Christmas has almost always been a cultural holiday for me. Growing up, I had stockings and a tree, but we never went to services, unless we were visiting family in Australia. Once I started singing I was more inclined to go to midnight caroling services and join in caroling parties. Even as a teenager exploring Christianity on my own, I continued to feel that most of the holiday was more about cultural traditions rather than religious observance.
I still feel this way, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Christmas. I love the trees, the stockings, sharing gifts (minimally, both by choice and by economics), singing Christmas songs, and the general theme of the birth of the Light that brings humanity peace and enlightenment. I find it easy to translate most of the Christian themes and traditions into ones of family and general spiritual betterment.
The one thing my family distinctly doesn’t do is Santa Claus. I find Santa super creepy. Like we need another old white guy spying on us, or basically another Yahweh figure omnisciently knowing our thoughts and judging us, then rewarding us with cheap plastic crap (or threatening to give us coal). My husband and I tell our kids that Santa is an expression of Christmas joy and the spirit of generosity.
I don’t find celebrating Christmas to be in conflict with my personal beliefs or practices. We observe the Solstice and Pancha Ganapati as well. It’s a busy time! Celebrating Christmas allows my family one more way to be festive, light up the dark nights, share the holidays with our extended family, and be part of our general over-culture (more or less).
What’s interesting this year is that I’m getting burnt out on Christmas music – and I haven’t even played any at home. Most of the time I love choral music and classic early 20th century Christmas standards. This year, I’ve been singing Christmas music since September. I’m a member of the Olympia Choral Society, the best choral group in my area. The group is a delight to sing with and the program for our Christmas concerts (which start tonight and run all weekend) is a good one. But I’m burnt out on Jesus: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…. God the Father…… Love saving us…… over and over.Last week I realized I needed to find a way to cope.
It was a multi-step process. First, I had to identify the actual source of my discontent. I have been singing for nearly 25 years. I’ve done more Christmas concerts than I can count. Why was this year such a challenge? I think it’s because I’m moving more firmly into my identity, practice and devotion as a polytheist. Part of my annoyance was that I just plain don’t like a couple of the songs. One is not a Christmas song, but a church hymn. Yes, I know the Rachmaninoff Vespers are for church, too – but they’re different. Mostly because they are so sublimely beautiful.
Second, I needed to sit with that discontent, so I did. In my cold cold car before rehearsal. Third, I offered it up. I had promised Kali last year that I would sing. I was not going to back out now. I am also pregnant and tired, so I asked that in return She give me some extra mojo and immune boosting to help me get through the remaining rehearsals and the 12 hours of singing come concert weekend. Boy, did She.
Those simple acts shifted my attitude. What I found myself doing in our last rehearsal was singing everything as if it was an offering to Shiva. Light of the world? Shiva. Worship we the Godhead? I worship my God Soul. And so on. It’s hard to be so explicit in my head as I’m singing, concentrating on the director’s conducting, and making sure I’ve got the words right. But I’m used to translating. I’ve sung a lot of church music.
So tonight, at our opening concert, I’ll be dedicating all the songs to the Red Goddess, whom I honor every Friday. Tomorrow I’ll offer up both concerts to Kali; Sunday’s afternoon concert gets sung as if it’s Shiva that every song is about. Of course, Jesus is still in there. But I figure the only way to sing many of these songs as if I mean it is to make sure I do.
Happy holidays to all, whomever you celebrate this time of year!