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We Want them Back! (A Pagan View of the Holidays)
Article ID: 10378
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We Want Them Back!
(A Pagan View of the Holidays)
Delivered at the Vespers Service, 12/7/05
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta
My friends, I have recently been musing about how all the old Pagan holidays have been taken over, and how good it would be to reclaim them. So I want to tell all of you why Pagans should to ask for our holidays back.
The good old Celtic holiday of Samhain had just passed when I first started thinking about this a few weeks ago. For all you non-Pagans, Samhain celebrates the physical agrarian-oriented event of the culling of livestock as preparation for the coming of winter in parallel with the spiritual acknowledgement of and reverence towards our deceased ancestors. It’s also a farewell to those who have passed on during the preceding year – along with those things you hope to lose in the coming year, like those ten extra pounds or your ex-mother-in-law. And Samhain is the Pagan New Year – celebrating change and death as being necessary for new life to appear.
It pairs the contemplation of the death of summer with, well, Death. Though, being Pagan, we make sure we have a good time somewhere along the way celebrating the holiday. We know that as the year turns around spring and summer will once more come again… So that’s why, even when contemplating and honoring fearful things like Change and Death and the dark of Winter, Pagans choose to CELEBRATE! Doesn’t it make sense, when you look at it that way?
But instead, contemporary American society serves up some vulgar mish-mash of spooks, monsters, costume parties, and cheesy old horror movies replayed over and over on television; along with extorted massive chocolate and sugar overdoses for young blackmailers-in-training – all aimed at turning a profit. It can be fun, but the spiritual value is fairly limited. And PLEASE don’t get me started on those terribly tacky fundamentalist Christian Halloween hell-and-brimstone Houses of Horrors designed to terrify poor innocent children into joining their church!
So, once I got started reflecting on how Pagan holidays had been kidnapped, I then thought of the old Pagan holiday Eoster, where the return of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eoster from the Land of the Dead bringing Spring in Her wake was celebrated. For centuries this Pagan celebration’s rituals included things like Eoster eggs, the Eoster hare (or bunny for us Americans) , and decorating our houses with Eoster lilies and other beautiful flowers in celebration. I won’t beat you over the head with all the other Pagan death and resurrection stories and their related holidays and celebrations mostly linked with the return of Spring, like the story of Persephone, or Inanna, or Xipe Totec, or Adon, or Osiris, or…well, I guess I AM beating you over the head, but you get my point, don’t you?
I think it’s only fair to talk about how we Pagans were there first, and how we’d like to get some credit for all the Pagan contributions involved when other folks celebrate the return of their own particular Redeemer from Death with our borrowed trappings when springtime comes around. So please keep in mind when you bite the head off that chocolate rabbit - you are actually re-enacting an ancient Pagan ritual! Well, sort of, anyway…
But of course, now it’s time for the big one – Yule. You know, celebrating with Yule logs, and holly, and mistletoe (not to mention the stolen kisses!) . Singing those old Yule time carols. Putting up the evergreen Yule tree and decorating it. Drinking a lot of mead - or these days, spiced cider or spiked eggnog. Giving presents. Lots of presents. The Sun [pause] of God being born with the New Year. Gathering together and celebrating with family and friends…did I mention drinking a lot? Yule’s a GREAT Pagan holiday! Yes, my friends, the Puritans were right – Yule (by any other name smelling as sweet) is definitely NOT a Christian holiday.
Well, then came those other guys. You know who I mean, don’t you? Those followers of the Son of God Who was born to a Virgin on December 25th with the animals gathered ‘round watching worshipfully. His coming announced to the shepherds on nearby hillsides by angels, and with wise men traveling from afar to give precious gifts in order to celebrate the birth of a Savior here to allow our sins to be washed clean in the blood of His sacrifice. How dare they steal our holiday!
But since those pesky followers of Mithras have been pretty much out of the picture for such a long time, I suppose modern Pagans shouldn’t hold a grudge.
Oh, you thought I meant that OTHER guy?
Hey, as a Pagan I don’t have anything against Jesus, or celebrating His birth. If you remember the story of the wedding at Cana, the dude must have really been a lot of fun to have at a party. So He can’t be all that bad! And unlike one of the Founding Fathers that the Religious Right erroneously likes to hold up to justify their theories of American theocracy, Thomas Jefferson, I’m willing to grant Jesus the same ration of miracles as all the other gods and sons of gods that ancient legends tell of. It’s only fair, don’t you think?
It’s just that some of his followers sometimes forget what He said about loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, doing unto others, and whatever that was about a camel and the eye of a needle. But I can’t blame Him if some of His followers are a bit thick. So I’m always glad to celebrate His birthday this time of year too, even if it is an appropriation of our holiday. Just like in the Cracker Jack commercial, I learned to share in kindergarten – didn’t you? So I don’t want to take Yule back from the Christians.
No, what I’m really talking about is the soulless over-commercialization of all these holidays. My holidays. Your holidays. All of our holidays. I think it’s time for all of us - Christians, Pagans, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and even Humanists - to say loud and clear “We want them back!”
I believe that each and every one of us should make a greater effort to stop and honor the true spirit of the many holidays that we all celebrate, each in our differing way. Honor death and sacrifice. Embrace change. Welcome birth. Love your neighbor. Celebrate life and all its possibilities. Peace on earth, and good will to all.
Now if you will please repeat after me the ancient Pagan Egyptian invocation at the end of a prayer, more than thirty-five hundred years old, which seals and sends it to the God…AMEN!
Lay Minister for Pastoral Care, UUC Atlanta
Location: Stone Mountain, Georgia
Author's Profile: To learn more about Bluehawk - Click HERE
Bio: Larry, a disability rights advocate by profession, has been a trained lay minister doing pastoral care and the occasional service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta for around two years and serves as a delegate to the Atlanta Interfaith Disability Network, as well as having held several offices in Eclectic Wiccan and Pagan interdenominational groups. Long active in the Atlanta Pagan community as an organizer, he's also a songwriter, musician, producer and live performer with work familiar to many in the national Pagan music scene (having worked with Moonstruck, Spiral Rhythm, Skyypilot, Heather Jinmaku, etc.) .
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