03 January 2008

Non-Christian Christmas

Parts of this post really resonated with me, so I thought I'd share some of my own experiences. The first two years were the hardest, because I had a handle on what I didn't believe, but not really much else.

It was my senior year of high school, and I'd just started thinking of myself as an atheist. The decorations around me rang hollow. They didn't mean anything to me any more. The years before that, I was all in favor of the more overtly religious ornaments and cards and such. That year, I tried to stick with the more secular ones as much as possible. I still liked the gift-giving (and receiving, but not quite as much), and a lot of the songs still resonated with me. Even the ones that now made no sense to me were agreeably familiar, and I could sing them and enjoy it even while arguing with most of the lyrics.

If I remember correctly, by the next Christmas, I knew I wasn't an atheist, but I wasn't really sure what I was. That made it easier in some ways, harder in others. Easier, because I was happy thinking of it as a Season of Light. I hadn't learned about pagan solstice traditions yet, but symbolizing whatever the Divine might be with light made sense to me. So I was okay with star and solar ornaments, and candles, and anything on that order. Nativities...just made me feel sad. Or disgusted. Depended on the day (and the nativity).

I went through a pagan stage. Here's the thing, though... I never really took it seriously. It was mostly a sort of game to me. Light candles, wave around a magic knife (athamé), visualize a bunch of nonsense, etc, and, uh, try to figure out what the point of it all was. I think if I could have seen a point in it, I might have stuck with it; it was kind of fun. But the only point was on the knife. It did get me taking the first steps towards meditation practices, but I was still at the game stage there as well.

However, the pagan stage gave me a new outlook on Christmas, as the Solstice. There was also some weirdness about the "god" being reborn to the "goddess" (to become her lover in the spring... I think), but that part didn't resonate with me at all. The Solstice did. It was the dark heart of winter, and at the extreme edge of darkness, the only way to go is towards the light. I liked that, and I liked a lot of the more pagan imagery. If you go through my Christmas decorations (bought while still in this stage), you'll find mostly pagan-inspired symbols. Stars. Deer. Geometric symbols. Birds. Snowflakes. I still love them, but for slightly different reasons. Now they symbolize the Season to me, rather than some abstract pagan ideal.

Now? I still love Christmas. Or Yule. Or the Solstice. Or the Winter Holidays. I don't particularly care what name you want to call it. I like the colored lights and the music and the exchange of gifts and the family get-togethers. I love the snow on the ground and the chill in the air. I still avoid the blatantly Christian symbols, simply because they hold no meaning for me. Despite this, I have never missed a Christmas Eve service at my mom's church. Why? Mainly for the music. I may disagree with 90% of the things said there, but there is a good atmosphere there, especially at the candlelight service. An atmosphere of expectation, waiting for the Light to return. I don't care for what Eric's done to it, as he seems to miss the point entirely. But that's beyond the scope of this post.

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