It’s weird, but spending a week reading about neo-pagan beliefs and holidays seems to have given me a greater appreciation for the Christian holiday of Christmas.
In most pagan religions, Yule is a celebration that the shortest day of the year is over and done with and the days will begin to grow longer. Sometimes this includes all-out ‘rebirth of the Sun God’ myths; sometimes it’s barely more religious than the transition from a new moon to a waxing moon – but it’s tangible, something easily witnessed right this very moment and which signals the start of months on end of gradually lengthening days. Until Midsummer, the days will be ever brighter. It’s a little reminder that in a few months, i’ll be able to bike to the paint store and back without my hands going numb; the slushy snow will turn back into warm rain; the mountains of the Valley in which i live will lose their muddy colours and go back to breathtakingly beautiful greens.
It’s not exactly the first robin of spring, but it’s a sign the robins will be coming back soon. Heck, the very next pagan holiday in the Wheel of the Year is Imbolc, the celebration of the beginning of spring.
If it was just that, i’m not sure i’d really be any more excited for this Christmas than usual. Really, the concept of Yule being a celebration of the rebirth of the Sun God is not new to me; i’ve known it for years, and people who get way too pushy on ‘Jesus is the reason for the season!’ around me are often in danger of being lectured on it. (This danger is especially likely for those who act like nothing more than modern-day, but still ridiculously judgemental, Pharisees.) No, it’s Pagan rituals that have me borderline giddy.
Blended religions are another cultural oddity i’ve known about for ages, but at the start of my week of pagan research, i found it a bit odd so many people claimed to be ‘Christian druids’ or ‘Jewitches’ or other variants of ‘Judeo-Christian/Pagan’ – some religious combinations make sense, but the mixes of poly- or pantheism and monotheism aren’t among them. Reading further, though, it seemed the ‘blend’ seemed to be very little about actual beliefs from both systems, so much as applying Pagan rituals to Christian beliefs.
‘Horned God? Don’t believe it. Moon Goddess? Don’t believe it. But hey, i could really use a prayer ritual just like this one… it’s still Jewish if i’m praying to YHWH instead of the Goddess, right?’ I must have read half a dozen articles and interviews in that one week where Jewitches and Christian Wiccans said they hadn’t ‘converted’ to their blended religion of choice because of a change in beliefs – they converted because they ‘need ritual to really feel connected to God.’ My Protestant/Baptist background basically teaches ‘Pray when you want! Read the Bible when you want! The more the better of course, but there’s no “wrong” way to worship God.’
Maybe not, but it’s really overwhelming to essentially be told ‘Hey, just roll with whatever. You won’t be as perfect as Jesus no matter what you do anyway.’ Little rituals give stability and order, and while i don’t consider myself Pagan i can definitely see where others might want these Pagan rituals brought into their non-Pagan belief systems.
As for how this relates to Christmas… There’s two things i’ve disliked about Christmas for quite some time now, partly the whole stodgy ‘it’s become too commercial’ argument about 99% of Christians who dislike the holiday have – but also the way the birth of Christ itself is celebrated. Namely, it’s not celebrated. I don’t mean that in an almost emo Pharisee ‘oh woe is the world, for they do not properly admire our shiny plastic manger scene’ sense. I mean it’s commemorated, not celebrated, and there’s a difference:
Commemorating the Holocaust is not, not not not not not, the same thing as fighting to prevent future holocausts. Most of the commemorationists are just whiners. They think that if everyone feels bad about past holocausts, human nature will magically transform, and no one will want to commit genocide in the future.*
That’s about as far as you can get from ‘celebrating Christ’s birth’ and still be in the realm of Judeo-Christianity, but i think my point still stands: Commemorating the birth of Jesus is not the same as celebrating it; commemoration is mostly just idle chit-chat, spouted primarily by those who think if everyone just knows the Good News, human nature will magically transform and former sceptics will begin to follow a Saviour they were previously convinced they don’t even bloody need.
We ‘celebrate’ Christ’s birth with sermons and Bible readings. Seriously? This is celebration? Nuh-uh. That’s commemoration. Better than nothing, but it ain’t no birthday party.
There’s also Christmas plays and Christian holiday films and carolling, which is certainly closer but has never struck me as quite there in terms of proper celebration. This is the birth of our Saviour we’re talking about! You call going to the theatre and singing some lullabies ‘celebration’?
And yes, i know there’s parties and punch and shiny lights, but all the truly celebratory aspects of Christmas seem to focus more on the commercial gifty end of it, or at best, the ‘family all getting together’ bit.
That’s where Pagan rituals could make things a whole lot better – though calling them ‘pagan’ would be a bit of a misnomer. Christians have our rituals, too… just not as many. And honestly, i don’t think i can find or design a decent Christian ritual this close to Christmas, nor would i be able to convince my family to actually follow one on such short notice. But the very idea of somehow having a little extra celebratory ritual – really celebratory, not just commemorative – gives me a little hope that maybe, just maybe, Christmas doesn’t have to be split between dry recitals of a two-thousand-year-old story and children tearing tooth-and-nail into their gifts.
* Erm. I don’t think this quite counts as breaching Godwin’s Law; i’m not attempting to compare a sometimes-miserable holiday to outright genocide. The point is more along the lines of ‘talking about something doesn’t automatically make it better’, and that’s the really the best way i’ve ever heard it worded.