“Jesus is the reason for the season.” I flinch every time I hear this meme — mainly because I know it’s not true.
History is so inconvenient.
Start delving into factual, non-religious history, and you’ll discover that Jesus probably was not born in December at all. The timing of the concurrent Roman Census (doesn’t happen in December), as well as the “shepherds tending their flocks by night” indicate that it wasn’t the deep, dark depths of winter when the Star of Bethlehem appeared in the night sky.
Regardless of human error and manipulation in pinning down Jesus’ birthdate, clearly Jesus was born and was inarguably amongst the most dynamic, articulate speakers of all time. Worthy of celebration? Oh, heck yeah. You can’t blame Jesus for the grotesque way his teachings have been distorted. As the song says, “Jesus is just all right with me.” Some of his “followers”? Not so much.
Fact: Jesus never directed anyone to celebrate his birthday (refer to the “Do this in remembrance of me” sections in the Bible), let alone do so with inflatable snowmen, grotesque consumerism and jolly fat men sliding down chimneys to bring toys to affluent children and ignore the rest. On the other hand, he didn’t direct us to do lots of things and that doesn’t cause us any angst. He didn’t tell us to get toasters, yet we use them freely without fear of damnation.
So, drag a tree into your house, throw cheap plastic baubles all over it and sing “Away in a Manger” to honor Jesus’ birth? Well, OK. If it feels right and pure in your own heart, and you aren’t hurting anyone else, go for it. But simply be aware that your Christmas tree is not a Christian symbol. It’s pagan.
The Christmas tree is pine — the sacred tree of yule, or the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year. It’s the day our ancient ancestors celebrated the rebirth of the sun. I rather like the synchronicity of the symbolism. The “birth of the sun” and “birth of the son.” They could complement each other nicely, if people would stop battling for ownership of the holiday, and realize that someone believing something different than ourselves isn’t a threat.
Things have changed, people! It doesn’t have to be either/or anymore! You can be open to different beliefs these days without Inquisitors pounding on your door and dragging you away to the rack.
So, come out of the hedgerows, or welcome inside them, whichever the case may be. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that we must fear, despise and squelch all beliefs different than our own, and I’d like to bust that myth once and for all: We just don’t have to. We can choose not to play the game.
So, let’s explore.
First off, “pagan” does not mean devil-worshipping, baby-eating monster. It simply means non-Christian. Pre-Christian, to be more precise. You don’t need to fear this word, or those who claim it.
The fact is — all of our ancient ancestors (yes, yours too) were pagan. It is indisputable. There were people on the earth long before Christ’s birth. However, once the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as a bludgeon in the fourth century, pagan holidays were considered a threat, and the Roman Church set out to obliterate them by overlaying them with Christian interpretations of those holidays.
That didn’t work, really, so in later centuries, they just started killing people.
Before the days of Christianity Or Die, all our ancestors acknowledged the winter solstice in some form. It wasn’t an excuse to party — it was a matter of survival. Our ancestors monitored the position of the sun, moon and stars so they’d know when to move to warmer territory or plant seeds. The threat of freezing or starving to death in the winter was very real 5,000 years ago. Knowing when to slaughter an animal for food was crucial for surviving until spring.
I caught a National Geographic episode on Stonehenge recently, which explored the various theories about why this astonishing structure was built, and amongst them was the worship of the “rebirth of the sun.” At a precise moment on the winter solstice, the sun shines through onto a certain spot at Stonehenge, heralding the news that the sun would return. And then, they partied. Because nothing makes people more giddy than discovering they’re not going to die after all.
What really struck me was the estimation that these Stonehenge gatherings occurred 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. Four thousand years. Just as it is a fact that Christ was born, it is a fact that these people existed too, long before written language, in a world of oral history and tales passed down from generation to generation, along with fears and beliefs too — like, maybe the sun won’t return unless we gather at the Great Stone Circle and chant and sacrifice a rabbit.
Hey — in their minds, it made perfect sense. After all — it worked every year, right?
So, while some take this time of year to ponder the miracle of Christ’s birth, I choose to ponder the miracle of the turning of the seasonal wheel, the intrinsic connection to nature, the wonder of the never-ending balance of light and dark … the simple joy of still being alive. In a word: Gratitude. I’m still here. I’m still alive. Wow. Let’s party!
Does that mean I don’t celebrate Christmas, too? Oh heck no. I love Christmas. Do I celebrate Jesus’ birth at this time of year? No. But you can. Knock yourself out. We can celebrate peacefully and joyfully, side by side, if we can agree on one point: Jesus is not the reason for the season. He may be your reason for the season. But not the reason. And not mine. And — it’s still all good.
So, let’s have ourselves a merry little Christmas — whatever our reasons for the season.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com