Although I was raised in the predominantly Christian USA culture of the 1950s & 60s, my Quaker family didn’t identify as such. I was told at a tender young age that Jesus was our most important teacher, but not the incarnation of God. Never the less, we celebrated Christmas with our own special kind of abandon. Thus, I have always loved this time of year, while also becoming increasingly alarmed at its commercialization. Although some rail against the secularization of this religious holiday, I don’t mind- because I have come to know, to experience more consciously what this season is really about, at least for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere of our home, Earth. Much of ‘how’ we celebrate Christmas dates back to before Christianity was the dominant religion of Europe. It is essentially a pre-Christian holiday of the season, the winter solstice. It celebrates the divine darkness, the resting, the waiting and the hope that, once again the light will return. How odd we humans are, celebrating the light in the dark!
Take the origin of the wreathe. It was a tradition to spend the weeks before the solstice (the shortest day of the year, or when the sun turns the corner, heading us back towards summer) in prayer, supplication and preparation for the celebration of the sun’s return. So people removed one of the wheels from their cart (the major form of work transport), decorated it and hung it on their door. As you can imagine, this slowed things down a bit. Work was not impossible, but mostly just the essentials got done, it would seem. In todays world what wold that look like? Decorating our smart phones and hanging them up, letting their charge run down?
The ‘Christmas’ tree, bringing greens into the house to decorate, caroling and feasting are all from pre-Christian times! What I have found increasingly wonderful is how the Advent and Christmas practices fit so well with these older traditions. In fact, it is no longer a secret that the actual birth date of the person Jesus was never recorded and that it was the medieval Catholic Church that chose this time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ in order to supplant the persistent ‘pagan’ practices of celebrating the winter solstice.
So I don’t mind why you celebrate this time of year, or whether you are a Christian or not. But I hope you do find ways to genuinely celebrate. I do hope that you are more aware of the actual season; more aware of the dark, the moon phases, the glittering stars… even the lights, the marvelous lit up houses and lawns! May your gift giving bring you joy, if that’s how you celebrate. May you rekindle friendships and family ties. May you sing together and feast together. May you sense the light returning, both physically and internally. May the image of the mother and baby kindle compassion and remind you of the deep love that is possible between all beings. And may you fall asleep on Christmas eve, longing for things to be right for everyone, everywhere, with all your heart- knowing that your heart will be broken the next morning, yet longing still.
Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas! And may justice and mercy reign!