Lord of Misrule

Before the Christian church renamed the day Christmas and tried to co-opt it with their own rituals, the winter solstice holiday was traditionally a raucous pagan festival. One of the old customs, which persisted into the medieval era, was called the Lord of Misrule. A person of low social standing, like a peasant or a servant, was chosen to be king for a day and to conscript everyone else into debauchery:Presiding over these rowdy celebrations of Christmas-tide, held over the twelve days … [Read more...]

Getting Off the Carousel of Consumerism

As holidays go, I've always liked Thanksgiving better than Christmas. It's not because one is a secular holiday and one is religious - really, both are secular holidays that have been layered over with religious propaganda - but because, of the two, Thanksgiving has only things I enjoy. It's all about togetherness, gratitude, and great food. I'm up for those things any day. Christmas has those too, but it has one other aspect I dislike: the expectation to buy things.I hate shopping, I always … [Read more...]

Brighter Than Today: The 2014 Secular Solstice

In the depths of winter's darkness, human beings have a seemingly inherent need to celebrate and be festive, especially with holidays that involve the kindling of light, as if in defiance of chilly weather and early nightfall. And the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest time of the year, is a natural date to choose, which is why so many cultures have marked it with holidays, often borrowing or building upon the customs of their forerunners.The Christians did it once, co-opting the very … [Read more...]

A New Spin on a Holiday Classic

If you've still got an appetite for holiday links, I'd like to point you to a great new piece by a friend of mine, the author Greta Christina. In a new post on her site, Greta takes that classic piece of Christmastime treacle, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus", and rewrites it the way it should have been written in the first place - not as an insistence on literal belief in falsehoods, but as an ode to the value of free inquiry and rational thought. It's both hilarious and brilliant. Check … [Read more...]

Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy winter solstice, everyone! As you doubtless already know, today is the shortest and darkest day of the year (assuming you live in the northern hemisphere). Ancient people, who were keen observers of the skies even without high technology, knew this date and its significance very well. It's no surprise that so many holidays which fall around this time of year involve the ceremonial kindling of light, whether it's lights on a Christmas tree, Yule logs burning on the hearth, flames on a … [Read more...]