Imbrium vs. Christendom: Pagan Christmas
The Chariot is pulled by two beasts. So am I.
I was raised Catholic. I still appreciate and identify with a lot of the Church’s teachings. I think Jesus was a pretty awesome guy who said a lot of wise things. I think Mary was probably a whole lot more than anyone in the Church now wants to admit. Which Mary, you ask? I answer, Yes. I also think that the Church (and from what I can see, a lot of other Christian denominations) is lost and wandering in the woods.
Figuring out exactly what I think about Catholicism might take a lifetime. I may never have a resolution to this challenge. I’m determined to tease out what I can, so that I can examine this tangle in a different light. It’s what I do, after all.
I’ll start what is likely to be the first of many many similar posts in the coming weeks/months/years with the holiday that is on everyone’s mind right now. Christmas.
First and foremost, I don’t hate Christmas. I don’t even dislike it. In fact, I celebrate it quite happily with my family. Why? Because it makes sense. What is Christmas but yet another version of the Sun/Son being born of the Mother? What is the narrative of Jesus but yet another version of the Willing Sacrifice? It’s not wrong. It’s incomplete. Christmas in my family never felt so incomplete as it does in other settings. This might be why. We’ve always- at least in my immediate family- included things that were about the underlying energy of the Solstice regardless of specific tradition. I’m reasonably certain this is unconscious and I have a hypothesis regarding that as well. Might be part of why we’re looked at askance by the rest of both families, come to think of it. See, it’s understood by many that in its earliest years the Church borrowed so heavily from existing traditions as to functionally usurp the holiday. Some the Church even took over deliberately. In fact, many Christians seem to be aware of this and admit it freely. Well, guess what. At this point- over a thousand years later- I think this qualifies as the established tradition of the land and should be respected as such.
Ah, squeals of indignation.
As much as some of us hate to admit it, tradition is really just that. Something we’ve been doing for so long that it has become expected and an established pattern. If we want our resurrected traditions (or, to be perfectly frank with ourselves, our half-remembered and half-invented resurrected traditions) to be treated with respect, it behooves us to respect the current traditions of the land. If that pisses you off, I offer this small piece of advice: Hold the moral high ground and offer that respect anyway. You might find yourself surprised at how much more fulfilling the holy days become when you appreciate the similarities in traditions. Christmas is a created holiday, certainly. The only reason we don’t say the same about the more ancient holy days is that there is no record of how they were established. Christianity suffers under the weight of its own records, records that we have used ourselves to recreate our own histories.
All of this is why Christmas has tended to feel hollow. Christmas, when held to be void of all ancient symbolism, feels like what it is: a created holyday with minimal underlying foundation for the manner in which it is observed. When we celebrated Christmas in my house we celebrated with the understanding that we were building on something much much older and we took a moment to recognize that fact. My Christmases felt complete. There are probably other reasons for that- namely that Christmas in America is little more than a mindless spending-spree of money we don’t have for things we don’t need that keeps the insatiable beast of our capitalist economy lumbering along for another quarter… but I rant. I have serious, serious issues with the commercialization of anyone’s holy day.
So how about now? What do Christmases feel like from the Pagan side of the fence? Actually, they feel pretty awesome. Yes, the early Church knowingly and quite deliberately usurped an ancient holyday. There is no rule anywhere that says the Church was not allowed to do as it did. Many among our ranks have a fondness for the Classical societies of the Mediterranean, and we’re only lying to ourselves if we try to think that those societies were anything but masters of doing the same.
I think this odd perspective is part of what it has begun to mean to be Imbrium. There are levels and levels to the world in which we live- and layers upon levels to the truths we have believed for so long. I celebrate Midwinter as a time of joy, revelry, family, and returning light. These things seem to be constant. These things transcend religion, they are human and they are magical. So what if my Christmas tree has a dragon for a tree topper while my table centerpiece is an angel? So what if my wreath has a five pointed star woven into the center? So what if there is a Nativity scene on my counter top next to the shrine for the house spirits?
In my home it could never be anything less. Anything less than this strange and to others unsettling blend of Pagan and Catholic would feel incomplete. I will probably never be able to shake the feeling that Jesus meant to build on the pagan beliefs already here, not eradicate them. I have no proof for this feeling. I have no real idea where to go to look for proof. All I know is that in my home all are welcome to the table. Unless they are rude.
I’ll be looking for more sources to back up my gut feelings. I intend to deconstruct a couple of litmus-test type social issues, where I stand on them, and what each side seems to say as my next project. This is hardly scholarly, but it’s helping me figure things out. I hope it helps you too.