The Winter Confluence

For the past several years, I’ve been adamant about not celebrating Christmas or Chanukah. “Not my religions; not my holidays” was my standard response when someone asked about my plans.

I did this for because, one, it’s fun to watch people’s faces when I tell them that I don’t celebrate the world’s biggest consumerist holiday, even glancingly. Two (and more important personally), despite having been a practicing Pagan since 2001, the only consistent Winter Solstice practice I’d developed was staying up all night, which becomes increasingly inaccessible as I get older. I needed to step back and develop celebrations that neither appropriated an oppressed religion nor kowtowed to an oppressive one.

I needed that time away. It’s done me a world of good as a Pagan.

The December event of the Minnesota Threshold Network was called “Facing Holidays After the Death of a Loved One.” As I sat in that circle, talking about holiday traditions and honoring loved ones who have died, I thought about how, although I don’t celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, I once did, and my Ancestors have, for many generations. By choosing not to engage with these holidays, I’ve cut myself off from them, from using shared practices to thank, honor, connect with, and grieve for those who have gone before me.

So this year, I chose one action to acknowledge each holiday. Not a full celebration, since they’re still not my religions or my holidays. One act to connect me to Ancestors recent and distant who celebrated these holidays. To remind them, and myself, that though we walk different spiritual paths, they are welcome here.

  • Chanukah was easy: I created a… well, I hesitate to call it a chanukiah. It’s a strip of fabric set up under the Yule tree with LED candles. Every night I’ve been saying the blessings and lighting the candles. (The Yule tree, btw, is three birch logs lashed together in a tripod, wrapped with blue string lights and topped with seasonally appropriate cookie cutters. Because we are those Minnesotans.)
  • Christmas was more challenging. Other than attending the Christmas Eve service at church, which, just, no, my family of origin was much more connected to the holiday’s consumerist aspects than its religious or cultural ones. Being as anti-capitalist as a 21st-century American urbanite can be, those aren’t traditions I want to replicate.
  • I thought about food, instead. Specifically, waffles. My parents had a waffle maker. It was a wedding gift. They hated using it, considering it too unwieldy and difficult. It came out once a year: on Christmas morning. After we opened presents, Mom and I would watch The Nutcracker (Baryshnikov version) on PBS while Dad swore at the waffles.

This is tricky, of course, because I shared the tradition with ancestors (living), not Ancestors (dead). But it connects me to family, and although my more distant Ancestors may not have eaten waffles on Christmas Day, I’m sure that most of them had special holiday food traditions of some sort, and this feels like sharing mine with them.

I am one moment in Time. The lines of memory flows from the Ancestors, through me, and on to the Descendants. And in this time of deep, healing, dreaming darkness, I stand with ancestors, Ancestors, and Descendants at the confluence of three winter holidays and greet the returning light.

Five days after Solstice; fourth night of Chanukah; Christmas Day

This means war! (Or so I’m told)

As we near the end of this, year two thousand and eighteen of the common era, it seems strange that people are still in a tizzy over “happy holidays” vs. “merry Christmas.” But they are, so I’d like to add my buck-fifty (accounting for inflation) to the discussion.

I took last Friday off from work, as is my right as an American celebrating a religious holiday.* As I left, my coworker, who knows I’m Pagan, wished me a happy Winter Solstice. Knowing that this coworker is Christian, I wished her a merry Christmas in return. No fuss, no tears, no one screaming about wars on anything. Just two acquaintances wishing each other the joy of their respective holidays.

See, what Bill O’Reilly, 45, and the rest of the “war on Christmas” crew don’t like to acknowledge is that those of us who champion “happy holidays” over “merry Christmas” don’t hate Christmas. We hate the assumption. I’m happy to wish a merry Christmas to folks I know are Christian, just like I wished my Jewish family and friends a happy Chanukah when it started. Anyone whose religion I don’t know gets a “Happy holidays!” because I don’t know what they celebrate. To say “Merry Christmas” to everyone you meet is to assume that everyone you meet is Christian, either spiritually or culturally, and that we’re all down for celebrating a holiday that, no matter how secularized and commercialized it becomes, is still rooted in Christian belief and practice.

The so-called “war on Christmas” is, of course, actually a war on every year-end religious holiday that isn’t Christmas. In fact, it’s a war on religious pluralism itself, on the very idea that Christians in the US have to rub elbows with folks who might, around this general time of year, be celebrating Chanukah, or Zarathost Diso, or Yule. In other words, people who aren’t Christian.** The “Religious” Right doesn’t like this, and they don’t like to be reminded of it.

But we’re here, we Jews and Zoroastrians and neo-Pagans (and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Bahá’ís, Vodouisants, atheists, practitioners of more indigenous American religions than you can shake a manger at, and a crap-ton of others). We’re not going away, and neither are our holidays.

So, to everyone reading this: happy holidays, whatever you celebrate.


*If you’re a Christian reading this and thinking, I’ve never taken a day off for my religious holidays! let me remind you that you literally do not have to. Christmas is a federal holiday. Offices are closed on your Sabbath every week (which also takes care of Easter). I even had a job once where I got Good Friday off, even though that is only a Christian holiday, with no secular aspects!

**I suspect it’s mostly rooted in good ol’-fashioned antisemitism and Islamophobia. Chanukah is probably the second-most-celebrated December religious holiday, and though I may be misremembering, I feel like, at least where I grew up, the whole “War on Christmas” thing got really big in a year when Ramadan overlapped December, which led a lot of people who don’t understand how true lunar calendars work to wail that Eid al-Fitr was another “foreign holiday” trying to “vanquish” Christmas.