Is there a right way to celebrate the holidays?
by Jason Mankey
As a Pagan, I tend to approach the holiday season with a lot of guilt. I don’t feel that way because I spend a lot of money on mostly useless gifts or because I’m eating too much. I feel guilty simply for celebrating The Holidays, and when I say Holidays I mean all of them. At my house we celebrate Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. We really don’t stop until about the fourth of January, and even then it all lingers for another week or two. I like holidays, but not everyone likes that I celebrate them with such zeal.
As I write this, we’re just a few days from Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), but instead of uplifting Facebook memes of turkeys I’m getting Dennis Zotigh’s “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving” column from the Huffington Post. I completely understand Zotigh’s point. Thanksgiving paints a cartoonish picture of the Patuxet and Tisquantum (better known as Squanto), but educating people about real history is always going to go farther than trying to take someone’s turkey and football away.
Thanksgiving’s history doesn’t quite stem exclusively from that meal in Plymouth Rock back in 1621. Thanksgiving is a direct descendant of the English Harvest Home holiday, which could very well have its origins in pagan Britain. It also contains a splash of Christmas, and wasn’t really about “The Pilgrims” until the late 19th Century. In other words, it has a long and complex history just like most holidays. We’ve only just recently begun turning them into cardboard cutouts.
I always feel a little bit dirty for going out on Black Friday, but I find the hustle and bustle of all it highly amusing. Besides, I do it all with a dash of tipsiness (my wife and I prefer the “Shot and Shop” version of the holiday) and to escape the house I’ve been trapped in for the past 24 hours. A lot of my friends like to tell me that I should “make” gifts for the holidays, but I just lack that sort of artistic skill. Just because I buy cheap junk made in China doesn’t make me a bad person, just a person insane enough to risk crowds more dangerous than a Jay Z concert. (I’ll always feel much safer watching Jay Z than standing outside of a Best Buy at 4 a.m.)
Whether intentional or not, my house has a very Pagan look to it. By “Pagan look” I mean that it has a lot of deity statues and seasonal type motifs on the fireplace mantle. (A visitor once made the comment that it all reminds her of Halloween or a haunted house.) I like to think it looks like a well-decorated museum full of miniature statues, but that’s neither here nor there.
In late-November/December my house looks like Christmas threw up in it. I hang stockings by the chimney with care, decorate a tree (or two), and put lights up anywhere they’ll go. I’ve never thought of this as offensive, but some of my Pagan friends are uncomfortable with anything that looks like Christmas.
Yes, Christmas has the word “Christ” in it, but Sunday has “Sun” in it and Christians don’t boycott it. Why should I be made to feel guilty for celebrating Christmas? Almost of all Christmas’s trappings are Pagan: trees, holly, mistletoe, presents, possibly even Santa himself. They added a bit to our holiday and moved it a few days after the Winter Solstice — why should that bother anyone? I’m not forcing anyone to worship the baby Jesus on top of my bookshelf. (Yeah, I have a nativity scene with Wise Men who look like sort of like human-trees. I’m having a Nativity and getting my Pagan in there too.)
My Christian friends dislike my celebration of Christmas too. “Keep the Christ in Christmas” they say over and over, imagining a “War on Christmas” that’s never really existed. I want to tell them that it’s Christians who have been fighting that war for the most part. It wasn’t a sect of Puritan Pagans who outlawed the holiday back in the 1600s — it was people very much like the Pilgrims of 1621 whose descendants flocked to Thanksgiving because they weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas.
The world has me kind of turned around when it comes to the New Year’s holiday. Does the new year truly start on January 1, or sometime in September when new episodes of “Parks and Recreation” appear? How about the spring, when the world starts growing again? For Pagans, the new year begins on Samhain (Halloween) and some of them will scratch their heads when I tell them about my New Year’s Eve plans (this year those plans involve a party at my house, and copious amounts of hard cider). For me any excuse for a party and a celebration is a valid one.
Should we feel any guilt for celebrating the whole mess of November/December holidays? As long as you do so in a respectful way, I fail to see the harm. I left the caricatures at Target so I could snuggle with my wife, eat some homemade cranberry sauce, and do it all without any real guilt (at least until I count the calories).