It’s two days before the Big Day. It doesn’t feel like it. I’m not ready. Once again I’m choked because my holiday passed relatively un-celebrated and unacknowledged by most and feel forced to participate in a holiday that has no meaning for me.
For the past 30 years I have tried to shift my thinking about the holidays. I’ve tried to convince myself that it doesn’t matter what anybody calls it, it’s still Yule. I’ve tried to tell myself that it’s okay to celebrate on a different day. I’ve tried to give myself permission to enjoy it as it is even though it isn’t what it is.
I conducted an informal survey about the holiday this year. I’ve asked people what they celebrate on December 25th and, much to my surprise, have discovered that a significant portion of the population simply goes with the flow. They are not “celebrating” anything in particular and do not subscribe any particular meaning to the holiday. “It’s just Christmas,” some say. It appears that they are more or less just decorating and exchanging presents because that’s what you are expected to do on Christmas.
I asked if they knew what the word Christmas means and one woman replied, “It means an enormous Visa bill in January.” A lot of people shrugged. A few asked me, “What do you mean, what does it mean?” I thought that was very interesting.
A few people said that it is Christ’s birthday, while looking at me like I had two heads for asking. When I asked if they believed that Christ was born on December 25th, they invariably said yes. How do you know, I asked. Because the bible says so. I read the bible. It doesn’t say that Jesus (Christ is derived from the word Christos and is not a name, but rather a state of being that we are all equally entitled and capable of aspiring to) was born on December 25th. It doesn’t say when he was born, but people who have studied these things think that it is more likely that, if he was born at all, it would have been in March sometime, based on cosmic phenomena that took place around the year 1, which is also off by some 30 years or so.
I asked people if they knew where traditions like the tree came from. Most had no idea. Some suggested that it was just a nice idea that someone came up with and it stuck. A few said that it stemmed from pagan times, but were unclear as to its exact meaning or origin. I asked about the star and was told (by most) that it represents the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. When I told them that it began as a representation of the sun, many responded by saying that they put angels on their trees anyway.
The exchange of gifts was connected by some as a re-enactment of the wise men presenting frankincense, myrrh and gold to the baby Jesus. No one knew that the stocking thing originated with a St. Nicholas legend. Only two people had any idea who St. Nicholas even was. The feast? Well, that’s just what people do when they get together – which is very true!
One business person said that Christmas was about selling enough goods to keep his store open for the rest of the year. Wow!
One Christian person said that Santa Claus was an abomination! When I asked her if she knew who St. Nicholas was, she responded by saying that saints were also abominations. Then she walked away. I didn’t really know what to make of that. Still don’t. I guess miracles have limited credence for her.
While my survey provided little in the way of specific or scientific data, it did confirm what I already suspected: modern-day Christmas is essentially a commercial enterprise upheld by those satisfied with maintaining the status quo. For some it is a religious holiday. For many it is a paid day off.
Come Saturday morning, there will be presents under the tree that stands in my living room, a tree that symbolizes nature’s promise that winter is but a time of rest and renewal. I will invite to my table a few loved ones to partake in a repast that represents assurance that we will survive these dormant months. I will silently give thanks for the good things that the spring, summer and fall have provided and then I will prepare a plate to leave outside for... well, for the spirits of nature (even though I know the dogs will eat it). In Native culture, it is believed that leaving a plate of food for the Grandfathers (ancestors) will ensure that you will not go hungry, that you will always be provided for. I rather like that idea.
Whatever people believe and practice, the holiday will happen, set in stone, as it is, on the last page of the Gregorian calendar for all to anticipate throughout the year. Just barely off-set from the solstice, the (observed) holiday, usurped by the church in a manner designed to assuage the pagans, has become so secular and lost in the commercialism of the times that it must struggle to convey anything else. And struggle it does, along with the people who follow so blindly into the seduction of material greed and impulse that has somehow become woven into the festival. And, sadly, I too am have fallen prey to that.
Why is it so much easier to go along than it is to stand up for anything? This is my meditation on this second to last shopping day before the Big Day. And while I dash about picking up the last stocking stuffers and the last-minute groceries, I will ponder once again my place in this strange society. Is it my duty to my community to support this nonsense? Or should I be an advocate for change? (The latter would certainly be easier on my bank account!)
Though the solstice has passed, I wish everyone a very Happy Yuletide season. May whatever meaning you embrace in this winter holiday bring you peace and joy.