Confession: I Love Christmas

I have a confession to make.  Yes, I love Christmas.  I’m Pagan, and I love Christmas — not just Yule or the Winter Solstice (although that is part of it) — I love Christmas.  We just brought in our live Christmas tree and I’m listening to “Silent Night” and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Time is Here” on the radio.  My love of Christmas is not politically correct in Pagan circles — this is after all the time of the year for Pagans to complain about Christians stealing their holiday.

pagan-christmas-tree-shirt

(In my mind, the Pagans who complain about the Christianizing of Yule or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, are no better than the Christians who complain about the Pagan origins of Christmas.  Folks, that train has left the station.)  Unlike most Pagans, I like celebrating the solstice on Christmas Eve, when all the Christians are also (unwittingly) celebrating the return of light to the world.

Apparently it’s not popular to like Christmas in Unitarian circles either, as I learned last week during our annual grouse about the commercialization of the holiday.  Last week, the discussion in our Spirit Circle discussion group started with someone asking the question, “How do you maintain your spirituality during the holidays?”  I was taken aback: The holidays are (part of) my spirituality.

I love everything about Christmas.  I love the lights, which become so much more significant in this darkest time of the year.  I love the Christmas carols, even … no especially the Christian ones, baby Jesus and all.  (Apparently, so do the all those old humanists I go to Church with who show up every year for the Christmas Vespers service when we sing all the traditional Christmas carols — even the one’s that reference Jesus’ divinity.)  I even find myself singing Christmas carols in the shower at random times throughout the year.  I love the imagery of the little child in the manger with Mary and the wise men, and the symbolism of hope eternally reborn.  I love my little African manger scene that I am so protective of.  I love feeling the anticipation and watching my kids’ anticipation.  I love spending time with my extended family.  I love how it always seems to snow just on time for Christmas in the part of the country where I live.  I even love Christmas shopping!  I love the Christmas music piped into the mall — a place I avoid the rest of the year.  I love thinking about what to buy for the people I love.  I’m sure I get more excited about giving the gifts than they are receiving them.  I even love the Christmas crowds — because we’re all out there doing the same thing, and I love being a part of it.

And what’s more … this is part of my spirituality.  The cycle of my spiritual year would not be complete without Christmas.  Of course, we are going to have our Pagan celebration too.  We’ll sing paganized Christmas carols and send off Chinese sky lanterns with wishes for the new year written on them.  But for me, it’s part of, not separate from the Christmas holiday.

As Lady Imbrium wrote so eloquently in her recent post on “Pagan Christmas”:

“I don’t hate Christmas. I don’t even dislike it. In fact, I celebrate it quite happily with my family. Why? Because it makes sense. What is Christmas but yet another version of the Sun/Son being born of the Mother? What is the narrative of Jesus but yet another version of the Willing Sacrifice? [...]

“There are levels and levels to the world in which we live- and layers upon levels to the truths we have believed for so long. I celebrate Midwinter as a time of joy, revelry, family, and returning light. These things seem to be constant. These things transcend religion, they are human and they are magical.”

What could be more pagan than Christmas?

What could be more pagan than Christmas?

This Pagan’s Yule would just not be complete without Christmas: baby Jesus and crowds in the mall and all.

And the “commercialization” doesn’t bother me.  Do we really think that ancient pagan festivals were not exploited by the merchants of their eras?  Is not every contemporary Pagan gathering of any size accompanied by vendors of every kind?  What does bother me is all the talk about commercialization.  We say it so much, I wonder if we even know what we’re talking about.  We live in a commercial society after all.  Why should Christmas be off limits?  For me, Christmas sacralizes shopping for a period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.  Rather than commercializing the sacred, it sacralizes the commercial.  And for me, that’s the genius of Paganism — it recognizes the sacred in the everyday.  Every part of being human can be sacred — if done in the right time, in the right place, in the right way.  And Paganism, at least the way I understand it, tries to find a time and place for everything human.  For this Pagan, this is the reason for the season.

