Tomorrow will be my 50th Christmas spinning around the sun on this planet we all share.
If you are reading this in print, I hope you are having a happy holiday. I hope you aren’t alone, if you don’t want to be. I hope you are feeling some joy, particularly if joy has been in short supply of late.
Not everyone, of course, celebrates Christmas on Earth nor does everyone even in Chilliwack. Our city, our province and our country, is increasingly diverse with members of other religions and cultures sharing their holidays, their traditions, their foods and ceremonies.
Still, Christmas has a special place for most of us in Canada, even for some folks who adhere to religions other than Christianity, and as much so for secular people and even atheists. In part, that’s because many of us of who are of European ancestry came from countries where Christianity dominated. But also because historically Christmas, this winter festival, isn’t necessarily about Christ.
Christmas is at once a revered religious holiday and a cultural phenomenon. Close to the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, usually around Dec. 21, the winter solstice was celebrated thousands of years before the birth of the person referred to as Jesus.
It was a time to celebrate with light, with large fires, a time to slaughter animals and eat, dip into fermented beverages brewed months before. There are aspects of the ancient celebration of the solstice that absolutely are mirrored today in the most pious of homes on Christmas.
Of course, no one knows when Jesus was born, there is serious historical debate if Jesus of Nazareth is exactly who the scriptures say he was. But in the fourth century, Dec. 25 was chosen by Pope Julius I as the birthday of Jesus, essentially to choose a time when the pagans were already celebrating. This was essentially marketing, and it worked well.
Dec. 25 has lingered as the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, or for many others, a toast to friends and family. For kids, Santa Claus is anticipated for his giving ways, and we celebrate the end of the dark days and the beginning of light.
There are, of course, many other world religions that celebrate on or near Dec. 25 in various ways similar and differently than Christians. The Jewish festival of Hannukkah was Dec. 10 to 18 this year. The African-American Kwanzaa is a celebration that runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Yalda Night is an Iranian winter solstice festival on Dec. 21.
Christianity and paganism and other religions really aren’t so different after all, at least metaphorically in this pure and simple way. We all want to be good, to be free from sin, to leave the dark corners of our world and look up to the light, and imagine something better.
It seems trite to say it, but at the end of the day we are all so much more alike than we are different. The most violent white supremacist and the humblest Inuit seal hunter share 99.9 per cent of our DNA, the last 0.1 per cent making skin dark or light, hair black or blond.
It’s at this time of year, with a moment to relax, to ponder, to disconnect from social media, that it’s important to remember this, and to see if we can move forward together rather than apart.
Christmas isn’t one day, it’s an idea. It’s a celebration about us getting together as family, friends, neighbours, whether in person or virtually, whether this week or later and just sharing.
Whether you chop a tree or light candles, set up a crèche or cut paper snowflakes, whatever you do for your tradition this time of year, do it with your cup half full so that this dumpster fire of a year can be extinguished and we can rise up to something greater in 2021.
Merry Christmas, Chilliwack. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, cheers to you and yours.
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