• 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).

    • Funny. I love the holiday season. I celebrate Hanukkah with my grandkids and try to listen to Holiday music from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. It makes me happy. So it seems to have the same affect on you Jason. Happy celebrations.

    • Boy does it ever. I love the holidays probably because I associate it with so many happy memories. The best moments of my childhood were all around Christmas.

    • Jason, I’m right there with you. I love the holidays. Every one of them. I have to say though, that our Thanksgiving is different than yours in a few ways so there is absolutely no guilt. Good thing because I come from a mixed family where most of it is First Nations. At our house, even though we are both Wiccan we celebrate Christmas too. And New Years.
      I wish you and Ari the very best month of Light Festivals!! See you in February.

      • Xot

      • December 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm
      • Reply

      I gave up feeling guilty for Lent a long while ago.
      So happy Qanzikayulikamas! I have heard your confession, and you are hereby absolved of all guilt (past present & future) for celebrating whatever holidays you want.

      At least you don’t go around telling Christians that Pagans worship ground hogs because Ground Hog’s day falls on Candlemass/Bridget. But I welcome you to join me at it if you wish. Some of the looks you get are very entertaining.

      Please forgive me for making light of a serious issue. I think every Pagan that was brought up Christian or that lives in a christian society eventually asks themselves these tough questions about what holidays to celebrate. It doesn’t take much research to determine that every Christian Holiday was once a pagan holiday. But that doesn’t mean you HAVE to disrupt every holiday meal with the in-laws. Harmony with our Self and with our extended families should be our guide here.

      For my part, I wear black as a sign of morning on Saint Patrick’s day. But I don’t say anything unless someone asks.

      • Jesse

      • December 3, 2012 at 8:04 am
      • Reply

      I like your approach. I try and celebrate them with gusto too. If you are interested, I can send you a picture of my Santivity. It’s Santa camping and playing guitar around a fire with Mary, Jesus, a donkey and some wise men. Sometimes I add a frog. I love it. J

      • Kay Allen

      • December 3, 2012 at 8:37 am
      • Reply

      Go, Jason! I LOVE this season….the whole lovely long smoosh of baking and lights and feasting and music and extra effort to do fun things with friends and such family as you can tolerate! I don’t do much in the way of decoration in my own home anymore—for several reasons—but I absolutely THRILL to the sight of colored lights, frost on the windows, and even the cheesy grocery store muzak. I go to tree lots to sniff the trees, and drive around the neighborhoods that do the “Christmas vomiting” thing with outdoor decorations, grinning like a kid. A very dear friend, who is a Christian minister with a huge dollop of Pagan in her soul, sets up her nativity set (minus Jesus) and then plays a little game with the wisemen—-sort of a Where’s Waldo with camels. She positions the wise guys in various places around the house and each day moves them closer and closer to “Bethlehem.” Then Christmas Eve the baby gets put in the manger. (This year I’m going to do a couvade for Mary and howl and swear like she’s giving birth.) But where are the wise men?? Still inching toward the nativity, of course. They won’t arrive until Jan 6…. I think that kind of sacred play is a VCT. (Very Cool Thing) And since ours is a magpie religion, we have total freedom to play with everyone else if we choose. All the stories are sacred so they MUST be told and played…. YAY, HOLIDAYS!!

    • I would love a picture of the Santivity. You can email me at panmankey @ gmail.com or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jason-Mankey/96650840663

      • Krystal

      • December 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm
      • Reply

      LOVE IT ALL! I don’t now if I do it with as much gusto as I used to (wearing red and/or green everyday from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, only exception was blue on the first day of Hanukkah, with assorted cheesy earrings to ‘match’ so to speak) I still enjoy but with a bit less aplomb and more knowledge of many varied paths. Happy Holidays to you Jason, thank you for sharing your perspectives with us via this blog.

      • Maya North

      • December 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm
      • Reply

      I’m Jewish by choice, but honest, I still love everything about Christmas but one–the music eventually gives me a facial twitch. I think the right way to celebrate is the same way as is the right way to live–whatever fills your heart. 🙂

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