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  • http://rlculpeper.wordpress.com R. L. Culpeper

    This is the first time I’ve stumbled upon your blog and I’m interested in your beliefs. I’m personally an atheist, but I’m always interested in understanding what others believe. If I understand neopaganism correctly, you shy from dogma, correct? Do you worship distinct deities, or is it more ritualistic and spiritual? Perhaps you have a post that answers all of the above? Thanks for sharing and happy winter solstice!

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      R.L.:
      I am not representative of Pagans generally. There are all kinds of Pagans. Many believe in literal distinct deities. Others are more pantheistic. Others are basically atheists. A lot of Pagans say that belief is not important to Pagans, but I haven’t found that be be accurate at all. There is no dogma, but I think that’s just because we can’t agree on one.
      I consider myself a humanistic Pagan or naturalistic Pagan — which is kind of an overlap of religious naturalism and Neopaganism. I would also say I am a pantheist and a Jungian who likes religious ritual and who likes to incorporate ancient and Neo-Pagan myths and imagery into eclectic rituals. I believe there is something greater than my “self” which I experience as sacred, and I locate this “something else” in the natural world and in the depths of my own psyche. Does that answer your question?
      If you want to know what I believe, you can read this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/04/28/my-neopagan-beliefs/
      If you want to know where I fall in the Pagan community, you can check out this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/05/23/the-three-or-more-centers-of-paganism/

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com ladyimbrium

    The holidays (all of them) are a big part of my spirituality as well. Why? Because my spirituality is about finding the sacred within the everyday human. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  • http://dhiosdh.tumblr.com/ dhiosdh

    Do we really think that ancient pagan festivals were not exploited by the merchants of their eras?

    Seneca on Saturnalia:

    “It is the month of December, and yet the whole city is in a sweat! Festivity at state expense is given unrestricted license. Everywhere there echoes the noise of preparations on a massive scale. It all suggests that the Saturnalia holidays are different from the ordinary working day, when the difference is really non-existent—so much so in fact that the man who said that December used to be a month but is now a year was, in my opinion, not far wide of the mark!”

    He goes on to take a Stoic view of how to behave on the festival which would be at odds, I think, with your own attitude but the passage supports your rhetorical point about those who bemoan the ever greater excesses of festivals such as Christmas as a modern phenomenon.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      dhiosdh: That’s great! Thanks for that. Yeah, when I thinks “pagan”, I typically don’t think of the Stoics. More likely the Epicureans.

  • http://moviesshouldnotsuck.com Steve

    Reblogged this on Stupidityflowering and commented:
    Fascinating perspective here:

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com soliwo

    I have no problems with commerce or seeing the sacred in the marketplace, well-baked bread, bartering, or things made with love. Yet consumerism, in my mind, points to a disinterested style of shopping. Usually we replace things fast and easily, so products are less loved or loved for a shorter time. We have so much stuff, that the stuff we have (and often we forget about them) ges to mean less. Never mind the problems attached to consumerism,the cheap-ism usually implies bad working conditions, the weakening of the democratic process, social injustice and environmental issues. Commerce can be sacred as long as it doesn’t impede on other or even more sacred things … like justice, democracy, earth, community. It’s the ‘-ism’ that gives it away..

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      “consumerism, in my mind, points to a disinterested style of shopping. Usually we replace things fast and easily, so products are less loved or loved for a shorter time. We have so much stuff, that the stuff we have (and often we forget about them) ges to mean less.”

      Good distinction!

    • http://creekofconsciousness.wordpress.com vikingrunnergirl

      Another problem I see connected specifically with Christmas-time consumerism is that it can feel like an attempt to *replace* what we say is important about the season; that is, family and friends and love and peace on earth, goodwill to men and all the rest. When the delight of finding a gift you know someone will love is replaced by the pressure that you’ve failed as a parent/partner/friend/child if you *don’t* find the perfect gift and create the perfect holiday experience, well, then we’ve got a problem, I think,

      (And while the “holiday creep” drives me as crazy as the next grump – seriously, local craft supply store, you’re putting the harvest decorations on clearance BEFORE we’ve even gotten to HALLOWEEN? – I realised it does have one advantage: since all the stuff is on massive sale well before the holiday, you can buy your stuff for decorating in advance instead of waiting until after and buying stuff for the next year! So, silver lining?)

      • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

        Vikingrunnergirl, I hear ya! I feel like there is a lot of pressure out there these days. Anymore (over the past 6-7 years) I find myself buying what I want throughout the year, so by the time Christmas rolls around and my wife/mother/brother/children go to buy for me, I find that there is less of a feeling of disappointment. It use to be the fact that (when I was younger) I would wait all year to get certain things because in my mind they where Christmas/Yule gifts. Now my focus has shifted. Since my children are now school age (11 y.o. daughter, 7 y.o. son, 5 y.o. son) I tend to focus on what they want and need. We have started to focus on fewer items and making to holiday more about family and less about gifts. Of course, gifts still play a part, but in this post recession world a lot of us have had to down size and in my household, we are known to go all out and then suffer between after Christmas to first pay day in January so it puts us in kind of a bind. So I have tried to refocused my families views a little and make Christmas more like Thanksgiving, you know (eat, drink, and be merry). The refocus is kind of nice. Also my wife comes from a family where she never started celebrating Christmas until we got married. So that plus the fact that her birthday is the 15 of December, our Anavercery is the 20th of December, and of course our Christmas/Yule Celebration is 24-25 of December. But I feel you when you say that things are kind of bonkers, and it seems like Halloween/Samhain stuff and Thanksgiving all seem to blur in the stores and seem like these items in the stores go on sell / clearance even earlier and earlier each year… Also good buys and cheap stuff keeps people in a black Friday sort of frenzy. I do hate that people don’t have the connection to things these days like they use to. Its like the TV or Microwave breaks, you discard it and get a new one, instead of having it fixed. When I was a kid our TV was always on the blink and it was always in the shop. Only few things in our lives get fixed when they break down (cars, heating/air, large appliances (stove/washer/dryer/mower). Other stuff just gets tossed… Sad indeed! Kelley (The Humany Pagan)

  • http://www.facebook.com/catwheel34 Carrie Tuttle

    I am glad you confessed to loving Christmas, LOL. I love Christmas too. And frankly, I get a little tired of the “you stole our holiday” business many pagans like to bring forth this time of year. Yes, it is true, but it is time to move on. I guess as I have gotten older, I have just gotten less angry about it. Kind of like the scene in the movie “The Mists of Avalon” where Morgan sees women leaving flowers for a statue of Mary, and smiles, knowing she is an incarnation of the goddess.
    I grew up celebrating Christmas with my family and I have wonderful memories of sneaking downstairs at night and staring at the Christmas tree all lit up. I enjoy the warmth people seem to exude at the beginning of the season. Our family goes out for car rides to look at Christmas lights. And I have also burned the Yule log on Christmas eve once or twice. I agree, it is all a celebration of light. And weather it is the light of the sun, or the light of the son does not matter as much to me. The commercialization does get me (especially how much of it targets my 6yo son) but I do enjoy the cheer that comes with purchasing for loved ones, and imagining the looks on their faces when they open their gifts. I don’t see anything wrong with it really. I will probably always balk a little at the “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs I see since it is well…incorrect. But for the most part, I am happy just to be joining the spirit of celebration.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Thanks Carrie. And Merry Christmas!

  • http://www.educatedsavage.com Educated Savage

    I feel this way about most the holidays. All the ‘normal’ ones in Western civilization have Pagan roots, so I see no problem celebrating Easter or Christmas or Halloween or any of those holidays. My biggest problem with Christmas is that it invades Halloween’s turf! I don’t want to see Christmas decorations up next to my skeletons, thank you very much. I used to try to study the different pagan holidays and Christian ones and I tried to keep them separate and pick and choose how to celebrate each one, but now I figure why bother? The Christmas tree, lights, songs, presents, stockings, Santa… they’re all Pagan, so I don’t need to go out of my way for anything. Just celebrate along with everyone else! Although… most Christmas carols bug the crap out of me, but that’s just because I find them annoying. I have my favorite artists I’ll listen to instead at home and that’s perfectly fine.

