Saturday, December 26, 2009

What You Know about Christmas Might Be Wrong

The idea that Christmas celebrations are largely lifted from earlier Paganisms is pretty well embedded in the culture, even among people who don't have a dog in that fight.

So let Biblical Archaeology Review stir things up a little with the idea that the Dec. 25 (or Jan. 6 for the Orthodox) date was not necessarily chosen to ride piggyback on Sol Invictus or Mithras but is based on Jewish tradition instead, one carried on by early Christians:

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

Read the whole thing.

Finally, Hank Stuever is the author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present. You can read an excerpt here in the Washington Post "Style" section.

I know that I am in the same country as those "gated-community supermoms who [have]  volleyball schedules, tutor times and carpool arrangements abuzz in the BlackBerry that is [their] brain," because I have sat in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and watched them clatter by.

This fact struck me though: Amid all the crafts-making and bazaar-holding and home-decorating, they don't know how to sew?

"It's the sparkle, spirit, and style of American Girls, yesterday and today!" intones a recorded narration as the lights go down. A Junior League member and a teenage beauty pageant winner emcee. While each young model, carrying a doll, takes her little turn on the catwalk, we learn her American Girl back story. Here's Josefina, who lived on a ranch in northern New Mexico in the 1820s. She had to sew her own clothes.

"Who here knows how to sew their own clothes?" the emcee asks. "Raise your hands."

In a room of several hundred families, nobody raises a hand.

"Moms? Anyone here ever sew? Anyone have a sewing machine?"

No hands.

"Well then, you can just imagine how hard life was."

Weird, eh? Even I have an old sewing machine for repair jobs. It makes life easier, just as my chainsaw and power screwdriver do.

UPDATE: If you have read this far and are not still muttering about Druids, take Stuever's Christmas-shopping survey.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

DUTS: Everyone Is Doing It

A blog of a nearby nature center just reported on how they drummed down (!) the Sun this year.

Nothing Pagan there, no, sir. (No snickering, please.) Their timing was a little strange, but their hearts were in the right place.

Here is last year's Denver-area drumming (YouTube video.)

As mentioned, the dogs and I did our own.



Return of the Sun, miraculous menorahs (officially over, yes), Baby Jesus—it's all good.

Did you make your reservation at Kentucky Fried Chicken yet?

And Io, Saturnalia!

(graphic lifted from another Pagan blogger)


Monday, December 21, 2009

'Great Nights Returning'

Up the Hill to Yule

One advantage to living in the hills is that by taking different routes, you can pick the moment of observed solstice sunrise. I could sleep in until nine o'clock and still "drum up the sun" if I took the trail we call "the loop."

But the dogs want, need, and demand their morning run, so we go "up the hill" on the Forest Service road, into a sunrise that is already happening.

At the top I take a little side trail to a suitable boulder, unzip the case, and take out the frame drum. It booms out over the valley, past the black trunks of ponderosa pines killed four years ago in the Mason Gulch fire, past resurgent Gambel oak, past living pines that the fire missed.

In the south, that is where the fire started when lightning struck. In the west, that is Holt Mountain guarding its maze of overgrown skid roads. In the north, a steep brushy slope surmounted by rimrock. In the east, a glare of light.

Uh-oh, what does Fisher have in his mouth? It's the spare drumstick, and he is settling down to chew it. No! Come here! No serious damage, just dog slobber.

So much for drumming. The calendrical ritual is done. It is perhaps that calendar that unites us Pagans more than theology--to be doing something at these times.

Happy solstice to all!


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Pagan Thoughts at the Parade of Lights

Last fall I looked for Pagan virtues in a small-town "Pioneer Day" parade.

Similar thoughts ran through my mind last night watching an even smaller town's "Parade of Lights."

The procession was about one block long: two pieces of fire apparatus, the local mountain search-and-rescue group (yellow jackets, hard hats, head lamps), another flatbed truck or two, various kids and dogs.

On the sidewalk, Father Christmas greeted spectators and drinkers.

Even though the American Thanksgiving holiday was established during the Great Depression to signal the start of the holiday shopping season, many towns now re-celebrate that spending spree with a "Parade of Lights," a secular solsticial event.

Most seem to be sponsored by downtown merchants' associations. (You can't have a traditional parade at a shopping mall.) Stores stay open late hoping to sell things to the spectators.

Some years ago, a Pagan group had a float in Colorado Springs' Parade of Lights, a first in that city, often jokingly called "Fort God" for its combination of military bases and big-name Protestant "ministries," like Focus on the Family.

Maybe the frankly secular and capitalist nature of the event was a plus. Pay your entry fee, get a place in the parade.

Other parades, such as those on St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day, have their definite sense of "ownership." Sponsoring organizations are pickier about who they permit to march.

I wrote "frankly secular," but we Pagans see a brave display of light against the incoming darkness--not to mention the cold wind sweeping down from the mountains ahead of today's snowstorm.

We are used to the dichotomy of light and dark, of order and chaos, Apollo and Dionysus--or their equivalents. Perhaps commerce and gift-giving are another pair.

These pairs will contend with each other forever.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Father Christmas Works the Bar Crowd

Father Christmas makes his way through the bar after a small-town Parade of Lights (of which more later). No, that was Santa on the fire engine. Different demigod.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yule and its Songs

The Northern Hemisphere winter solstice occurs at 12:04 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time on December 21. That's 5:04 a.m. here in Colorado, perfect for the people drumming up the Sun at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. (I won't be there--too far away.)

Remember to visit for all your calendrical ritual-timing needs.

You can vote on your favorite Pagan Yule song(s) here.

A YouTube video of this year's drumming up of the Sun at Red Rocks.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yes, Hypatia, There is a Santa Claus

This fellow -- Santa Claus, Father Christmas -- has joined the lineup of graven images on our polytheistic/animistic mantel. That's Hermes' foot at the far left, followed by an ossuary jar of sharp-shinned hawk bones, and Hekate on the right.

We all know that Santa's name derives from the Dutch form of St. Nicholas, but what need have we Pagans of a saint whose titles include "Defender of Orthodoxy" (versus the Arian Christians) and whose biographers proudly proclaim that he destroyed Pagan temples. So forget that part.

The connection with Odin is fascinating but fragile. Others go off on different tangents.

As the scripture states, "He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus."

On the other hand, I really have no problem with calling this time of year "Christmas" in casual conversation. When I was in my twenties, I rigorously drew a line and would only say "Yule." Now I am more casual.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

"The Growing Darkness"

Cat Chapin-Bishop's blog post on "The Dark" justifies my desire to nap on a dark snowy afternoon.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Galimaufry with "Season's Greetings"

¶ The Bad Witch mulls the issue of Pagan Yuletide songs and greeting cards. But, please, no e-cards. Nothing says "I couldn't be bothered" like an e-card.

¶ I am reading Keith Hartman's The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse. It's not as noir as it thinks it is, but it's a fun read if you like cozy gay Wiccan Baptist futuristic Southern mysteries.

¶ Don't laugh, kids--this will be you some day. Rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s in their parents' homes.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Solo Mountain Solstice

"Sunrise" in the mountains is a malleable moment. You rise and dress for the -5 F (-20 C). weather, taking a hiking staff and the drum case.

You walk the trail up the east ridge, then shoulder through a grove of Gambel oak until you can see the Sun's glow.

Start drumming softly. A Steller's jay is the only other voice. Faithful Dog snuffles and crunches in the snow. Less Faithful Dog has already gone her own way, following fox tracks through the forest.

Amazingly, not one car is moving on the state highway down in the valley.

The Sun is on your face now. After a time, having thought on what you need for the new solar cycle, you follow your tracks back down. Less Faithful Dog is on the front porch, all wiggly and cheerful.

The temperature has climbed to 0 F.

Best wishes to my readers for a happy and productive solar year.


Monday, December 11, 2006

A sign of the season

How do you know that Yule is coming? Is it the Christmas music in stores? Is it the Sun setting at 4 p.m., which means I have to stop my project of staining the exterior walls of the new cabin addition?

Or is realizing that you are standing beside a photocopier running off 25 copies of the final exam, which means the semester is almost over--hurray?