When the calendar turns to December, I often remember back to a discussion I had with the first pagan I ever met. I had never heard of any of that “Earth-based” religion he was talking about, and the idea of a Goddess sounded shockingly revolutionary to me at the time. It all sounded pretty nice, though, except I had trouble getting one thing out of my head: Christmas.
“Do you still celebrate Christmas?” I asked him.
“No. We have Yule, but that’s a minor holiday,” he replied.
…And my interest in Paganism went back onto the shelf. I wasn’t raised in the Christian church. I never really understood Easter, but I always loved Christmas. It had no sacred meaning to me at all, but I knew it was a Christian holiday. Although I was fascinated by my friend’s religious ideas, I couldn’t conceive of giving up that most wonderful time of the year. My desire to learn more about this “Goddess” he talked about took a back seat to my enjoyment of plastic trees, pretty lights, and fudge.
Obviously, things changed. When I first began to seriously study the Pagan path, the Wheel was just turning toward the winter solstice. The stores were beginning to fill with those same pretty lights and plastic trees. Holiday music was already piping through the speakers. Family dinners and office Christmas parties beckoned. Again, I had to ask myself: What do I do with Christmas?
I did struggle with Christmas that year, but the struggle dissipated rather quickly from my mind. After that one Holiday season, I realized that there were many reasons for Pagans and Witches to celebrate this holiday that is sacred to another faith. I wanted to share those reasons here, even though the first one may seem to contradict what I just said about the day being sacred to Christians…
Christmas is as secular as it is sacred
Christmas may have begun as a religious observance, but it hasn’t always had a comfortable relationship with Christianity. The Puritans banned the holiday. In 1659, the Court of The Massachusetts Bay Colony called Christmas festivities mere superstitions and described the celebration of the holiday as a “great dishonor to God,” mainly because of the drinking and merry-making people engaged in for the holiday.
Of course, that has all changed and most Christians eagerly celebrate the holiday, but it shows that Christmas has a long history as an uneasy mixture of the sacred and the secular, a blend of quiet holy observance and loud, cheerful revelry.
The modern Christmas continues that tradition. Blowhards on TV pontificate about a “War on Christmas” when store clerks wish their customers “Happy Holidays,” but then they break to commercials which beg their viewers to engage in the modern version of excessive revelry: rampant consumerism. Look around you in December and you’ll see more trees and Santa statues than crosses or Nativity scenes. Listen and you’ll hear Silent Night blend seamlessly with Jingle Bells as beautiful hymns announcing the Christ child mix in with spunky songs about enchanted snowmen and a reindeer who gets bullied. At this time, the secular and sacred coexist.
Christmas is not inherently nor exclusively a religious holiday. Anyone who wants to can celebrate it. Many atheists still celebrate. I’ll happily celebrate Christmas for the same reason I celebrate the Fourth of July.
Christmas brings the family together
There are people of all kinds in my family. We range from at least three kinds of devout Christians to diehard agnostics. We have a practitioner of Science of the Mind and a few who identify as “Spiritual but not Religious.” Then there’s my wife and myself, the real weirdos at the table. Pretty much no two people in my family completely agree on anything spiritual, but we have traditions and we enjoy spending time with each other. My Christian brother-in-law mixes up a fantastic Manhattan and his mom puts on a lavish spread for the Holidays. I wouldn’t want to give that up.
Further, as a practitioner of a minority religion that carries some negative stereotypes, I feel it’s my responsibility to put a sane, kind face to Witchcraft. When you announce to your family that you’re a Witch, you get odd looks from the Christians and the atheists alike, and probably plenty of whispering behind the back. But if, rather than being oppositional, you continue to be grounded and loving, you break down those stereotypes as you live your truth. Avoiding my family at the holidays would only ostracize us from our loved ones. If we want our family to respect our religion, then we need to respect theirs.
Sure, not everybody’s family get-togethers are so pleasant, but the magickally minded are supposed to be able to manifest what they desire. It starts with us.
Christmas brings its own history
If you grew up celebrating Christmas, then you probably have some fond memories of the decorations, sweets, and traditions of the time. Partaking in them once a year can bring a feeling of happiness to this season that the songs keep telling us is a joyful one.
I have Christmas decorations from long before I was a Witch. They reach back to my college years and even farther back to my wife’s childhood. Since the mid ‘90s, we have purchased one ornament per year that signifies the major events of that year. These ornaments have spread across our tree over the past 20 years.
The current year’s ornament is front and center while the other special ones radiate out from that point. The result is a Christmas tree (or Yule tree if you prefer) that is a living record of our relationship. It’s a very special piece of our year, one that helps us review our time together and set our goals and intentions for next year. It’s a piece of magick.
‘Tis the Season
Part of following the Wheel of the Year is attuning to the natural energies of the season. Those energies are more than just the interaction of sun, moon, and earth. They also include the egregore formed by the activity of the overall society. Fighting that energy would be like swimming upstream. It defeats the purpose. Witches flow with the energy around them, so grab your cup of eggnog.
Besides, for most of us, Christmas is fun if you let it be. It’s the time of year when the society around us encourages to dance, sing, feast, make music, and love. The Puritans may have once outlawed such things, but to us they are sacred. In many ways, celebrating the season can be an act of worship.
It serves no one to act like the Grinch up alone on his mountain top. The Grinch was lonely, cold, and heartless as he fought the seasonal celebrations. That’s definitely not something to strive for.