A Christmas enough?
This is a rough time of the year for pessimists. Gift-giving, hearty meals and coloured lights reflecting off pure white snow are hardly the stuff from which nightmares and disasters are made. In fact, since these features combine better now than in any other public holiday during the year, might we consider expanding its pleasures, fun, and warmth? Expand it, you ask, how?
OK, “expand” is historically inaccurate. This season, long ago had many names, from the “festival of lights” to Yule. These festivities date to the Late Stone Age (Stonehenge) and were celebrated by most cultures since – Celts & Druids, Romans, the old Germanic tribes, and right into our times. Christianity took over many of these ancient festivals, and we now celebrate their Christian themes, although there’s no evidence Christ was born on December 25 or that Christmas trees had anything to do with the manger in Bethlehem.
There’s good reason to celebrate, having nothing to do with history (or creed). This is an otherwise depressing time of year – the days are terribly brief, certainly cold, and the offerings of bounty from our farms are no longer slim only thanks to refrigeration and global shipping. We need something to lift our spirits and warm our hearts under these circumstances – and so today we have “Christmas”.
However, by leaving this essential celebration, and the season’s ceremonial launch of a new year from the depths of darkness, within a religious terminology, we actually cut off these “essentials” for many people, neighbours and friends.
Why not return to humanity’s tradition and lighten this dark season without linking it to religious beliefs? We are in the large Northern Hemisphere, so shouldn’t we acknowledge our entire traditional past, not one part, no matter how big and important are our religions? It could be said that the holiday has already lost its religious rationale, and, indeed, many religious leaders lament the commercialization and secularization of the holiday.
If we have secularized Christmas, why not take another, positive step and expand it beyond the old religious consciousness? Why not call it Yule, as it was called centuries before Christ emerged with his message of peace?
This is not to say that religious functions should be discouraged – by all means, Midnight Mass, if you wish, but by moving the event’s religious theme down in importance, we open the holiday to all our neighbours in this increasingly inter-dependant world. Religion will continue moderating our behaviours, but it should not suppress them, nor should it limit who can participate and share in the holiday’s benefits. Think, if you were a Muslim or Jewish, how attractive an idea is it to celebrate the birth of the founder of a competing religion? Would you, say, as a Christian, want to celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment?
Isn’t this the holiday of love, peace, friends and family, gifts and feasting? Let’s really make it so.