To Christmas or not to Christmas

A Pagan Perspective

I had an interesting discussion with the Watcher the other day. We face a similar dilemma at this time of the year. When you have children, the issue of instilling religious beliefs becomes something which you need to consider.

My son’s school provides an hour a week of religious education which is of course Christian, and he brings home such lovely items as bookmarks with “god loves you” printed on them. I have, however, saved for posterity the coloured in with crayons nativity scene in which he carefully added a “Ford” logo to baby Jesus’ cradle…

I have a small wooden nativity scene I put out every December, but I was startled when my son asked me at age 5 who Jesus was. Obviously television is so secular these days that he was missing a key cultural component. Google gave me a quick printout of the relevant section from the Bible and we soon cleared that up.

But back to the dilemma – as a practising pagan, do I celebrate Christmas or not? Even if it’s not really my thing, do I have the right to impose my beliefs on my family? Do I participate in the mass orgy of conspicuous consumption, or do I gain a reputation as a scabby old skinflint?

My discussion with the Watcher was about what parts of Christmas to take on board and what to leave behind. For the Watcher, Christmas was never a fun time – mostly related to a rotten sibling who spoiled it for everyone else, and who was never pulled into line by his parents. Added to which, the Watcher’s birthday is close to Christmas and was often forgotten completely.

My experience of Christmas is very different, full of family traditions, including going to church (only at Easter and Christmas), a big meal on Christmas Eve, and all sorts of special foods which we never got any other time of year. We’d usually already had our annual beach holiday, so Mum and Dad were pretty relaxed, and there was a round of social events to look forward to over the summer.

Christmas here is generally pretty quiet. I celebrate Solstice in my own way as a practising solitary witch. I don’t demand my family join in. We have kept the gift-giving tradition, with strict rules about when presents can be opened. I think a little practice on delaying gratification can’t do any harm. Adults can benefit from this too. I’ve kept some of the food traditions as well, but have adapted some of the recipes due to food sensitivities in our family. We don’t go to church, as that would be taking it too far! I try to make sure that gifts are at least practical and useful. This year, I got a shiny red bicycle. The thrill is still there, as is the disappointment that as we are experiencing cyclonic rain at present, I can’t take it for a spin. Towels featured heavily this year as well, because many of ours have developed holes and need to be retired.

A part of Christmas that I heartily dislike though is the frantic rush at work that everything must be finished by Christmas. It’s as though someone would be judging what you had not achieved in a calendar year. This might be an adult hangover from everyone’s school years, where indeed all the curriculum did have to be finished by Christmas.

It took me years to work out why I felt like I had something unfinished, or forgotten in May and November each year. It was the ‘study for exams’ habitual anxiety which continued well after I had finished studying for good.

Christmas is an anxious time for many people, but I believe much of it to be self-imposed. Here’s a pagan reality check:

  1. Christmas cards – why bother? If the only time you talk to these people is then, do you need them in your life?
  2. Relatives – if you have obligations to spend Christmas with relatives, at least take every 2nd year off to spend time just with you and yours.  It’s a serious stress reducer.
  3. Presents – Try asking the recipient what they would like. This radical idea takes most of the stress out of gift giving. Ruthlessly cull the present list. Use gift baskets for work colleagues or employees.
  4. Food – don’t go overboard. Set a budget of eg $100 extra over the usual and buy a few treats, not enough for an army.
  5. Solstice – take time out for a meaningful ritual on the 21st or 22nd and you’ll cope with the madness much better.

Happy Holidays!