THE PAGAN HOLIDAY
Anything can be taken as an offensive jibe, depending on one’s state of mind. I wondered why the so-called season of cheer and peace is so fraught with angst and the indignant expressions of righteousness for so many people. Is it that they feel inadequate because they lack the financial means to celebrate? It is because the criticize others for not doing the traditions the “right way”, thereby leaving one’s own customs as well open for comparison?
I am sure there are many reasons for unhappiness, even as we shop ourselves to death, possibly for some literally who “shop till you drop” ending up ill, or depressed in the December month. To tell you the truth about how I feel: forever getting more resentful about this basically religious holiday becoming a tyrant and leaving no space for others, who do not want to celebrate it.
The thing I want to keep in mind is that the instigation for any holidays in December in the northern hemisphere is the biological need to start something bright and light in this time of the year. When the days are shortest in the annual cycle, the weather contributes to people feeling sad and cold. This has been going on along as people have inhabited the earth.
I am no historian and the exact time we have experienced and survived through a winter escapes me, especially what that means. The earth began well over 4 billion years ago, scientists have estimated according to the BBC’s website History of Earth. People only evolved a mere 200.000 years ago from a single cell organism over time into our ancestors, the great apes, and from them to human form as Homo Sapiens. Then to know that we humans existed for only a fraction of the time that the earth has existed, is mind boggling. We would do wise to see the big picture and place ourselves a notch down in the hierarchy of the universe.
Now so far our history is clear, where science and evolution are concerned. For some reason we humans have developed powers to think. Funny thing is that Humans always have used this to make fairy tales and create constructions of a higher power, religion, so to speak, developing an irrational side, while we made great strides in science.
We struggled to survive as people, and needed to find meaning in suffering. Here is where Homo sapiens has created religion: as a means to feel safer and find meaning in suffering, and to explain unusual events and planetary processes that cannot be explained with the current information we had at the time.
The darkness and the shortening daylight of December days were a scary event for humans and our biology reacted, and still does. The hormonal housekeeping reacts and we suffer in various forms under low light conditions. For example, darker skinned peoples have protection from burning in the sun in tropical regions, but when living in the north they need extra vitamins, as the sun doesn’t trigger production of vitamins when skin is not exposed to the sun. Pale-skinned people also need sunshine and get depressed, but get a few rays extra that are not filtered out so much by their white skin. Nowadays we try to evade those feelings of SAD-ness (Seasonal Affective Disorder) by spending time down south on a vacation in warmer and brighter nations, where our hormonal clock gets a reset.
However, the people that live in those warmer (sub) tropical climes also experience a relative decrease in light, as the sun moves away from the equator towards the southern hemisphere. The nights become longer and darkness sets in earlier for them too. Those who live in Australia in the southern hemisphere, have the opposite happening, where they have their summer now. Unfortunately, it’s is hardly doable for Joe Blow or Joanna Blow to move every six months to countries with the unabated sun, although lots of rich people and snow birds just do exactly that and go where the light is longest in a day.
So, make no mistake: at our core, we are all pagans, as we seek light and distractions from the darkness and cold. We incorporated religious myths and stories in our lives and these are as diverse as peoples are. From the Aztec and Celtic feast of chasing away the bad spirits by creating big fires and ceremonies, much ritual dancing and inebriation, to easier reach the good spirits — all is meant to feel better.
The feast of Saint Nicholas in the Netherlands, the day of the Virgin de Guadalupe, in Mexico, the processions with lights and singing, gift giving, as well as the midnight Christmas Eve mass that is celebrated all over the world, all parties of some kind. The Yule celebration, feast of light, and the winter solstice celebrated by Zoroastrians and Scandinavians, Wicca: same thing, it’s all about the party!
The need for comfort and closeness, and spiritual practice, is an attempt to try to control what is uncontrollable, and led to the myths of Christmas, Chanukah, feast of Eid, and Bodhi Day, and of other religions, such as modern Africa’s Kwanzaa believers, what have you.
And yes, you Christians, no need to become so defensive in refusing to wish others Happy Holidays as a way to be more inclusive in Canada, where other religions also thrive, but have not made it yet to official statutory vacation day. Don’t be so afraid; there’s no direct danger on the horizon that your religion will be wiped out any time soon, as the richest countries in the world adhere to that religion. North America is one solid, religiously Christian block.
No reason to be fearful of Muslims taking over the Christmas “shopping” holiday, as that religion is overwhelmingly adhered to in developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that do not have the shopping power of North American and European industrialized nations. Their winter events changes its day each year with their calendar that is different from the Georgian calendar, and is not adhered to by all branches of the religion. The major Muslim celebration is Ramadan that was in June in 2014, which is a time of fasting all day for 30 days. Families get together after sundown to finally eat that day. This practice is meant to get closer to spiritual values, and to remind the believer of the fate of poor people who do not eat each day. Eid al Fitr is the celebration to end the Ramadan and is the most significant event in the Muslim religion all over the world, but does not take place in winter. The Muslim religion is the second largest (and still growing) religious belief system in the world, with 1.2 billion believers. In 2015, December 28 will be the Sunni day for Mawlid-an-Nabi and Dec 28 for the Shia Muslims. Some also celebrate other significant days in their religious calendar in December. Their holiday of light is still largely a religious family holiday, just like Christmas used to be, when I was growing up.
Chanukah is the only real competition for Christmas from Dec.16 to Dec 24, 2014 and its feast of light means eating and gift giving, to remind the Jewish people, when they were one of the native peoples in the Palestinian region, how they won in a battle 162 BCE against the Syrians, back in the days before it became a British protectorate. They believe that a spiritual miracle happened when a tiny bit of consecrated oil sustained an oil lamp in the Temple throughout the battle. In general, the survival of the Jewish diaspora is celebrated as well on that day.
The Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist Eastern religions of course have their celebrations as well. The Bodhi day is the most significant one for the Buddhists, celebrating the origin of the religion, that the Buddha (Lord Siddhartha) reached enlightenment when – a mere mortal and son of the reigning king – he was sitting under a tree, trying to find the meaning of his life, as he meditated himself into enlightenment.
From the Huffington post: Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar and there are multiple reasons why Hindus celebrate this festival. The most popular narrative, based in the ancient Sanskrit epic the Ramayana, is of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana returning to their kingdom Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. On that dark new moon night, the residents of Ayodhya joyfully lit oil lamps to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana back to the kingdom. It is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. This was celebrated this year on October 23.
My message for December is: enjoy in enlightenment of the pagan rituals of the ages.