Saying “Happy Holidays” at this time of year does not mean that you have sold out and are part of the so-called War on Christmas.
It is an acknowledgement that there are multiple holidays at this time of year and different people celebrate different things.
Sometimes Hanukkah is at the same time as Christmas. This year it was earlier.
Kwanzaa comes after Christmas. It’s not a holiday that I celebrate, because I am not African-American. But I respect it and can appreciate it (if not appropriate it) and acknowledge it as another holiday in the cycle.
Today is the Winter Solstice or the Yule Festival, a pagan holiday celebrating rebirth and new possibilities. It is the shortest day of the year and after today, the days grow longer until its counterpart, the Summer Solstice, on June 21 (which is also my wedding anniversary). On this day, at 10:59am, you are supposed to:
Light a candle. Be grateful for what you have. Dream of where you still wish to go.
Sounds to me like a New Year’s tradition.
We think of December 21 as the first day of the winter, and bemoan the months ahead of cold and darkness, but really, it’s the season where the light is just beginning. June 21 is the beginning of summer, and we celebrate the warmth and sunshine, which is one of the reasons we chose it as our wedding day. But really, it’s the beginning of the dying of the light. (Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.)
I have a very strong affinity for the Pagan holidays, even though I was raised in a Catholic household. The traditions speak to me as much as the ones from my Catholic faith tradition, and I don’t think they’re contradictory. Christmas is set when it is because it was a way of attracting Pagans to the Church – the Winter Solstice festivals were very popular, and they were appropriated in order to make Christianity more “fun.”
[This reminds me of when I moved back to Milwaukee and a stage manager at the Skylight showed me a picture of her child in an Easter outfit. She said, “Of course, I don’t celebrate Easter,” and I said, “Oh… Jewish or Pagan?” and I was serious. I wasn’t making light of her faith. Well, everyone looked at me and she said, “Jewish. What a weird question to ask?” and I was taken aback. I said, “I’m sorry – don’t you guys know any Pagans?” and everyone said, “NO!” and I said, “Oh… well… I do….”
And I wonder why I didn’t fit in.]
Christmas is also important to me, even though I didn’t grow up with a lot of traditions. You would think that, growing up with Eastern European parents, I would have had a veritable wealth of interesting and meaningful ethnic traditions as part of my holiday celebrations.
And you would be wrong.
We did nothing. We had no family in the area, so it was just another day. Except the stores were closed.
But I still loved the lead-up to Christmas, despite the fact that the day was usually one of disappointment and recriminations. And part of that reason – if not all of it – was because of the music and the television specials. Which I will write about on Thursday.
As far as music, because the Winter Solstice is from the Pagan traditions, most of it is of the New Age genre, with a sound that is vaguely medieval, even when the songs are original. A song that I found that is very popular is “Solstice Carole” by the Canadian group, The Wyrd Sisters (which may or may not be a reference to the Witches in the Scottish Play). These are the lyrics for the first verse.
A fire is burning
The long night draws near
All who need comfort
Are welcome by here
Here are two videos of the song. One by the original band, which includes the lyrics as well as some beautiful images. The second by a contemporary a cappella group, who have put a more contemporary spin on the song.
And now I’m going to go off and light a candle, say a few words in gratitude, and jot down some of my dreams for the upcoming year. (I’m also going to change my toothbrush heads, because that’s what I do on both the Solstices and the Spring and Fall Equinoxes – we all have our own ways of celebrating). I’m also going to go clean my house to get prepared for the holiday and when my husband comes home from work tonight, we’ll decorate the tree, which has been sitting up undecorated for over a week to allow the cats to get used to it.
I think it’s working, although not as I planned. They were both sitting IN it yesterday.
I will write more about the role of music in my Christmas traditions on Thursday.
Whatever holidays you have celebrated or will celebrate this season, they are all valid and important, and worthy of respect without exclusion.
And so I wish everyone:
Or – as I wrote in a song parody for my Christmas cabaret two years ago: