So Merry Christmas all!
Wait, what’s a pagan doing wishing people a Merry Christmas? Is he selling out to teh Xtians?
Nope. I celebrate Christmas.
But pagans don’t celebrate Christmas!
Well, why not?
What’s so bad about Christmas as a holiday? Why do so many pagans and atheists cringe and spit at Christmas?
First off, I’ve argued for some time that Christmas can easily be considered a secular holiday. Many non-Practicing Christians celebrate Christmas, as do many atheists and adherents to other religions. I grew up celebrating Christmas with Jewish friends, and my father’s Hindu friend celebrated Christmas. Thanks to the deliberate commercialism that so many decry, Christmas has been whitewashed, stripped of its explicit religiosity and turned into a general day of good will, family, and gift-giving. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Why not have a day of wonder, where children dream of a Bishop-turned-elf that flies an FTL sled and delivers goods produced by Chinese companies who outsourced their jobs to slave workers in the Arctic? Where they live under the scrutiny of an all-knowing peeping tom that logs their daily activities? Okay, I jest, but what is wrong with the secular overtones of celebrating family, hospitality, and generosity? Not a thing, as these qualities transcend Christianity quite handily, and Christmas serves as a convenient vehicle to bring them to the forefront of our society and offer them for celebration.
Then, there is the religious component. The birth of Ieshua ben Iosef. Even most Christians accept that Jesus was not born in the winter, but really, without a known date, isn’t any set birthday celebration arbitrary? So why not in December?
But Chirotus! We’re talking about Jesus! Pagans don’t worship Jesus! Why honor his birthday?
I’ll put this simply and straightforward enough that even the most vehemently anti-Christian pagan will get it. As a polytheist, who am I to deny the divinity of someone else’s god?
My own pantheon is filled to the brim with demigods and humans who have been granted divine status. Why shouldn’t Jesus be one of them? Why would accepting the divinity of a healing figure like Jesus be so antithetical to paganism?
But teh Xtians stole Christmas from pagans! It’s a pagan holiday!
Well, sort of.
The desire by so many pagans to dismiss Christian spirituality as derivative of paganism is pretty annoying, quite frankly. I’d love to get past one Christian holiday without countless pagans whining about how it was “stolen.”
Sorry, but while a Christmas tree may have once been called a Yule tree, the custom originated long after Northern Europe was Christianized, and is certainly of Christian origin. Santa Claus really does have his origins as a Christian bishop – the associations between Odin folklore and St Nikolas were made not by a Christan Church stealing pagan traditions, but by converted pagans finding a Christian framework to interpret their mythology. Sure, there was gift-giving in Saturnalia, too, but really, what other traditions of Saturnalia — which is not a solstice celebration, you sloppy pagan historians! — are transferred over to Christmas? (Indeed, the whole custom of birthday cakes and birthday presents can be traced to worship of Artemis, but pagans don’t denounce Christians who have birthday parties as stealing their traditions!)
In short, as with most seasonal holidays, the customs of Christmas may have been influenced by popular traditions, but that is a function of the fact that they were popular traditions. Lughnassadh wasn’t a pagan holiday, and Lammas wasn’t a Christian one – both were harvest celebrations. If your region adopts a new religion that no one is really that familiar with, you’re probably going to keep some of the seasonal traditions that you like, and simply give them a new context that fits with the new religion. No, Christianity didn’t “steal” those holidays or traditions: the people kept doing what they’d always done, and replaced the pagan background with a Christian one.
So, fellow pagans, please drop the damn chips off your shoulders. There’s no reason to shun Christmas, even if you don’t want to celebrate it. Personally, I find it helps to have a holiday I can share with Christian friends and family, even if my version of it deviate a bit from theirs. But in the dead of winter, in the cold dark, it’s nice to meet with friends and family for food and drink, and just celebrate not being frozen and alone.