Walking in a Wiccan Wonderland: How's a Witch to Survive the Crazy, All-Consuming Commercial Faith of Christmas?
Article ID: 12193
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: December 9th. 2007
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In my family, we do it all.
Well, okay, not all. We don’t celebrate Kwanza. Or any Buddhist, Hindu, or Islamic winter holidays.
But we do a lot.
First off, I was raised a Christian—Episcopalian, i.e. Catholic light—so my childhood was all about pageants in which I played everything from an angel to a cow, midnight services during which I slept in the corner of the choir loft in my Care Bears sleeping bag, and ripping into presents on Christmas morning underneath a tree decked with angel figures, little drummer boys, and, of course, the ubiquitous glass balls.
We did lots of donating to children and the “less fortunate” with food boxes and toys and cash. Then there were the non-religious traditions, like driving to my grandmother’s two hours away after the midnight church service so we could be with my whole Dad’s side of the family on Christmas Day.
Though I am now a Witch, I am a Witch with a great relationship with my loving, open-minded family. Although there are no more choir loft sleepovers or moving the manger scene figures around the house so that they arrive at the little stable in the dinning room at the Biblically correct times (this included trying to remember on Christmas Eve where we’d stashed the Baby Jesus), there is still getting together and singing and ripping open presents underneath the tree that still sports all the same glittery, worse-for-wear stuff.
Secondly, my husband is Jewish. Or rather, he’s Jew-ish. It’s more of a cultural thing for him—he’s not a terribly religious guy. But once he was absorbed into my overwhelmingly enthusiastic, holiday (doesn’t matter which one) -loving family, he started to feel a little left out amidst all the other celebrations going on.
So I decided we were going to do Chanukah. We made our own menorah—and then we bought one. We wrote our own version of the prayers, incorporating the Hebrew too, of course. We invite some of his family members over, usually on the last night, and I buy him fun little presents for each night.
It’s not a huge, overwhelming deal, but included in with everything else, it adds to the holiday crunch, for sure.
And then, of course, I’m a Witch.
This is probably the most complicating factor in all of our holiday planning. You wouldn’t think so—after all, most of the trappings of modern-day Christmas are lifted right out of the traditions of the Northern European Pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. If I deck my halls with boughs of holly, no one thinks twice about why.
Even five-pointed stars stuck up everywhere are totally acceptable.
And the days of celebration are just close enough that I can do both without feeling, like I do at Thanksgiving and usually at Easter, that I’ve already DONE this holiday…And even the trappings of Chanukah aren’t that far off from what I do at Solstice—candles in the dark, celebration games, gifts.
This may be the one Christian/Pagan religious holiday standoff that has the least to do with actually religious belief, and more to do with our culture at large.
By the time we hit Samhain, I’ve given pretty much all I have to give for the year.
For ten months, I’ve been laying plans and making them happen. I’ve been gardening, I’ve been writing rituals, I’ve been setting up charitable events and meeting with my coven. I’ve been working all day and then spending my weekends with my friends out enjoying the world, to celebrate the life that is full of the blessings of the God and Goddess.
I’ve also been cleaning and cooking and managing a herd of pets. I’ve been tapping into the energetic tides of the seasons—cleansing, planting, tending, harvesting and celebrating.
And at this point, baby, I’m tuckered out.
All I want to do is sit inside my house, wrap up in a blanket with a steaming cup of tea nearby, and catch up on the little things—knitting, making entries into my Book of Shadows, filing articles of interest, etc. Maybe read a nice book I’ve been trying to get around to for a while.
America, however, has other plans.
Just about the time my body and my mind begin to slow down and yearn for cozy comfort, the rest of my society is beginning to whip itself up into holiday frenzy. I woke up November 1, turned on the morning news, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, cruising through Big Lots on a mission for bargains.
Not that I should be surprised, but it’s still a bit jarring.
All around me, lines in stores are getting longer, and people are pressing me to help them make plans for THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER.
At work I’m booking rooms for office parties and asking for RSVPs to cookie exchanges, and at home my family is calling me to figure out plane reservations and what the menu is going to entail and what we should do about the annual Christmas Even pajama gag this year.
Friends and family are starting buy cards and write holiday letters, calling around to confirm the addresses of the long lost whoevers. Budgets are being set, and broken. Boxes are arriving on the front porch.
What am I getting my husband this year? What we are we getting for my parents? His mother is coming to stay with us—what are we getting her? When am I going to clean out the guestroom? Decorate? Make umpteen baked goods?
How are we going to get three people, three dogs, and a butt load of presents out to my parents’ on Christmas Eve in one car? And can we get there a little earlier this year, please?
Even if you have managed to cut ties with most of the family members who celebrate Christmas and live out in the boonies where you light your Solstice fire in peace and that’s that, the Christmas Craziness finds ways to affect you.
The commercials, the stores, the traffic, whatever.
Christmas is stressful for pretty much every American adult I know, Christian or not, but for different reasons.
For those secular Christmas celebrators, it’s the money, the time, and the pressure of the perfect gift, perfect party, picture-perfect Christmas moment.
For Christians, it’s all that PLUS the pressure of finding, “The Meaning of Christmas, ” aka “Putting the Christ back in Christmas.”
The same holiday special, featuring a new set of actors in varying settings with slightly updated dialogue each year, flashes on the TV each year, reminding us that Christmas is about the gift of love, that it doesn’t matter what you have, just that you’re with the people you care about.
And every seven minutes you are also reminded to buy a GPS system, an electric razor, a flat-screen TV, an array of walking, talking, interactive toys, and a coffee maker that makes you basic java look like sex in a cup. Good sex, too.
For Pagans, the stress comes from the fact that all of this holiday hustle and bustle is 100% diametrically opposed to what Witches consider to be the period of REST.
We don’t do magic, we don’t have parties; we don’t run all around looking for the perfect anything. We reflect, we introspect, we clear out all the stuff that we don’t need anymore and we make space for what the next year will bring.
How we’re supposed to do that in the midst of total commercialized chaos has yet to be determined, especially if you have to be involved in said chaos in any way.
Maybe you have Christmas-celebrating family, maybe you work in retail (bless you, my child!), and maybe your office insists on gift exchanges and huge, sloshing bowls of eggnog—it’s hard to escape.
A Pagan friend and I decided last year that the reason America goes so freakin’ psycho over this particular holiday (which really, if you think about it, is NOT the crux of the Christian faith—literally. That would be Easter, the whole died-for-your-sins-back-from-the-dead-God-says-hi thing) is because Americans save up all their holiday energy—the need to celebrate, connect, give back—for this one day.
Despite the fact that the Christian Church (well, not so much the Protestants, so some of the blame goes to them) and, hello, even the Federal Government offers a wide range of year-round excuses to party hardy, everyone holds back and shoots their whole wad in December.
And it sort of makes sense that they would—it’s a dark, despairing time, you need something to make you feel better, to feel hopeful and happy.
The rest of the year they’re too busy with “life, ” by which I think most people actually mean “work” of various kinds, from house to income-generating, to take time to celebrate anything.
So it all falls to Christmas.
This, I think, is why Christmas and everything associated with it has to be “perfect.” The build-up is enormous. This is also why people get depressed after the holidays—that, and the credit card bills—because what could possibly live up to such high expectations?
I bet even Martha Stewart has a few days of doldrums when it’s all over—did anyone REALLY appreciate those centerpieces? Should I have done silver instead of gold this year? I can’t believe that stupid assistant I had to fire threw my hand-made napkins rings away after the photo shoot!
As Pagans, we get eight evenly-spaced holidays, all of equal importance, all with the potential for feasts, gifts, crafts, and company. And they’re more than just fun—the meaning is both inherent and multi-faceted, offering us new perspectives and new surprises every turn of the Wheel.
