I love this time of year. I love the Christmas trees and the Christmas music and the Christmas colors. I love the smell of the traditional Southern Italian dish of ink fish – spicy squid in tomato sauce – filling the house on Christmas Eve. I love the anticipation of being with friends and family for the holidays. I love that Santa starts appearing in malls everywhere, with all the joyful “Ho Ho Ho’s” that the jolly old elf can muster. I love saying “Merry Christmas”, and I love that my Jewish friends are as happy to say “Merry Christmas” back, as I am to say “Happy Hanukkah!” I love the spirit of giving that sinks into our consciousness for one month, no matter what the religious tradition.
I do not love the zealous chip-on-the-shoulder activist mentality that certain Christian denominations feel is necessary this time of year, to make sure that the reason for the seasons – yes, Christ Himself – is somehow not forgotten. I’m not sure how it’s possible to just “forget” Jesus while being immersed in a season of giving and love. That whole “selfless” thing was sort of Jesus’ main gig. But somehow, certain Christian churches are very sure that indeed, simply because Macy’s is having a sale – we are all going to be stricken with retail amnesia, and start worshipping at the throne of WalMart
I believe WalMart’s worship time is the first and the fifteenth of every month, not simply in December, according to my friends who receive regular paychecks.
In fact, I have to question the motive of certain Christian denominations, often times the Mega Churches, who stomp so loudly about JESUS, JESUS, JESUS this time of year. They protest against Santa Claus (that occultist hack) and the folly of retail marketing (such a tool of the Devil), all with a feigned piousness that would make Michele Bachmann proud. But in fact, they doth protest too much — theirs is a form of marketing as well, to take advantage of a holiday window in order to spread awareness for their individual church services. “Jesus, the reason for the season – so don’t forget to come on down to our MEGA CHURCH, and bring ten friends and a can of food to qualify for a discount at the Starbucks in the church lobby!” The attention on Baby Jesus is then followed closely by a stark reminder that the sweet baby you’re watching in the manager scene at the front of the mega-congregation is also the same guy dripping with blood, hanging overhead nailed to a cross. That’s where the “He died for your sins” discussion is inserted, the holiday spirit is replaced with guilt, and the collection plate is passed. I’m sorry, but, well… leveraging Baby Jesus’ imminent death, in order to manipulate one holiday to get people turned onto a spiritual path, is worse than Macy’s having a sale.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I used to co-pastor a Christian church, albeit one much smaller than the Mega Churches. I loved singing “O Holy Night” from the front of the church, listening to those notes ring high into the wooden rafters, and I still love a good midnight mass on Christmas Eve. There’s something magic about being up so late at night, and watching the candles burning, and listening to the priest tell the Christmas story while the choir sings. Simply sitting in the quiet of the night, making room for one’s own spirit, gives me space to commune with our parent creator God, with no interruption. It’s a perfect meditation – sights, smells, all lulling me into peace. I, personally, choose to be very aware that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, the ultimate giver. That’s why I go to midnight mass. And I pray for the world, and I pray for my family, and I pray for my own sorry butt. It is in that ether of reflective mediation that I can “see” the Christmas story unfold, late at night – shepherds on the hill, angels descending — and it is in that ether that I appreciate everything I’ve been given that year, and what I will be able to give back in the year to come. I am thankful. And somehow, the overall spirit of thanks and giving that everyone is experiencing then fills up the building, and all within the walls can feel it.
That’s what Christmas magic is all about.
Do I think that Jesus is sitting up in heaven stringing cranberries, staring down at the poinsettias on the altar, muttering to his agent on his blue tooth that thanks to faulty negotiations with Bloomingdale’s, Santa Claus has been given top billing? Um…no. I’m pretty sure Jesus is secure in the meaning of Christmas. In fact, I think Jesus is so secure in the meaning of Christmas that he doesn’t even mind that it isn’t on his birthday, which, historically, was in April.
In fact, Jesus is SO okay with the true meaning of Christmas that He’s not even batting an eyebrow at the fact that in the 1200’s, Constantine, the Christian ruler who took over the Celtic indigenous countries, decided to plop Christmas right smack on top of the Celtic Wiccan holiday of Yule. Because Constantine didn’t have the heart to completely rip away the spiritual culture of the lands he’d conquered, in the spirit of reaching out and keeping the peace, he just added onto an already existing celebration…with one eensy little addition: A fake birthday for the Savior of the World. Nowadays, if you fake a birthday, you’re put on a terrorist “no fly” list. So, if having His zodiac sign changed from Aries (which Jesus clearly WAS) to Capricorn (which Jesus CLEARLY was not) didn’t make Jesus mad enough to abandon the spirit of Christmas altogether – why are the Mega Churches mad at WalMart?
Ironically, I find Constantine’s choice to simply absorb the best of one culture’s communion with creation, and to amend it with an additional version of our communion with creation, to be a perfect representation for what Christmas is truly about. Christmas is about Universal acceptance, about grace, and about mystery — the wise men were astrologers who found the manger by tracking astrological signs and lore. Christmas is about not having all the answers, but receiving anyway. That’s why the presents are wrapped under the tree, to remain surprises.
Christmas is not about militant stomping for Jesus, or anyone else. It’s not about militant anything. Christmas isn’t a political campaign for Christ. It’s not about any one person, though celebrating the birth of Jesus, and what that birth means to the world in the Christian faith, is of course the inspiration for the season. It is a time for grace, and acceptance, and joy, and humble receiving – all things that Jesus really was about. I think Jesus would be pretty embarrassed that during a season where the focus is meant to be on those in need – many are laboring the point of His top billing. Talk about an entourage that’s crossed the line.
The Wiccan contributions of Yule are a huge part of Christmas as well – the smells of the evergreen tree, the crisp December snow falling silently in the night, the Christmas feast with family and friends, and the communion with one another in faithful anticipation of a re-birth.
The hardcore truth is, our version of Christmas simply wouldn’t be what it is without the gloriously convoluted combination of Jesus the Jew and Wicca. And again – I’ve got it on good authority that Jesus isn’t one bit flapped about any of it. I would bet that Jesus sees what I see when He looks at Christmas: A Universal time for EVERYONE to come together, regardless of religious background, tradition, or even a belief in God. I know many people who claim to have no belief in God, but every year, greatly anticipate the Spirit of Christmas, falling headfirst into the love and the giving of the season, reaching out to their fellow man. They don’t have to believe in God to behave in a Christ-like manner. That’s quite a lesson for those who do claim to have faith, yet struggle with the basic tenants of compassion and selflessness. Buddhists refer to acting on “Christ-like” behavior as “honoring your Buddha nature”. No matter what the title, Christmas Spirit is palpable. The true Spirit of Christmas knows no boundaries in race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, religion, geographical location, socio-political issues, or even species, as even the Angels are in on it:
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
Perhaps our Divine Creator, who seeks to do nothing more than connect with us so that we may feel our point of origin and understand that we are not alone and never have been, knew all along that Christmas would be the great time of Peace, because in order to bring peace — it had to be a little piece of everything. Just like Creator Itself.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all – a good night.