I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing about the supposed “war on Christmas.” Almost as tired as I am of hearing about the “war on drugs,” or even, frankly, the “war on terrorism.” I don’t mean to get too far afield right off the bat, but I’ve always thought that the use of the word “war” as a metaphor in any of these instances was over extended, overblown, and over used. War truly is a form of hell on earth, and while addiction to drugs and the lunacy of political terrorism each is its own form of horror-filled misery and suffering, it usually does not rise to the utter demonic psychosis and insanity of war. And the word has no place being used in any way as a supposed reference to a derisive disdaining of Christmas.
But getting back more directly to talking about the Season, I have a confession to make: I am a great fan of Christmas. I love the lights, the decorations, the food, and especially the music. Yes, I know, there are those who find it all too much, and it is true that stores sneak those Christmas decorations onto the shelves earlier and earlier each year. I mean, who wants to be, in a sense, pre-celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving, or even in some instances before Halloween? It does surely take away our enjoyment of these other holidays, and frankly it also over accustoms and inures us to what should be special about Christmas.
Then there are those who don’t celebrate the holiday at all, either because they profess a religion other than Christianity, or because they eschew religion altogether. Of course, that’s fine. Personally, I don’t consider myself a Christian either, at least not in the sense of belonging to a church or denomination of any kind. Still, I have no problem with who Christ was, or what he stood for. And therefore I see no problem with Christmas, seen as the celebration of the birth of a great avatar of love and compassion. Naturally, the whole story of the manger and the lowing cattle and the wise men and the angels on high are obviously elements of a mythological story, not unlike the recounting of the birth of any number of other “Gods” in countless other stories that are told in one culture after another. But this is the myth that millions of people, especially in the West, are familiar with and buy into, so why not go with it? The truth of it is that, in a deeper sense, what we are actually talking about is the hoped-for “birth” of our own higher consciousness, that is, the ability of each of us to live in a god-like way, as one whose thinking and actions are informed by love and mercy, and by such qualities as goodness and kindness. What’s wrong with striving for that? But neither should this necessarily take away from us the essential, old familiar elements of the Christmas story, either. Why not enjoy them as a way of living in the cultural moment?
And neither do I have any problem with referring to the whole shebang as the Holidays. We are, after all, talking about a number of holiday celebrations that take place more or less between the end of November and on into the beginning of January. This obviously includes, at least for all Americans, Thanksgiving, as well as Chanukah for all those in the Jewish tradition, the great pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice on the 21st of December, Christmas itself, of course, along with its attendant Christmas Eve, the more modern celebrating of Kwanzaa, followed ultimately by New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and in some Christian orthodox traditions the Feast of the Epiphany (i.e. the arrival of the Magi) on January 6th. These are all “holidays,” and so wishing someone Happy Holidays seems more than appropriate to me. You can surely pick and choose one or more, no matter what your tradition or beliefs may be.
So, where does this whole Yuletide thing come from? For anyone not interested in etymology, it’s probably something of a mystery. And even etymologists are not fully in agreement on its origins. However, the consensus of opinion seems to center around the fact that the term comes originally from the Old English “geol” (pronounced “yeol”), which applied more to a time of the year than to a specific holiday. That time of year clustered around the Winter Solstice, and so took place in December-January, when the sun was lowest in the sky. Germanic, Norse, Slavic, and Celtic peoples all hoped to encourage the sun to rise once again in the sky, providing warmth and life-giving vigor to plants and animals, so they celebrated various rites of sympathetic magic in order to make this happen, including lighting fires (note the Yule log), and bringing green boughs (i.e., evergreens) into the home to help everyone remember, and even to ultimately bring about, the greener time of the year.
Later on, as was usual with Christianity (and a few other religions), those who took over militarily and politically imposed their own brand of mythology (i.e. religion) on subjugated peoples, and the Yuletide got suddenly transformed into the Twelve Days of Christmas. For those modern people unfamiliar with what that means, we are talking here about the time between the celebration of “Christ’s Mass” (or Christmas) on the 25th of December and that of the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January.
But what of those in the society who are either atheist or agnostic? I have always thought that one of the greatest things about this country is our ability to celebrate diversity, or at least to tolerate it. Personally, I am not even against so-called religious displays related to Christmas (the crèche scene, for example) in public places, so long as everyone else is afforded exactly the same rights whenever appropriate to their celebrations. And let’s face it, for the most part the great majority of displays related to the Season are pretty much secular in nature anyway, anything from Santa and his elves, to generic stars and angels, to gifts wrapped in pretty paper, to ubiquitous Christmas trees and snow scenes (even in Southern California). Nothing too offensive to anyone in these things, it seems to me. Mostly, it’s an excuse anyway to sell stuff, and that ought to warm the cockles of any good capitalist’s heart.
So, I say, let’s relax and enjoy the Yuletide Season. And if you don’t want to wish someone a Merry Christmas, you can always fall back on Happy Holidays (since there are so many – pick whichever one you like!). And if even that’s too much, why not just give someone a kind look and a warm smile? No matter how you celebrate, or don’t celebrate, in the end, and not unlike the old pagans, I for one am for lighting up this time of the year as much as possible, since it’s dark and cold out there. As such, it gives me great pleasure to wish everyone a very happy, light-filled, and most creative New Year.
I will look forward to seeing, hearing from, and being in touch with you – in good health and good spirits, I very much hope – in 2014. May it be a year that brings all that is best for you.