This has been a really interesting year and it certainly culminated in a really interesting month of December. During the course of this year, while working in more focused way on my writing, I started to pay more attention to what everyone else around me was doing. That might sound sort of weird, but by working on a lot of the writing and projects I was doing I found myself really paying attention to other people’s blogs and reading Twitter somewhat obsessively. Then there was a blog post from T. Thorn Coyle on the 22nd of this month that had me thinking even more about something I was already mulling over and I finally made the decision that I knew was coming. This will be my last Christmas.
For years I have tried to celebrate Yule on it’s own but have always found myself pulled back into the Christmas holiday. Usually I rationalized this with the fact that the holiday has become so secular; in my own family it never was a religious holiday even though I was “raised” Catholic (i.e. non-practicing with the exception of having to attend CCD classes since my great grandmother was still alive). While it is supposed to be a religious holiday in the Christian tradition it has become a huge secular holiday that spends more time paying homage to the gods of the almighty dollar than to anyone or anything else.
While I was working on writing the 21 Days of Yule posts I thought more and more about my personal feeling on working with both my own holiday of Yule and the mishmash messy holiday of Christmas. Many of the traditions that I, and I’m sure many of you, were raised with all have roots in various Pagan traditions throughout Europe. The trees, the decorations, the foods, even the essence of the holiday itself all come from our Pagan ancestors. When we strip away the meanings that the church has grafted onto these things over the years we come back to these ancient Pagan traditions. The same can be said for take away the evolved secular views as well.
It’s all about coming back to the roots of the holidays. And where in Paganism does Christmas fit? It doesn’t because it isn’t a Pagan holiday, it’s Christian. Even if the symbols and the roots of the traditions are familiar to us because of their Pagan ties, that doesn’t make it a Pagan holiday. When you’re Pagan and you celebrate Christmas you should ask yourself why. Is it just because it’s what you grew up with? Family tradition? Are you not sure how to transition into celebrating the winter holiday for your tradition?
I honestly had to stop and ask myself “I’m not Christian so why would I celebrate Christmas? It wouldn’t make any real sense for me to celebrate Hanukkah given that I’m not Jewish so why should I celebrate a holiday of the Christian faith?” I’m Pagan, my husband is an Atheist, and my family, who are all 3000 miles away, are not religious.
It’s a holiday that has become more about gifts than anything else, especially in my experience. In fact, a handful of years ago when my husband and I were having financial problems and couldn’t afford the usual extravagant gift giving that I’d always grown up with, I told my family that either we needed to scale things down or I was going to have to bow out of the holiday. I grew up with it taking almost two hours for my parents, my sister and I to open all our presents on Christmas morning. Then, for our family of about 8 that got together that day we’d have another four hours of gifts! We had to move furniture out of the way to make room for all the presents! It was ridiculous. I’ll never forget seeing the notebook my mother would keep year after year showing how much money she spent on each person, writing down the present and the dollar amount so that she didn’t spend more on one person than another. As I got older that started to bother me more and more. Then, around 2007, I decided it was enough; I didn’t want to feel obligated to buy gifts I couldn’t afford (and with my mother handmade gifts have never been acceptable as a Christmas present because, as she would say “people spent money on you, it isn’t right not to return the favor”.
But this one year when I’d had it I suggested to my mother that we all put our names in a hat and pull a name and whoever you got you bought for that person only and we’d set a dollar amount. I suggest $50 which my mother didn’t think was enough so it became $100. We’ve been doing that since and everyone else seems to like it though my mother still isn’t a big fan. When I have the money and if I feel inclined I might get my parents something addition. This year I got them a digital picture frame that I loaded with photos of my husband and I, or cats (who they love) and things from around where we live and from our trips we’ve taken over the last few years. I also got my mother a set of Crosby, Stills, and Nash DVDs that I just happened to come across at the last minute that I couldn’t pass up. But I did it because I wanted to, not because I felt the pressure to buy, buy, buy and spend, spend spend. To me there’s a big difference.
So,it’s not my holiday; it’s not the holiday of my family either and I wish they wouldn’t feel they have to do it too. But at least what they do has toned down and is now more about getting together for dinner and spending time together. That was another reason I wanted to do away with the presents. I was tired of spending hours unwrapping pointless gifts rather than spending time together. I’ve stopped with the obsessive gift giving and I’d really rather focus on what the season is about instead of spending so much time shopping!
Personally I think that we should stop and reexamine our holiday celebrations. Why do we do what we do? Why are you being part of the chaos from November to January? When I do this, I see myself not being focused on the Sabbat of Yule like I should be because I’m so caught up in the craziness of Christmas.
I agree with what T. Thorn Coyle says in her piece; let’s put Christ back in Christmas! That’s where he belongs! And then let’s leave Christmas alone, leave it for the Christians, and instead let’s gather to celebrate our spiritual holiday of the winter season. I’m not trying to imply that we shouldn’t still gather with friends and family and feast late in December, that was a tradition that many practiced for reasons outside of religion. But if you’re not Christian don’t feel obligated to do it on Christmas and don’t feel obligated to do all these Christmas things. Do then when it is right for all involved. Focus on being together and showing your love and appreciation for one another rather than on the need to give and receive tons of presents. But maybe if we start doing this and then encourage others around us to do the same we could eventually see the true meaning come back to these winter holidays.