Saturday, December 22, 2007


i love the holiday season because there's something for everybody. all of the different traditions seem to blend together. it helps that the transition from paganism to christianity was facilitated by using the celebrations already in place. it may dismay some folks to learn that we don't really know when jesus was born; though winter solstice seems as good a time as any to reflect on the miracle of jesus. the birth of the son of god and the rebirth of the sun seem to reflect each other. the days begin to get longer (apoli-ogies to the folks in the southern hemisphere) as the light of the world is increased. the light of love and forgiveness is what jesus taught; and does it really matter exactly when he was born?

there are convincing cosmological reasons why it might matter, and why it might have been february 18, 5 bc.

in any case, solstice has been recognized and celebrated all over the world since long before jesus was born; and there seem to be many divergent traditions surrounding ye ol' yule tide.

apparently, solstice is not secular enough for some folks; and so you've got things like humanlight which celebrates a humanist vision of a good future. agnostics and atheists can be merry without worrying about actually paying credence to any "supernatural humbugs".

willing the well-being of the world is also a part of kwanzaa. this celebration of family, community and culture takes place over seven days. each day is spent reflecting on one of the seven principles of nguzo saba: unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. the idea that revolutionary change can occur when we go back to our cultural roots is a powerful one. we draw from the wisdom of our ancestors and the lessons of history to carry us forward. we cannot understand ourselves if we deny our cultural traditions.

bodhi day commemorates the day of enlightenment for the buddha. certainly, this is another expression of the light of the world. in any case, a good excuse for intensive meditation and reflection to get ready for new resolutions. peace on earth starts with peace of mind; and that can only come from within as we awaken to the possibilities.

perhaps you get excited about democracy or talking politics during the holidays. if so, the commemorating the signature of the constitution of taiwan is another reason to celebrate. of course, the reason that politics is often a taboo subject is because the discussions often get more heated than folks find comfortable. remember: tidings of comfort and joy.

this year eid ul-adha falls within the holiday season because the lunar calendar lined up. it is a four day holiday commemorating the prophet ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, ishmael. though jews and christians believe it was his other son isaac, the event is significant for all of them. this festival of sacrifice follows the annual pilgrimage to mecca and is a joyous occasion for all muslims with traditional feasts, visiting of relatives, and exchanging of gifts.

hanukkah celebrates the victory over the greeks and the rededication of the temple of jerusalem. the miracle of a one-day-supply of oil lasting eight days is commemorated over eight days according to the jewish calendar. although a hebrew holiday, the lighting of the menorah in the festival of lights mirrors the solstice candle ceremonies held around the world.

and then there's saint nicholas. his penchant for giving gifts in secret to spare embarrassment for the needy recipients and to keep the spotlight off of himself is a real testiment to the spirit of christmas. for some folks santa claus is seen as a threat to the sanctity of their particular holiday. the fact that santa and satan are anagrams doesn't help. his similarity to the tradition of a yule goat might also raise eyebrows. if nothing else, this provides a reason for satanists to celebrate as well. the twist is that the yuletide celebrations that were coopted by christians to ease conversion of pagans are the same traditions that "distract" from the meaning of christmas.

christmas is just one part of the winterval, a term that aptly describes the onslaught of holidays that come from november through february. some folks get a little depressed in january when all of the hooplah dies down for most of us. one possible solution might be to recognize all of the holidays.

if you like to celebrate a lot, there's a lot to celebrate. you've got the 12 days of christmas and the 12 day high. doing the winter holiday circuit provides for excess of all kinds. whether it's epiphany or diwali, toftirus or auld lang syne, samhain or groundhog's day; you can find ample opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry. you could translate yule as "wheel of feasts", and you could find yourself with a spare tire when it's all said and done. depending on where you're from you might celebrate one of various festivals of lights or renewal including saturnalia, chumash, yalda, dong zhi, mondranact, or midwinter.

if not; then, of course, there's "a festivus for the rest of us." this is where you can air your grievances and perform feats of strength. if you don't particularly like to celebrate, then this is the one for you. it's not really a celebration, but more of an outlet for frustrations and disappointments. this is fitting for some of the darkest days of the year.

there really is something for everyone; but that makes for a long winterval. when nearly every day is some kind of holiday it can get exhausting. after all of the food and drink, you might not feel all that festive when you hear about another holiday get-together.

in the midst of the holiday season, like everyone else i imagine, i get ambivilent about the joys and the pressures. it's a challenge to maintain a peaceful disposition with the frenzied traffic and longer lines and increased expectations. i find myself using the energy that comes with frustration to power through and get more done; but with that often comes an attitude that is the exact opposite of joy and peace.

the irony is richer than any dessert. i've translated my own protestant work ethic into a conditioned crankiness. it's as if i can't call it work if i enjoy it, and i can't respect myself if i don't get any work done. i need to redefine my terms. if i want to be happy, that is.

there's a little ditty that muses "if every day could be just like christmas, what a wonderful world this would be." and that's very true. it would be nice to see the active expression of "good will toward men" practiced on a daily basis. of course, that might mean we would have to get away from excessive materialist commercialism and focus on love and peace and the spirit of giving. the giving can feel a little gratuitous sometimes. often we scramble to get "something for so-and-so" and in the process snarl and growl at our neighbor in line. perhaps we should give our neighbor his due.

i've always fancied myself an inclusivist. that is, i like it when everyone is brought together despite their differences. perhaps that's a result of the large family gatherings i saw as a child. i know that folks don't always get along; but i also know that we're all human. if we can see past the differences to our common humanity, we might begin to acknowledge the value of diversity. i don't think it's a healthy practice to try and force people to believe what you believe. certainly, we all have a lot to learn from each other. that requires respect and cooperation. can't we all just get along?

the spirit of christmas is all about coming together and putting conflict aside. it's about forgiveness. it's about understanding that we are all children of god. these are "good tidings of great joy" for "all people." perhaps it's naivety to believe that the nativity can save the world; but that is the kind of faith that is required. i believe that jesus was open and accepting of all types of people, especially those who were outcasts. his judgement was reserved for the judgemental. his message of love is revolutionary even today. even if you don't believe in his divinity, you must concede the staying power of his message.

celebrating the cycles of nature can help us better understand the world around us. darkness isn't evil; but it isn't healthy either. that's why folks get seasonal affective disorder during the winter months with little sunlight. the solstice symbolizes the victory of the light over the darkness when the wheel of the year is at its low point. the light is our salvation. it illuminates the ignorance and fear. if we can look to what is good and universal among us all, then we can appreciate how we can each contribute to a better world for all of us. let's together bring our light into the darkness.

drawing found here:

photo of bumper sticker


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