YULETIDE AND YOU

By Paul

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MERRY CHRISHANUSOLKWAN, OR HAPPY HOLIDAYS

By Paul

Is the United States, as some Christians claim, engaged in a war on Christmas?  In most dictionaries that I’m familiar with the very first definition of war is normally given as a state of armed conflict between two or more groups.  If that’s the case, let us hope that the city of Santa Monica, California’s recent decision not to allow a crèche scene to be displayed openly on publicly owned land is not going to wind up with gun-toting policemen stationed on that lovely bluff overlooking the Pacific, lest guerilla Christian groups sneak in during the dead of night in an attempt to set baby Jesus up in a makeshift manger.  I can see the headlines now:  COPS OPEN FIRE ON CHRISTIANS!  CRECHE CRUSHED, MARY AND JOSEPH ARRESTED.  And all this to placate those God-hating atheists, and God-questioning agnostics, and maybe the Jews and the Buddhists and the Muslims, to say nothing of the Hari Krishna people.  (Are the Hari Krishnas even still around any longer, by the way?  I haven’t been accosted by one at LAX for the longest time.) 

Maybe the real question that needs to be asked is whether the United States is a Christian country.  There are lots of people who would say that it is, even if I happen not to be one of them.  At very least, I don’t suppose anyone can argue that by and large the country isn’t very interested in religion, if we can judge from the fact that some three-quarters of the population claim to be members of some sort of church, mosque, or temple.  Personally, however, I don’t see the evidence that we’re specifically Christian.  As a matter of fact, there’s always that pesky First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the one that talks about how “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  It then goes on as well to prohibit making laws abridging the free exercise of speech, of the press, of people’s ability to assemble, or to petition their Government for redress of grievances.   There’s definitely a lot packed into that one amendment.

Still, the question remains, is it wrong to set up a crèche, or a cross for that matter, on land owned by the public?  And if the answer is yes, that it is wrong, as I would argue that the “Establishment Clause” seems to say, then does that constitute a war on Christians and their celebration of Christmas?  Or does that other part of the amendment, the one about the “free exercise thereof,” imply instead the right to build those mangers right there on that grass-covered bluff above the Pacific?  If that were the case, then why shouldn’t the Jews be allowed put up a giant menorah, or the Buddhists a huge Dharma Wheel, or the Muslims a minaret, or the agnostics a – I don’t know – maybe a giant question mark?  And if we were to allow all that, pretty soon there wouldn’t even be enough room for the homeless people, who actually use the park.

So, that’s the problem with pluralistic societies; they’re plural, that is to say, no one group gets to have rights that others don’t have, and nobody is supposed to lord it over others, who maybe have less power or money or influence, or fewer people to advocate for their point of view.  And if you want a country that is not pluralistic, one dedicated to a specific religion, and not even just one religion, but one sect of one religion, then you could try moving to Saudi Arabia, and see how that suits you.  It would not suit me very well, but there are apparently those who like it.

Just for fun, let’s try to imagine for a moment what the United States would look like if it truly were only a Christian country.  Of course, we run into a problem immediately when we attempt to figure out which Christian it ought to be.  That said, now that the Catholics seem an awful lot like the Protestants, maybe that doesn’t matter so much.  Except then there’s a whole boat load of Protestant types, and many don’t seem to particularly agree with each other.  And what about the Mormons?  Are they really all that Christian?  But maybe we’re quibbling too much.  Let’s assume that we might arrive at some sort of common ground as to how the country ought to be run Christianly.   

Well, first of all, right off the bat, there’d be no smoking and drinking.  Oh, wait, except the Catholics, and a bunch of others too, don’t mind those disgusting habits.  And who’d want to go through the pain and misery of Prohibition once again?  All right, then, at least we can agree on no divorce, can’t we?  After all, doesn’t the Bible specifically forbid divorce?  Oh, but what about that lousy, no-good, miserable cheating husband of mine, who connived behind my back with that new bimbo of a secretary of his?  I can’t be expected to go on living with that rat, can I?  Of course, the Bible decrees both for and against a whole lot of things, like cutting your hair, or eating certain foods, and not eating others, and says that wives must obey their husbands.  So, what about that, wives?  Maybe you wouldn’t mind being permanently relegated to ex-candidate Romney’s lower 47 percent?  And what about the barbers, hair salons, and restaurants?  No more shellfish?  I don’t think so.  People really like shrimp.  Still, if we were to have a truly Christian country, wouldn’t we all have to convert to Christianity?  But that’s something the Jews and the Muslims and a few others, to say nothing of the atheists and agnostics, might not care too much for.  So, what else could a Christian country possibly imply?  At very least, one thing we could finally agree upon would be a complete cessation of all abortions, and an outlawing of, well, gay-everything, couldn’t we?  Except, here we are again up against those liberal Protestants who don’t make much of a fuss about abortion, and who even let gays take on leadership roles in their churches. 

Well, it’s all getting awfully complicated.  I’m afraid I’m just not sure exactly what a really Christian nation could possibly look like.  So, maybe – what do you think? – that could have been why the founding fathers decided to decree that we ought not to set up any one religion as the religion in this country:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” 

My suggestion is that, if you want to celebrate “the Holidays,” why not try the newest thing?  Why not wish your friends and family a Merry Chrishanusolkwan (that’s Chris-Hanu-Sol-Kwan).  That way, we pretty much incorporate Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and Kwanza all together.  Of course, unfortunately, I guess this does go on to leave out the Buddhists and the Muslims, and I suppose the Hari Krishna’s, too.  And in a truly pluralistic country like ours, that would be a shame, wouldn’t it?  So, in the end, it’s maybe best if I just suggest we forget all about the above nonsense, and that I simply wish you and your family (however you define that) THE VERY HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS.