Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Meaning of Christmas

I’m an agnostic, one of those folks who just can’t decide what is or is not in the world of spirituality. I don’t really see it as a decision. To me whether or not there is a god or gods or an afterlife or some other all-encompassing spiritual entity is one of the many things I don’t yet understand or know, and will not be understood or known in my lifetime. I’m fine with that. I was raised Christian, and do believe in the Golden Rule and the example of love and tolerance set forth by Jesus of Nazareth.

Tonight was the “Carols on the Common” in our town, where the local church provides musicians and song books for families to gather on the common and sing both traditional carols and more modern Christmas songs. I thought about how Christmas does not have its roots in Christianity. We don’t know when Jesus was born. The core of the Christian faith is the resurrection, Easter. Christmas was created to appease the pagans in the northern hemisphere. These were people who celebrated the solstice, the darkest day of the year. The pagans were not going to give up this time of celebration, so Pope Julius I declared the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th. Christmas was a piece of political maneuvering.

Until tonight I’ve always looked at Christmas as a manufactured holiday. Over many centuries good hearted Christians have filled the event with meaning, a reminder of the humble birth of Christ and the good he brought to man. They have made Christmas a time to look for the love and kindness within, to live with joy and share that joy freely.

Tonight I realized that the beginnings of Christmas were more than a bit of political maneuvering. The pagans knew that when the world is dark and cold you need to work harder to bring joy into your life and your heart. The strength of the human spirit is remarkable, and sometimes remarkably fragile. The pagans celebrated in the darkest time of the year, the time we most need help to be strong and loving and joyful. Anger, depression and frustration can gain hold in winter. Rather than cloak these darker emotions in self-righteous doctrine, the pagans gathered the strength of all to celebrate life and bring forward joy. Perhaps the beginning of Christmas was an early expression of tolerance by the Christian Church. Perhaps the beginning of Christmas was an early recognition that our spirits can indeed be fragile and to celebrate together is to build strength through community, reinforcing our hearts so that we can go forward into the world with joy enough to give freely to others.

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards all men.