't you think maybe setting out all the cheap plastic crap for sale in mid-october goes a little far? buy! buy! buy! isn't exactly the message of peace and goodwill and love that jesus was spreading, was it? didn't he get really angry about commercialism in the temple and flip over a bunch of tables and chase the merchants out? I'll admit, I'm not rushing over to my bookshelf to double check, but it seems like he was upset because they were turning the sacrificial slaughter of the animals into a commercial business, making money off those who wanted to come and worship. In my imagination, I can hear them... god will hear your prayers louder if you buy a bigger sheep! god prefers cattle! shear your sheep, right over here! we'll knit you a sweater while you're killing your lamb, pick it up on the way out!

    I may have gotten a little ranty :)

    ~Karin

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  2. Thanks for your post, it was a good read.
    (Also, I'm a right-ish-wing Christian who still loves metal)

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