    Chipmunks… man, that’s classic!

  • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

    John, I will make a confession also, I love the holiday also as a Pagan. In my eyes Christmas is the most pagan of Holiday’s according to a good Rabbi friend of mine (Reformed). The fact that you take a Jewish set of religious cosmology and mix it with some down home Pagan custom and bingo, you got some Christmas. I mean, its like southwest Chili, you gotta little bit of everything thrown in. Whats not to love. I mean we are Pagan’s and we should not apologize or be embarrassed of who we are and what we do. I mean, I know a pagan who said they would be embarrassed to even say they celebrate Christmas, I was like, dude! You wear a Flava Flav size pentacle around your neck, that boat has sailed! Like Spong said in one of his books (and yes, I know I mention Spong in every reply post), the Christ story is a mixture and retelling of Old Testament/Torah stories for a pagan/non-Jewish audience (i.e. Jesus birth story is a retelling of the Moses story w/ some pagan symbolism thrown in so that the pagan audience could relate (virgin birth story etc…). And, not to try and one up you John, but I know a lot of Duo-theist pagans who say that all Gods are one God and all Goddess’ are one Goddess, but they will fail to add Jesus into the mix, why? Cause if Zeus, Ra, Ganesha, and Other cultural forms of God are the same, why not Jesus? I agree with you in saying that it is Sun being reborn to the Mother, it’s a classic tale which transcends culture. So I stand with you. Just like I do not think world mythologies should be taken literally, so I also treat the Bible the same way. I take it figuratively, look for the good lesson and apply those principals to my life to make it better. So I don’t see what the big deal is to be totally honest. A good friend of mine and long time Pagan (Dave) and I were talking a few years ago about how so many see others to tell them how to be pagan or walk their path. But in the end each of our lives are different and our paths are different (no two Pagans of a single identical tradition are alike), so we can seek advice or comfort from others in our communities, but in the end we hold the keys to how we are pagan. No amount of Degree’s or High Priest status can ever or should ever be placed on us to conform to whatever is popular or in vogue in the pagan community, though I have steered off course and I apologize. So I think we could all take a lesson from this and celebrate how we see fit, and though my wife did not grow up celebrating Christmas or the fact that we don’t put a tree up at our house or decorate (we do this at my mom’s (old tradition). We do things our own way and respect our own days of sacredness and the sacred days of others. For it is the season, and the Sun is going to be reborn in the sky no matter what, so I think we should get busy or let the Sun pass us by. Peace and Blessings to you this season of seasons. WASSAIL DEAR FRIENDS, Kelley.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      “I know a lot of Duo-theist pagans who say that all Gods are one God and all Goddess� are one Goddess, but they will fail to add Jesus into the mix, why? Cause if Zeus, Ra, Ganesha, and Other cultural forms of God are the same, why not Jesus?”
      Yeah, I’ve never really gotten the anti-Christopagan sentiment in the wider Pagan community. It’s like many UU congregations, which often are ABC (Anything But Christian) and the nominal UU Christians maintain an uncomfortable silence. I have as many issues with Christianity as the next Pagan, but so much of the Christian mythos seems to me to be … well, pagan.

      • Kelley Shelton

        Well, I think people have a lot of issues (negative problems) with the Christian faith, maybe not the faith, but the people in it. But like you and a ton of other people I have issues with Christians. A few of us see the pagan under currents of the Christians, however, many of their followers have refined and reformed the undesirable elements and they have something that in my opinion is a huge weight around their necks. My wife is one of these people. She feels threatened when one challenges various ideas that her church has. For my wife, it seems like she goes and follows for nothing other than the fear of Hell. However, I have told many people that Hell (Hel) is the goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology, which is something that Germanic Christians adapted when the Church was trying to convert the Celtic-Germanic tribes. Many think I am full of sh*t until I tell them to open their New International Versions of the Bible and they see the world hell has been replaced with Hades, and so the borrowing goes.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          In my experience, it’s no good telling people that their dogma is derivative. I think they believe in hell, for example, because hell is a real place for them psychologically. It exists for them. It’s archetypal. In other words, they believe, not because it makes sense, but because the idea exerts an unconscious power for them. The real question is why does the symbol of hell exert such power for them. Personally, I believe the power of the idea of hell often derives from a need for a sense of justice. If there is no hell, then there is no ultimate justice it seems.

