On Celebrating Holidays.

*I’m sure that you know this scene from The Matrix:

[Neo sees a black cat walk by them, and then a similar black cat walk by them just like the first one]
Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu.
[Everyone freezes right in their tracks]
Trinity: What did you just say?
Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.
Trinity: What did you see?
Cypher: What happened?
Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.
Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?
Neo: It might have been. I’m not sure.
Morpheus: Switch! Apoc!
Neo: What is it?
Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something. [Source here

Landscape Guy and I were recently discussing Christian appropriation of Pagan holidays and I mentioned to him that whenever you find customs that Christians have to strain in order to fit into their narrative, you’re usually looking at the artifact of an older, Pagan custom. Colored eggs, lambs, and bunnies associated with death-by-crucifixion at Easter (you know, that Christian holiday that always occurs on:

the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox; this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21, resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25)?

Pagan artifacts. (Yeah, I, too, heard in Catholic school how these symbols of “new life” represent the “new life” that Christ won, through crucifixion, for the faithful. Even at seven, it didn’t make sense to me.)

St. Brigid’s Day with a prayer for a lake full of beer on Imbolc? Pagan artifact.

The Virgin Mary’s Day on May 1st (Beltante, Pagan feast of sex)? Pagan artifact.

(Other Christian overlays are less subtle. Lammas (loaf mass) on August 1st (Lughnasadah)? Pagan artifact. All Saint’s Day on November 1st (the day after Samhein)? Pagan artifact.)

And, of course, there’s Christmas. For centuries, Pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice as the time when the Son/Sun is reborn from the Virgin Goddess/Mother Earth. Immediately after the longest night of the year, the Son/Sun/Sol Invictus begins to grow stronger and stronger, bringing the promise of new life (especially for agricultural people, but also for those who hunt and those who herd) in the Spring. As this article explains:

Evergreen branches and trees have been used to celebrate winter before the birth of Jesus Christ. Pagan families would bring branches into their homes in the belief that woodland spirits would be pleased with the warmth of their homes.

Mistletoe (sacred to the Druids), Yule logs (along w/ one of my favorite (bless you Randolph‘s) holiday foods, (buche de Noel)), a supernatural entity with links to Odin who brings gifts to children all over the world? Pagan artifacts.

And, so, although Americans United avers that “we” have recently won the completely-invented “War on Christmas,” it seems to me as if it’s more a case of the Christians having lost their “War on Winter Solstice.”

In my own completely internal cosmology, the Winter Solstice is a time when a number of religions celebrate religious holidays of greater or lesser importance. As a Pagan, I celebrate Yule, that several-hour period of the longest night and the morning that marks the return of the strengthening sun. I go outside in the icy cold just before the sun comes up and I light incense, I bang a drum to wake up the sleepy Sun/Son, and I have a good breakfast to reaffirm my belief that Spring will return, bringing another harvest of plenty.

Inti Raymi is a festival of the Sun in Quechua, a winter solstice festival in areas of the former Inca empire, still celebrated every June in Cusco. Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th, a Day of Enlightenment, celebrating the day that the historical Buddha (Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Guatama) experienced enlightenment (also known as Bodhi). More festivals here.

And, in America, which was founded as a secular nation, we have a secular holiday that involves getting together with family and “friends” (my email inbox is full of invites from real friends, as well as from other law firms, economic consultants, and document management firms; my firm gives a children’s party (in addition to the staff party) that G/Son and I love to go to), giving gifts (a tradition sacred to First Peoples), having feasts, and lighting lights. The only problem (and it’s one easily resolved by intelligent people of good will, which category, sadly, excludes some of America’s current Christians) is that this winter holiday is sometimes known by the same name as the Christian religious holiday: Christmas.

I’m a big proponent (well, duh, I’m a lawyer) of distinguishing linguistically between the Christian religious holiday (Christmas) and the secular holiday that occurs at about the same time (Winter Holiday).

I celebrate Yule as a Witch and I celebrate the Winter Holiday with my G/Son, his devoutly Christian other grandparents, his sort-of-agnostic ‘rents, and various other family members.

All acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess. I’m getting ready to celebrate the American secular holiday of Thanksgiving (with an overlap of my regular Pagan practice of gratitude), Yule, and a secular Christmas. I just bought G/Son a calendar the counts down the days until Santa Claus comes, with doors that open up to bits of chocolate (a South American First People’s treat) every day between now and secular Christmas.

I’m planning to have a blast. You come, too.

Picture found here.


8 responses to “On Celebrating Holidays.

  1. We just got a directive today from the Superintendent of Schools. Any holiday decorations that come in the door of the school must be secular, totally secular, not one mention of Christmas, or Jesus, or even the ox and ass. My little desktop Yule tree is already decorated and ready to go.

  2. Well, the timing of Easter is connected to Passover, so it made its way through Judaism first.
    Another is February 2nd, which here in the Austrian catholic church is “Lichtmesse”, I don’t know what it might be called in America. Right between the solstice and the equinox, one does indeed notice that the days are getting longer, so it’s not so much of a strain to fit it in.

  3. I’m a witch, my husband is Jewish, my family is Catholic, I have friends of all faiths – we celebrate everything and everyone enjoys it all. Celebration, family, friends – for me it is all good, love this time of year. If someone wants to wish me Merry Christmas, I’m fine with that. I make Latkes and we like candles for Chanukah. We have a solstice tree that looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree – except for many Pagan-style ornaments. It’s wonderful.
    BTW – I love advent calendars – that count-down calendar and always have one.
    Love the image used in your post. Looks like the artist is Briar? Know anything else about her/him – just beautiful!

  4. … and a handy song for this posting:

    “Santa Claus is Pagan Too” by Emerald Rose ….


  5. Such important distinctions — out here in Africa we have the same underlying symbolism in much of colonial missionary Christianity. The prophet Ntsikana’s ‘Song of the Poll-headed Ox’ written in about 1816 was seen by the missionaries as a vision of Christ rather than a praise song for Nguni cattle and Ntsikana’s Great Hymn is still sung in churches across southern Africa.

  6. Pingback: Magickal Media Blog » Blog Archive » News for Pagans, Thursday, 11-24-11

  7. Marcellina —
    In the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition in which I was raised, Feb. 2nd is Candlemas. The secular American celebration, if that’s not to strong a word, is Groundhog’s Day, when if the wee beastie (Marmota mornax) see’s his/her shadow, it means Winter is going to last another six weeks. These days I honor Imbolc, and take the time to assess what more needs be shed to make it through the last of the dark time.

  8. The evergreen, symbol of life in seeming death, is a beacon through the barren times. They are a shelter to bird and mammal, their acorns are food in hard times. We decorate them outside at yule with lights for the lights return, to give hope to those who see and with food gifts for our animal/bird friends. The christians kill them and drag them indoors to symbolize their dying god, the lord of sacrifice. In return, many evergreens burn their houses down. Perfect. In Wisconsin a magnificent old one who had lived for hundreds of years in great beauty was cut down for the White House display. The owner said he could not watch it as it was cut down and fell. The silence afterward I can imagine. His betrayal was for vanity’s sake. To me, that is so repulsive and sickening. A sign of the fraud of the oligarchy’s democracy for those who can still see and feel.

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