Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And So This Is Christmas...

And so this is Christmas-

and what have you done?
Another year over
A new one just begun.
Happy Christmas (War Is Over),John Lennon and Yoko Ono

One of the things I've recently observed within our Pagan community is how many of us still celebrate the Christmas holiday in some fashion- be it to mollify our non-Pagan families and friends- or just out of habit. This morning I found myself replying to Christmas greetings from a wide variety of friends online-many whom are Pagan. I also keep Christmas in my own way- mainly as a small way of remembering my grandparents and others who have crossed the Veil and because of the memories of Christmases Past. In my own solitary spiritual practice, I celebrate Yuletide, which incorporates the Winter Solstice and the 12 Days of Christmas, with a bit of Saturnalia and the weeks of waiting known as Advent thrown in for good measure.

I have stood in the cold winter evening to celebrate The Longest Night with friends,walked thorough a wonderland of snow to Christmas Eve Service, shared a feast with Pagan friends,and sat at my kitchen table reading Christmas stories, then performed a ritual to celebrate the birth of the Divine Child...and it has all felt right and genuine to me. There is no set criteria of how to celebrate Christmas in current society; it's a secular holiday of Santa and sugarplums, with no strict religious mandates for many. Personally, I don't have a problem crediting the 25th of December with being the birth of Jesus because my worldview is that the day/time/season is more than that. My psyche gravitates more to it being Winter and a time of nesting and simply being. Something within me wants to celebrate these last precious few weeks as a time apart by being festive. So I haul out the tree, cover it with ornaments that are the keepers of memories,deck the halls and celebrate the season by cooking foods I seldom or never eat at other times of the year, giving my friends tokens of appreciation for our friendship, and honoring the people who have contributed to my life in large ways and small ( those who bring a smile or a laugh, and those who have hurt me so deeply that years later, the memory still  makes me cry). As much as I detest the commercialism, I love the excitement and expectation, the glitter and momentary excess of Christmas. I love the still moments when I look up at the stars and marvel at the vastness of the sky, and sitting in a room lit only by the lights on my tree. I love the feeling of sacred space and holiness of candlelight, the peel of the church organ playing O Come All Ye Faithful, and the simplicity of a single guitar playing Silent Night.

But it is not Christmas for me until I have heard John Denver sing Christmas for Cowboys, or fretted over baking fruitcakes and cookies and taken in their wonderful smells. Christmas is not made sacred until I have made and eaten a luxurious antipasto on the green Jadeite or yellow Fiestaware platter my grandfather used to build his amazing creations filled with fine Italian meats and cheeses and topped with a crown of tuna in oil and sliced red pickled eggs ( It's been 26 years since he died,when I took over the tradition first for the family, and now, just for me). It is not special until I place Aunt Laura's favorite white plastic reindeer on a branch ( always the first ornament on the tree) or my favorite Kermit the Frog from the 70's just beneath the angel that belonged to my grandparents. It is not all waxing warm, fuzzy nostalgia, it is also recalling the drinking to inebriation  and resulting fights, and the fact that some of the toys I thought Santa had brought me were returned to the store the day after neighbors, friends and family visited because Mom and Pop wanted to save face and didn't want anyone to know how poor we really were. My anger and resentment from childhood has faded since then, replaced with sadness and aching for their actions. I don't pretend to understand all of their motivation, but so many years later, I kind of get it.

Christmas these days is a place I deeply dwell in my soul. Perhaps it's that way for you, too. Old habits are difficult to break, which is exactly why so much of what we now recognize as Pagan practice was adapted by the Christian Church when the new religion was created with the intention of eradicating the old ways. I'm not getting into any self-righteous finger-pointing, just stating fact. For thousands of years, there has always been the birth of a Divine Child celebrated during this time. It doesn't matter if his name was Jesus or Mithra or Sol Invictius. What matters is the hope of being born and reborn, the yearning for goodness and the possibility of benefit to all living we can bring. This is reflected in the words of a poem I love (later a UU hymn) written by Robert Lehman in 1913:

Within the shining of a star we catch a glimpse of who we are;
in every infant born we see the hope of our nativity.
The miracle of each new birth can shake and save the stony earth;
triumphantly the newborn’s cry
strikes echoes from the waiting sky.
Be well. Do good as much as you can in the world. Laugh alone and with friends and family, drink moderately and be merry, break out the glitter and shiny stuff, hang the greens-especially the mistletoe-and sing out whenever you feel like it. Soon, today will be the day after yesterday, and will never be again.

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