Aubs at Mystical Bewilderment made an interesting post recently about pagans and polytheists attitudes towards Christmas. I touched on the following briefly in the comments to that post, but I wanted to elaborate here.
I had a great time celebrating Christmas this year. It was the first Christmas I got to spend with my mother in over 20 years, and she really enjoyed how much we were all getting into it.
So, part of the reason I celebrate is because Christmas is fun and it makes the people I love happy. And though, while I was growing up, my mother never let us forget that Christmas was about Christ first and foremost, our family’s celebrations were never overtly religious. She’s the quiet sort of Christian. We did all the secular stuff – tree, lights, cookies, presents, dinner, more cookies – but we never went to church. The closest we ever came to actual religion on Christmas was one small nativity scene (a gift from my paternal grandmother who was afraid for me being raised by “heathens”) and some of our favorite carols. So, like Aubs, I don’t come with the religious hang ups many people have about the holiday.
For the last few years prior to this one, I’ve been feeling a strong desire to celebrate Christmas.
Not in spite of my religious beliefs, but because of them. This is not from some misguided idea that Christmas is “really” a pagan holiday and should be reclaimed in the name of the Goddess – or whatever. Rather, it has to do with my feeling of obligation to my community and a henotheistic, pluralist view of deity.
It started about the time I began looking towards the Ancient Greeks as an inspiration for my practice. One of the reasons I’m skeptical about reconstructionism is that many of the ancient polytheistic faiths, and certainly that of ancient Greece, were religions of the polis. The whole city was involved in each festival, every citizen was obligated to play their part. With the exception of the few household practices that we know about, this does not translate well to a few thousand practitioners spread all across the globe.
But my physical community does have one holiday a year that a large percentage of the population participates in. Even many who aren’t Christian partake in the festivities. Living in Arizona, when most of my neighbors were immigrants from Catholic countries and I was spending a lot of time socializing with an – also largely Catholic – Irish community it seemed only natural to join with them in their celebration by attending midnight mass on Christmas eve. This year, back home in California, watching the lights go up all over the neighborhood I felt as though I was neglecting some sort of communal obligation until I put mine up.
Many ancient polytheists were pluralistic, to varying degrees. It was OK to honor the Gods of one’s neighbors as long as one did not neglect a duty towards one’s own Gods. I personally believe that more Gods exist than those I worship, and it’s never a bad idea to be on a deity’s good side. So, unless expressly forbidden, I see no harm in singing an occasional hymn to the Christ Child.
Even less harm in decorating a tree and seeing my mother’s smile when we light it up.