          • http://zenistao.wordpress.com zenistao

            John, it was not my intention of offending you or to tell people their dogma is derivative. Sometimes such things come up in conversations with others and once the conversation starts to tease apart things people start to get offended, and I get that. I totally get that for some people that Hell is a real place for them psychologically because it is archetypal. I think what I was trying to get at with the use of Hell / Hel / Hades was the language used to convey a place. I think that when early Christian missionaries were trying to convert the Celts/Germanic peoples, they use the word Hell/Hel because it was the closest example that they could give when conveying the concept (of the Christian Underworld) to their audience. I have often said that alien/foreign ideas generally do not translate 100% and often something gets lost in translation. In my opinion, having spent time with a few Jewish people and a few Rabbi’s, I find it a interesting topic because Hell/Underworld and Satan are not concepts used by Jewish people, it is a totally Christian phenomenon inherited from pagan converts to the Christian faith. But that’s a whole other conversation. As to the question of why does the symbol hold so much power over them, I would have to say that the Justice idea does make since, but also, it’s a place of fire, torment, and pain for lack of a better word. For me, I had conflicting views of this growing up. On one hand, I had my Catholic faith, which said Hell was reserved for the worst and most of us would end up in purgatory, which allowed us to make it in if we had some sin in our lives, but nothing major. On the other hand, my grandmother (fathers mom), was a member of the Spiritualist Church, which taught that Hell was a concept of spiritual insanity. People who had died and never moved on and are living out a kind of psychosis (hell) until they work out their issues and then pass on to the afterlife (heaven etc…). And on a minor stream, those protestant family members who believe that if you had even just a speck of wrong doing in your life or some minor miss deed (a lie etc…), and you died without repentance, then you would end up in hell forever… Which as you can imagine, I was kind of confused on the subject as a kid, because what I heard from my mom, was different than, what I heard from my grandmother (fathers mom), was different from what I was hearing from others. So eventually, I became a Humanistic Pagan as you well know. My own personal spin is that I think people live in their own hell’s here on earth in the hear and now. People’s internal and external struggles cause them to feel pain and suffering… So psychologically, I would say that maybe the archetype is a part of a defensive mechanism that we inherit? I don’t know, but it is strange that so many cultures separated by distance and time have some sort of concept of this. Interesting indeed. Have a good day friend. Kelley.

  • Anna Greenflame

    I completely agree with you. I could not have said it better myself. I am a trad Wiccan and also practice Cunning craft and have done so for 12 years. Yes, I love our Solstice, but when I “gave up” Christmas, I was miserable. So I said f–k it and I enjoy it all and tune out the naysayers. I love the TV specials and the music (except for the modern crappy stuff but I’d hate that if I was still Christmas), the lights, the nativity scenes, the Santa displays. I put bows on my dogs and take them to our town’s annual Puppy Christmas Parade.

    I don’t go to church but I transformed Christmas Eve into my own “Mother’s Night” celebration. This time of the year, I give devotion to Holda/Perchta, and I invoke Her as I make a witch’s ladder out of one of my cords and, in front the tree, which to me is the Tree of Life, I count down all my mother’s line and give them offerings and blessings. Because through them, *I* am the Sacred Child.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      “I make a witch’s ladder out of one of my cords and, in front the tree, which to me is the Tree of Life, I count down all my mother’s line and give them offerings and blessings. Because through them, *I* am the Sacred Child.”

      That is awesome! I am going to have to incorporate that into my family celebration this year. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dave

    I’ve never celebrated Christmas so I don’t get what the big deal is one way or the other. Personally I think it’s silly to “have to hate” something because it’s popular with Christians.


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