We all hear the complaints today about how the
Christmas season has become too commercial. Suicides skyrocket,
tempers flair, and wallets rapidly deflate. 'Political
correctness' doesn't even allow us to name what is arguably one
of the most important Christian holidays in the world. In a
world full of political and religious unrest, this time even
becomes an excuse for violence and bloodshed.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about
how the birth of Christ came to be celebrated on the 25th of
December. Scholars today are quite certain that he was born
sometime in the early fall, while it was still warm enough for
shepherds to be "abiding in their fields." It seems likeliest
that the celebration was placed at the solstice to put it in
conjunction (competition?) with existing celebrations, such as
the Roman Saturnalia and the Mithrain celebration of Natalis
Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Invincible Sun). At the end of
the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of
Constantinople, put it this way: "On this day also the Birthday
of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that while the
heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies, the Christians
might perform their sacred rites undisturbed."
The only thing that is certain is that
celebration of the solstices and equinoxes predates any of
the organized religions, and was acknowledged in one form or
another by any culture with a view of the sky and the spare time
to watch it. These celestial milestones were used to mark the
seasons, determine planting and harvesting times, and generally
to keep track of the turning of the seasonal wheel. They were
important enough that vast amounts of energy and resources were
devoted by many cultures to create observatories of various
kinds, so they would know when these important occasions
The winter solstice marks the point when
days begin to grow longer, and we can begin to look forward to
summer. In effect, it marks the celestial New Year. Given the
nature of our winters, in most Native Canadian traditions the
turning point towards summer was important indeed. It was a time
to celebrate the year that had passed, and to give thanks for
the gifts of Nature and the Spirits. It was also a time to look
ahead, and ask the Creator and spirits for a good year with
plenty for all. Time was spent around the fires, recounting the
ancient legends and retelling the stories of the past year. It
was a time for family, and for celebration.
Starting in 2006, my wife and I will make a
point of celebrating the solstice in the old ways with our
friends and family. With guidance from the Spirits, we will
revive the ceremonies with which the Ancient Ones would have
spoken to the Creator, and offered their prayers of gratitude
and hope. Rather than becoming caught up in the commercialism,
we will use the occasion to pause and be thankful for all the
things around us.
Will we give gifts? Well, of COURSE we will!
There is nothing we like better than an excuse for a Giveaway!
But the gifts will not be the main focus. Instead, we will calm
our spirits, and spend a few moments just being thankful for all
we have, and sharing some of that with others. We will let the
commercialism pass us by, and keep our gifts simple and from the
So, here is a call for all you 'pagans' and
'heathens' out there: let's stage a peaceful revolt against
commercialism, and reclaim the sacredness of a day whose
importance dates back to antiquity. Opt out of the crush, and
instead letís keep peace and thankfulness in our hearts while we
perform our sacred rites undisturbed.
All my relations...