Take Two #11: Holidays for All
Approaching holiday columns – or really holiday themed anything – is always a challenge for me. Everything that can/has/should be said is already out there. No alien is going to beam some brand new, never-before-seen-on-earth thought into my head. Tack onto that my safety net of cynicism being just a tad inappropriate for this time of year and I'm left up the creek without a paddle. So I wondered, everything else aside, if there was one thing about the holidays that I could say to everyone, what would it be? And after several ineffectual drafts, I finally realized that I want to tell everyone to relax.
Holidays have a tendency to rush upon us like unwanted deadlines. We know they're coming, have all the time in the world to prepare and yet are somehow still caught like a herd of deer in the beaming headlights of a semi-truck fleet hemorrhaging holiday cheer. Now that's a visual for you. This anxiety tends to paint the holidays, especially one so labor intensive as Christmas, in a dreaded light. Religious die-hards react by hating on the commercialization; bitter cynics refuse to engage in the near legally enforced 'false' cheer; and celebrators of Hanukah and Kwanzaa continually try and remind everyone they exist.
I think this tension is, honestly, kind of silly. First off, the holiday season – and holidays in general – are about celebration and community. Period. If we weren't celebrating one thing, it would be something else. I have a friend who celebrates the birth of Aslan (the talking lion from the Narnia series) instead of Christmas. And while that might sit awkwardly with me as a Christian, who am I to knock it. It's his choice. It's not like I have a claim on the legitimacy of this holiday anyway.
The date of December 25th has nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with the ancient Roman pagan holiday Saturnalia. This was a week long party (Dec 17-25) celebrated with all kinds of...indulgent...activities. It was adopted by Christians and assigned the significance of Christ's birth in an attempt to assimilate the pagans. In compromise the pope allowed several traditions to continue, including the running and flogging of naked subservients through the streets (now commonly known as parades) and the giving of gifts, though they were more tributes at the time.
The Christmas tree was later adopted from Asheira tree worshippers. Mistletoe began as a deadly poison that determined the victor of a romantic triangle in Norse mythology and was also used by Druids on their ritual human sacrifices. That history combined with the orgy traditions of Saturnalia to get what we have now. As for Santa Claus, the 3-4th century Turkish Saint Nicholas, having only been named a saint after about 15 centuries of worship in German and Celtic cults, was given his iconic red suit and cheery face by a 1931 Coca Cola advertisement. You think it's a coincidence the colors match so well?
So you see what I mean? It's said the right person can throw a party for anything, but it seems pretty applicable to the entire human race. Holidays, whether they be birthdays or Christmas or St. Patrick's Day, are about the act of celebrating. Together. They cultivate an atmosphere of community and festivities. We keep getting caught up in the specifics and forgetting what holidays are really about. The point is the spirit of celebration.
If you couldn't tell, I'm a sucker for the season. I love the tree and the lights and the cheesy music and the odd sight of several semi-drunk after hours mall Santas running for the bus – actually saw this in Colorado. It was awesomely cinematic. It all gives me the warm fuzzies and, yes, puts a smile on my face. I want to share that. I want people to look passed the details and really feel that this is a time of charity, peace, joy, community, family and all of those positive nouns.
I'm sure the scrooges will still have their arguments, and I probably offended someone reading this somewhere, but I really just want people to enjoy themselves this season. Yes, please, remember what it's all about, but that's people and love. And that's something we can all unite under.