SeanT (pdx42) wrote in secularhumanism,

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Io, Saturnalia!

If you're not a Christmasy person, I'm afraid that you would probably find me very annoying to be around right now. I am overflowing with seasonal cheer.

OK, well not "overflowing", exactly, but I'm feeling it, and I'm enjoying some of the aspects of the holiday season. It probably helps that I'm doing almost no shopping, I don't watch television, and I've made my own holiday compilation CDs to listen to. Oh, and Santacon on Saturday helped my spirits as well. :)

Still, I might be annoying to be around for the next couple of weeks for someone who is deliberately avoiding holiday cheer.

Being a Pagan-leaning Atheist, of course the holiday I'm talking about is a solstice celebration (though the big day is December 25 at our house). Longer days are almost here!

This is the weirdness of my life, particularly around this time of year. I was born and raised as a Catholic. Leaving the Church as a teen, I wandered quite a bit, and at one point or another attended services of at least a dozen different Protestant denominations, actually joining two of them at different times. In my late 20s, I came to the conclusion that I am an atheist, and any sort of spirituality or mysticism is simply carried-over mythos from more primitive times. During that phase, I also married a Christian who was exploring possible conversion to Judaism, and I became heavily involved in the peace movement, which is dominated by Christians, Buddhists, and Pagans (at least in this area). Over the past several years, my hard-line atheism has bent a bit to an acceptance of spirituality sans deity, and the most accurate label I could place on myself now would be "adeist", though I have yet to succeed in my feeble attempts to get that word accepted by the O. E. D., so "atheist" is still the label I use with people when I don't feel like exploring this whole answer in depth.

As an adeist, I find great thoughts embodied in the writings of various religions, most notably some Pagan and Buddhist philosophies, which largely speak of a universal spirituality rather than any omniscient, omnipotent deity. For the most part, even the Gods and Goddesses who do exist in Pagan mythos are not omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-anything non-corporeal beings. They're more like ... superheroes: powerful, but vulnerable as well, usually with a vulnerability as pronounced as their "superpower".

So comes the Holiday Season, a time of year which is the focal point of most of my good childhood memories, as well as some of the bad ones. Either way, the significance of this time of year to my childhood family makes it a significant time of year for me as an adult, whether I like it or not.

So what to do? For me to celebrate a Christian holiday would be hypocritical, but I do enjoy the rites and trappings of the season: decorated trees, gift-giving, houses and streets lit up to chase away the dark winter blues, and wishes of "peace on Earth" to and from strangers.

Well, fortunately for me, all the things that I really like about Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity, and everything to do with centuries-old Pagan solstice traditions of my European ancestors!

Christmas didn't even exist as a Christian holiday until they started trying to convert the European Pagans. Bothered by the Saturnalia solstice festivals of their would-be converts in Rome, which the Romans seemed adamant to keep, the Christian missionaries there decided that Jesus Christ the Messiah was born on the solstice (December 25 on the ancient pre-Julian calendar), thus paving the way for a supplanting of Saturn while allowing the new converts to keep the trappings of their solstice festivals.

As Christianity moved north, particularly into areas less "civilized" than Rome, this winter holiday turned out to be a very convenient lever to use when converting various middle European cultures, easing their assimilation as well. These northern Pagan cultures are where we get things like lighted evergreens, wreaths, holly decorations, mistletoe, gift exchanges, and "Father Christmas" or "Santa Claus", whose mythology is derivative of the Norse "Old Man Winter", who spent the week of solstice going door to door through the villages of Scandinavia, bestowing blessings, and accepting alms and food.

Among modern day Christians, the holiday of Christmas is still a controversy. Some say that the celebration of the Saviour's birth is the greatest holiday of the year, while others say it is only of secondary importance behind Easter, the celebration of His resurrection, and the assortment of Christian Holy Days that precede it. Still other Christians, notably Jehovah's Witnesses, deny Christmas as a holiday entirely, since it is a birthday celebration, which is banned by their dogma.

And now, brewing for the past several years, but seemingly coming to a head this December, is the Christian campaign to convince people that non-Christians are engaging in a "War on Christmas", telling the faithful that to greet people with anything other than "Merry Christmas" at this time of year is not only blasphemous, but going so far as to be anti-Christian. Nevermind that Christians share this nation with people of every faith, as well as those of us who are faithless. For Christians to feign any cry of oppression while they are three-quarters of the country's population has got to be the height of pathetic, self-aggrandizing martyrdom to come down the pike in many decades.

First off, if one does not know another individual's religion, "Happy Holidays" would most certainly be the most appropriate greeting to give. If I know that someone is a Christian, I will say, "Merry Christmas", even though I am not a believer myself. The same goes if I know someone is Jewish; I will wish her a "Happy Hanukkah", and my pagan friends will hear me say, "Happy Solstice", or "Io, Saturnalia". But if I don't know a person's religion, or know him to be an atheist, "Happy Holidays" is what he gets.

Of course, some people of any given religion have difficulty functioning in a secular society where they have equal freedom to practice their religion as anyone else, and it is from these people that we are now hearing about this "War on Christmas" (cue villainous theme music) -- all because the sales clerk says "Happy Holidays" instead of assuming them to be Christians in our multi-cultural, religiously pluralistic society. Cry me a river. The River Styx, in fact. Cry me the River Styx!

Don't be fooled -- this "War on Christmas" campaign is being staged not by secularists within our society, but by the radical religious right. It is their attempt to create an artificial backlash against liberals and against secularists to slingshot this country closer to Christian theocracy, driven by what they hope to be the outrage of the mainstream Christians of America reacting to non-existent oppression by minority cultures.

Last week, while driving through my neighborhood, I saw a yard sign with a silhouette of a radiant child in a cradle and the words, "Keep the Christ in Christmas!" I have no trouble with this as an expression of the individual's faith, but since it was on the person's lawn, and facing the street, I took it as an admonishment to the rest of us to observe the holiday a certain way. However, given the visible evergreen in the home's window, and the wreath on the door, and the Santa Claus banner protruding from the house, I felt a strong twinge of contempt for the person who is so adamant to keep faithful to his own religion while stealing the symbology of another. The hypocrisy of the scene is staggering.

How can these people claim any kind of religious high ground while they co-opt the religious symbols of others? As long as these people insist on using Pagan symbols for their Christian celebrations, I say that they have no place objecting to the various ways that others observe -- or don't observe -- their winter holidays. No, that's not correct. This hypocrisy is only one stick in a pile of contempt. Even if they give up the traditionally Pagan observances of the season, they still will never have the right to dictate how others observe the holidays, nor which holidays they observe.

If I were a Christian, I'd be hopping mad at those maniacal radicals who use my religion to further their evil causes.

As it is, I am thankful to live in a nation where I do have the freedom to celebrate the season as I see fit, with whom I see fit, by whatever name appeals to me, and I am going to enjoy my Solstice Celebration!


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