To any Christians who ask why I do not wish them a “Merry Christmas” I can only say this: “Why should I?” It is not my Christ and I am no Christian. Of course, to those I do know to be Christians I do say those words, out of respect. If I am uncertain I say, “Happy Holidays” because “Happy Jól” would be presumptuous and probably make little sense to them. Yule (ON Jól) is my holiday but it is not theirs. But I ask this: how many of you fundamentalists clamoring for a “Merry Christmas” would honor me with a “Happy Jól/Yule”? Precious few, I would imagine.
The fundamentalist will ever want what he is not willing to give.
Then there is the small matter of whose holiday this truly is. It was a holiday for many polytheistic cultures (you can read my long expose on this topic at my blog, A Heathen’s Day here)long before anyone had heard of YHWH, let alone Jesus. These days were already holy and did not need to be sanctified by Jesus. It is as are most Christian holidays, are stolen holiday. It is as much my holiday as anyone else’s. To have members of an upstart religion demand obeisance from the entire world for a day that is already holy to them for other reasons is arrogant, to say the least.
I shared this tidbit here last December 2 and I will offer it again: the testimony of Dionysius Bar-Salibi, twelfth century bishop of Amida, who wrote:
The reason, then, why the fathers of the church moved the January 6th celebration [of Epiphany] to December 25th was this, they say: it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate on this same December 25th the birthday of he Sun, and they lit lights then to exalt the day, and invited and admitted the Christian to these rites. When, therefore, the teachers of the church saw that Christians inclined to this custom, figuring out a strategy, they set the celebration of the true Sunrise on this day, and ordered Epiphany to be celebrated on January 6th; and this usage they maintain to the present day along with the lighting of the lights.
And we don’t have to rely on a 12th century bishop for this fact. We can go back further, to Epiphanius (ca 310-403), who tells us so (Pan. LI.22.3-7 and 29.4-7). And around 428 CE John Cassianus (Collationes X.2) reported that Epiphany in Egypt is ‘by ancient tradition’ believed to be the time for both the baptism and the birth of Jesus.” As it happens, January 6th is still Christmas Day in the Orthodox Church.
Now who does December 25 belong to?
Yet that is the demand that is made, that this day, as Christmas, be not only celebrated but honored by all, even those who are not Christians. Those who choose not to pay heed to Christian trappings are accused of making war on Christmas, said by Bill O’Reilly to be part of some “secular-progressive” conspiracy. I suppose one day we will be treated to the “Protocols of the Elders of Secularism” outlining the conspiracy in depth, as another forged document once condemned Jews to being part of a conspiracy that never existed.
I am one of those accused of making war on Christmas. My answer, of course, is that I cannot make war on my own holiday, nor would I. In fact, my whole holiday extends 12 days, from the 21st (Winter Solstice) to the First of January – the traditional 12 days – which happens to encompass that single day Fundamentalists want to reserve for themselves.
I do not begrudge Christians Christmas. Those alive today are not the ones who stole it, nor was I alive to have it stolen from me. That does not mean I do not retain the right to celebrate these holy days according to my own customs and traditions, or to honor my own gods, and my ancestors. And my doing so is no slight upon Christmas or upon Christians. They are free to celebrate according to their own customs and traditions, and atheists are free to celebrate nothing at all, if they so wish.
My only complaint comes when I am told I must kowtow to Christian tradition. That I will not do. I would not demand a Christian offer sacrifice to my gods and I will certainly offer no sacrifice to theirs. This attitude of mine does not stem from any lack of respect; it simply isn’t my concern how other people worship or whether they do at all. It makes no difference to me. We have (for now, at least) a First Amendment, after all, and Jefferson’s words were wise: it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
It’s really a silly thing to have to bring up every year, but fundamentalist Christians will insist on their yearly dose of martyrdom, when half the world refuses to be impressed by them or their beliefs. They can’t stand being ignored; they can’t stand not being the center of attention, and so like small children they will stomp their feet to get our attention. And again we must revisit the subject that should be no subject, and waste our breath on issues that should not be issues. But people being people, they need reminding, and there might still be some out there who could be influenced by the myth, and so we must make answer.
Media Matters tells us that so far this December O’Reilly has talked about “the imaginary ‘War on Christmas’ more than three times as much as the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” (42 minutes vs. 13 minutes) and as “an example of how much the ‘War on Christmas’ has permeated Fox’s coverage, Fox & Friends spent three consecutive days earlier this month throwing a fit over the fact that Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee called the tree at the Rhode Island statehouse a ‘holiday tree’ and not a ‘Christmas tree.’”
Of course, most people know by now that the tree itself is a Pagan symbol. My Norse ancestors, who like me honored Odin and Thor and Frey and Freyja, decorated trees for the season. So here we have a bunch of fundamentalist Christians outraged that people aren’t calling a Pagan tree a Christmas tree. Holiday tree is far more apt usage, given that people of different religious beliefs use the same symbol. Speaking as a Pagan, but not for Pagans, I can only say I do not begrudge the use of the tree by others, nor do I insist upon them calling it a Jól/Yule tree. Knock yourselves out. I’m not hurt by it. I can be pretty certain my gods aren’t hurt by it and my ancestors would probably get a good chuckle. A good time had by all.
Until somebody tells folks they can’t have Christmas trees in their homes, or go to Church or pray to their God, nobody has made war on anything. They have just made this holiday season, shared by so many, accessible to more of them, rather than letting one religion claim sole ownership of something that wasn’t originally theirs in the first place.
This has been a yearly ritual for me. It is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Far better would be to make like the 1943 wartime Christmas song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and make the Yule-tide gay because what it comes down to for most of us is this, as the song puts it: “Faithful friends who are dear to us Gather near to us once more.” And we don’t need Jesus – or any god – to celebrate that sentiment. And isn’t that more fun than fighting anyway?