If the last holiday didn’t go exactly as planned—you didn’t finish making the special candles, not as many people as you hoped showed up to your open circle, you got a little too into the preparations to take time for yourself and do your own little spiritual observance—there’s another one coming up in about a month and a half.
Over time we start to build traditions that pop up along our year like trail markers—time to dye eggs, time to plant the garden, time to get the sun on a stick out, time to make corn dollies, time for the can drive, time to carve pumpkins—and they connect us to the holidays past as well as make a foundation for other fun activities we might want to try or insights we need to gain.
Not that non-Pagans don’t do a lot of these activities, too, but without the spiritual component that goes along with them—these eggs are new life, these baby plants are the promise of the Gods’ blessings, this sun is the triumph of the God’s power, this corn dollie is the sacrifice that allows us to life and enjoy life, etc.—they become more of a fun thing you do to amuse your kids, and they fall away as “life” (read “work”) takes over.
They don’t help to anchor you into the rhythm of creation and destruction, of enjoyment, fulfillment, and later, yearning, that really IS “life.”
So what’s to be done about this clash of opposing energies? How can we safeguard our Pagan ways from the crushing, crashing tide of consumer Christmas?
Well, there are a couple of options.
You can get off the grid. Refuse to participate.
Say no to invites that involve holidays other than your own, go to the grocery store and mall, etc., in the early morning before the hoards descend, do not send cards or bake huge batches of cookies, unless they’re shaped like moons and stars instead of Santas and candy canes.
Skip the office Christmas party, offer to work Christmas Day instead of the day of the Solstice, and make absolutely no travel plans anytime near the date of December 23-26.
Of course, this extreme approach may not be possible for you, for a number of reasons. It’s always possible, though, to set boundaries, to do things your way. I remember the moment I discovered that, wow, I’m an adult, and it’s my house, and I can do whatever I want.
If I don’t want to send holiday cards, I don’t have to. If I do, I get to send them to whoever I want—I don’t have to include every relative and person I’ve spoken to for more than five minutes on my mailing list.
I can even send Pagan cards—most people will never pick up on that anyway. If I want to give small, simple gifts to people I love, I can do it on Chanukah or Solstice or Christmas, or all three, or throughout the year, and I don’t have to feel guilty if they decide to give me big, expensive presents—that’s their choice, their way of celebrating.
If I want to bake the traditional Christmas cookie of my family (the surprise bar) but serve them as cakes and ale instead of sending them to relatives far and wide, I can do that, too. I can choose to enjoy the pleasures of this season without succumbing to the stress and guilt and monetary implosion it entails for so many people.
There might be some hurt feelings, some gossip, some disappointed expectations of some other people if I go this route. Some people, even if I try to explain myself, might not understand why I’m not whipping myself up like the cream on coco over Christmas.
To which I say, hey, person buying into the commercial nuclear reactor that is the American celebration of Christmas, don’t you have enough to worry about?
Take me off your gift/card/cookie/ fruitcake/ornament/letter/caroling list and get on with your life!
Oh, I make it sound so easy, and it’s not. It’s really, really hard to disappoint or just downright piss off people that you care about, or even interact with on a regular basis.
Well, it is for me.
I’m sure I will make a big long list of things I want to do to observe and share the three holidays I celebrate this season, and I’m sure I won’t complete it, and I’m sure I’ll feel a little lame come December 26.
I think the most important thing to remember is that a little goes a long way, no matter what the situation.
Remember that, if you find yourself all caught up in someone else’s holiday madness, a little walk in the cold, a little minute with a candle at your altar, a little catnap, a little call to your Pagan friends in the same three ships come sailing in you are, will do wonders to ground you back to OUR reason for the season—appreciating that times of rest and recovery, of darkness and stillness and even sadness, are a necessary part of leading a full and productive life.
And when the moment of the return of the light comes, we can focus on all that we have to look forward to, not just next Yule, not just at Imbolc and Ostara and Beltane and…but tomorrow, and yes, even today.
Copyright: Copyright to Marijean Rue, 2007. Please request permission to reprint.
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