Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Symbols, Rituals and the Real "Reason for the Season"

An interesting and informative article appeared today in the Houston Chronicle on the various Christmas rituals and symbols surrounding both the secular shopping season and Christmas. It traces the background on Yule logs, mistletoe, "Christmas trees" and the like.  
Here's a sample of the article: "The traditions that we enjoy each Christmas started with the two oldest civilizations known at this time, the Egyptian and Sumerians. Since both were sister civilizations, with Sumer being the oldest, and the written accounts are found within each, it is hard to say which one started them. 
"The 12 days of Christmas came from the celebration of Horus or Marduk. The celebration for the rebirth of Horus lasted for 12 days, also for the celebration of the 12 day battle of Marduk to conquer the deities of darkness. It is in the Sumerian celebration that the next oldest tradition came from, Gift Giving. During their celebrations, the Sumerians held huge parades (Christmas parades anyone), wished good tidings to each other and exchanged gifts. The Greeks adopted the Solstice with celebrations honoring Zeus’s victory over Kronos and the Titans. The Romans also celebrated Saturnalia and their religion of Mithraism. It was the biggest celebration of the year and gift giving was expected from everyone." 

Here's the whole link by Solitary Urban Wiccan, Ed Nelson:
What is refreshing about this writing is what it is not, like many sources around this time, an attempt to "one-up" one religion or tradition over another or bash something as "not original" and therefore "stolen" from another faith.  Healthy religion (as opposed to pure dogma) is always evolving just as we are evolving in our individual lives and with our families and friends, careers, etc. 

The truth is all of us (well, almost) have certain attitudes toward the holiday season this time of year based on our youth experiences and family dynamics, geography, cultural comfort zones, maturity toward or rebellion from spiritual beliefs, etc.  

But there is no reason I see for people to not adopt symbols of peace and fertility and fairness toward our fellow persons on this planet, nor need we lose site of the need to be good stewards of the earth and the people and animals and environment that we share with one another in one way,  shape  or form.    

As someone who has been a practicing Christian for about fifteen years now, and a believer in a Higher Power for two decades, I've been on both sides of the spiritual fence and I continue to at times be aghast at how some Christians in the American marketplace abuse the holiday into some sort of Crusade.  (Yes,I'm talking about Fox News and their endless "War on Christmas" as well as the "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" movement.)

   Jesus Christ is the reason for the season--for us Christians.  But the secular shopping and the advertising have nothing that I can see to do with the Gospels or belief in a Incarnation of the Divine who walked the earth 2,0000 years ago.  

 Most of the year, I  welcome a friendly and open debate with those opposed and with like-minded people on any matter that might come under the heading of religion and faith.  But at the end of all the discussions here and later, I think something that needs to be said: this is not about competition, it is  a season to be aware of our place in the universe and to share what joys we have.  Some of us have seen pretty hard times, and others are healthy and just a little wiser than we were last year.  Let us come together at least once a year and wish each other the best and forget for a small frame of time at least what separates us, but Celebrate(!)  what unites us. 

  An  anonymous author commenting on the friction that this time of Christmas Advent, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, etc says all this a lot better than I can.      This came in response to the same article I've linked:   

"The solstice is a time when darkness ceases to encroach upon us and begins to recede. The coming of new light begins the coming of new life. Warmth and beauty are on the way.
"It is perfectly normal for Christians to adopt this celebration. Just as all of the moral behaviors common to most religions are called “Christian” morals, there is no reason why themes of life and redemption would be any less “Christian” than the myriad other religious traditions that share them.
"For Christians, Christ is the “light of the world”, and so when the celebration of the turning from darkness to light would of course be the celebration of the coming of the Christ. Add the idea of a “one true religion” to the Christian version, and you see why Christians feel that this is the one and only “true meaning of Christmas” that Jesus came into the world.
"This should not be a contest. The season does not “belong” to anyone. The solstice comes every single year and it is a new one each time. The sun does not belong to any of us, nor does celebrating light and life. Call the numerologists if you want to come up with why 3, 7, and 12 are somehow ‘magic/holy’ numbers that recur in all mythologies and religions if you want, but they do. I don’t care who you are or what your religion is, they probably did not start with any you have ever heard of, they all go back to when man first realized he could plan when to plant or when to leave the mountains for the valleys based on the cycles of the giver of life."
Let's remember nothing is original about life renewal and thankfulness. Happy Holidays to one and all!  


  1. THANK YOU for sharing this. What a wonderful perspective on this season that sometimes seems to bring out the worst in people.

    1. My pleasure Lia. I think a lot of people need to take stock--myself especially--of our belief systems, step back, take a deep breath, and celebrate our human commonalities. The only thing in the end I'm really certain of at the end of 2012 is all the pain created by global and local differences, and how little ordinary people profit from them.