Christmas is in the air. The houses are decked out with twinkle lights and the stores are packed with shoppers scrambling for last minute Christmas gifts. There are ornaments on the trees and wreathes on the doors. We talk of Santa and reindeer and sleigh rides and serve up eggnog and fruitcake to our guests while we enjoy Christmas music on the radio. But what are we doing? More to the point; why are we doing it?
There are those who celebrate Christmas purely as a secular holiday, a time to get together with friends and family and exchange gifts and go to parties, and then there are those who celebrate the sister holiday of Hanukkah, which is the Jewish celebration of lights in honor of the re-dedication of the second temple in the 2nd century B.C.E. and still others that celebrate it as the time when Jesus Christ was born; when Mary and Joseph went to answer the call of Caesar to be counted and Mary gave birth to her son in a stable because there was no room in the Inn.
You have to admit that the Christmas story of Jesus being born in the stable and worshiped by Sheppard’s and wise men is a wonderful story; a bit inaccurate as to timing and details mind you (temperatures in the Middle East can be extremely cold during the winter and shepherds kept their flocks tucked well away in sheep pens or folds during the nights of the coldest time of the year, not to mention the fact that there is historical evidence that Jesus was actually born in September, not December) but still wonderful for all of that; a story full of hope and inspiration as is the old Pagan celebration of Yule, the twelve day celebration (from whence we get our “12 Days of Christmas” stories) whose focal point is Solstice Night, the longest night of the year; the night when the sun (in the form of the Oak or Sun King – the Giver of Life) is “reborn” and grows day by day to fulfill the promise of life-giving warmth.
When Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire it only made logical sense to adapt local holidays and give them a Christian twist so that more individuals would be brought into the fold. Hence the rebirth of the Oak King became the birth of Jesus, the evergreen branches used by the Celts to represent the eternal aspect of the Divine in each of us became the Christmas trees and wreathes that we bring into our homes every December and the Mistletoe which in Christian lore represents the love the conquers death was to the Druids the seed of the Divine and a necessary part of the ritual to re-birth the sun and the candles of Hanukkah work their way into the festivals of light celebrated in Christian Churches.
Everywhere you see the symbolism; the connections between the old traditions and the new. But one thing that the Pagan and Christian and Judaic traditions have in common is the fact that all of the mid-December traditions celebrate a time of rebirth and renewal and a time to celebrate the year gone by and prepare for the year to come, and what better way to do this than to rid yourself of all of the negativity that has accumulated in your life over the last year?
Take a look at your life; at those physical objects that you have incorporated into your world for whatever reason. Look closely at those ideas, beliefs, traditions and relationships that have become a part of you and ask yourself whether or not they reflect the highest representation of who and what you truly are; if they serve to help you live a soul-full and authentic life. If not, use this next week; this Yule week between the Solstice and New Year’s to purge your life of everything that could possibly be holding you back.
So regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or Yule or Hanukkah, or simply view this as a nice holiday and a chance to take some time off of work; why not take advantage of the season? Go ahead, claim the promise of rebirth and renewal in your own life; in your own heart; and as the days begin once more to lengthen, celebrate the year to come and everything that it has to offer.