I feel like most people who know me already know this – but just in case – I am not a Christian. I have a great deal of respect for many Christians, and I actually find the Christmas story to be kind of poetically beautiful, but I myself do not believe in either a virgin birth or a messiah in human form.
What I am, and what I do believe, is a little harder to explain, and this post isn’t really meant to be about that. I’m some kind of Eclectic Pagan with Humanist leanings and Buddhist inclinations and a dash of wandering Agnosticism. My wife and I regularly attend a Zen Buddhist temple, and celebrate pagan holidays together. We celebrate Christian holidays such as Christmas with our extended families (not all of whom are religious) because we love our families and the togetherness such time affords us. We’re still working out how we will explain all of this to our child, which I suspect is an issue that most people who don’t simply follow the faith of their parents and grandparents deal with.
Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, also sometimes known as Yule. It is from (several different) older Solstice celebrations that many of our modern day Christmas traditions originate. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day, and longest night, of the whole year (although not of the history of the earth!) and as such it is an important turning point – as of today, the hours of daylight are getting longer again, gradually building towards another spring and summer, even though it won’t feel like it for a long time. As someone who believes that marking the seasons is deeply important, it is one of the most important – even one of the holiest – days of my year. My household lit up our evergreen tree (we named him Radagast, after endless debate), got out a few candles, made spiced cranberry cider, and invited over all of our friends and chosen family for dinner.
Except, most people couldn’t make it. To them, this was just another party, and a party only four days before another holiday. They were extremely busy getting ready!
I work in retail. When at work in December, I always make it a point to wish people “happy holidays!”
And there are people in the world, some of them are people who I deeply love, who pine after the days when they never would have had to hear such a thing. There are people who wish that every cashier cheerfully said “merry christmas!” as they rushed out with their shopping. There are people who imagine that some people’s refusal to do this is eroding tradition, attempting to be “politically correct” for no reason, insulting Christians, or even ruining Christmas.
But I wish people “happy holidays” because I realize that there are many other holidays in December, including Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, and some years Ramadan. I don’t assume that every stranger that I meet is a Christmas celebrating Christian, because inevitably some of them are not, and so I go with “happy holidays” not to disrespect Christians, but to respect everyone regardless of their beliefs or holidays observances. As a religious minority myself, I know a little bit about how it feels to be forced to fit one’s entire life in December around the march of Christmas, it can be exhausting and painful to be constantly told that your religion, your holiday, your celebration, is secondary. In today’s world, Christmas still reigns supreme. Public school children can be assured that they will have Christmas and Christmas Eve off for winter break no matter what, but those who celebrate other winter holidays may have to fit their family parties in after school. And, in an example of just how awful this can get, a Councilperson in Massachusetts didn’t see anything wrong with announcing “Jesus is the reason for the season” at a menorah lighting ceremony.
In the supposedly “good ol’ days” when Christmas reigned supreme, religious minorities were often shunned. I don’t have any interest in going back to that, and I sincerely hope that my Christian friends and family members aren’t secretly wishing they could have the opportunity to shun me. In a season that is so much about love and togetherness, peace and harmony, the tendency to exclude others for being slightly different bites even harder than usual.
All of this is weighing particularly heavy on me this year, I suspect because I literally cannot stop thinking about next year. With the pregnancy affecting every aspect of my life in a physical and undeniable way (I was able to help with dinner last night, but halfway through had to hand over the reigns or risk having a puke on the chickpea burgers, I enjoyed the spiced cider but it made my pregnant-person-heartburn way worse, as I get larger even walking feels different) my mind keeps wandering to “when we do this all again next year, I will be a mother.”
That means finding a way to transport a baby to two different grandparents’ houses for two different Christmas celebrations. It means we will most likely be gifted “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments for our tree, and we will probably make the “baby’s first Yule” ornaments ourselves. It means showing off our child to relatives we don’t see as often as we’d like, and it means cuddling that child by the fire on the longest night of the year. I’m looking forward to all of it, but I’m also feeling tender.
I don’t need my child to grow up to believe all the same things as me, but I do want to share some of my favorite things with my child. I think that’s a normal impulse for any parent. And the same way that it is important that we show our child that we are not ashamed of being a queer family, I think it is also important that we show them that we are not ashamed of being a non-Christian family.
And so, the evergreen in our living room. This year I am making a point to follow my convictions and call it a Yule Tree, and to correct anyone who refers to it as a Christmas Tree.
A few close friends did make it over last night, and of course we had our house family to celebrate with. It is nice to be in a space that feels warm and inclusive, even if that space isn’t the whole world.
I’m not sure how to articulate my beliefs to my child yet, but I know that standing up for them is a good start.
And so, from the very bottom of my heart, happy holidays, whichever holidays you celebrate.