Today I bought my first Christmas tree…yes I really just wrote that. For those who know me well, that’s probably one of the most baffling statements I have ever made. For me this time of year has always brought tension and a feeling of great misunderstanding.
My spirituality is aligned to the Earth Mother and as such I celebrate her seasons and the old festivals with great joy. Across my whole adult life I have never felt the desire to join in with celebrations of Christianity… or do Ramadan or Hanukkah for that matter…or any other festival or religion that has nothing to do with me. I have celebrated the Summer Solstice every year, and filled my home with the festivities, warmth and love that brings.
Each year I explain (yet again) that I have no problems with people celebrating their Christmas and encourage them to honour their traditions. But I take offence at being asked to support and celebrate a tradition that for thousands of years has actively tried to destroy my own. I take a deep breath each time I see the rolling of the eyes and patronising voices saying …“It’s not about religion - that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s about family, Jodie”. So, as a pagan, I am supposed to just sit around listening to songs about Jesus, with symbols of Jesus on the apparent day of the birth of Jesus and just suck it all up? Despite how uncomfortable it makes me feel, and how much it reminds me about what we have lost as humans due to this religion. That we have moved away from the Earth as Mother, as sacred. This religion has devastated countless Indigenous and earth-based cultures on this planet - in exchange for the ‘one god’ somewhere up in the sky - where the ‘true sacred’ has been now situated for so many people. I have never bought the line that it is only about family and values. Integrity, ethics, values, and family are human traits. They don’t belong to any religion or festival. They belong to us all.
But now I have my daughter, almost two, and she is not me. She is her own person, with her own thoughts and ideas now forming about the world. I have been watching her eyes light up with the new sparkling trees she is seeing in the shopping centres and I am reminded of a friend of mine from Canada many years ago when I was in my early 20’s. Reminded of her heart breaking for her then-2-year-old boy, who loved his Solstice time, his presents, the music, the parties and the excitement of waiting up to catch a glimpse of the Solstice Faerie. But her family was hounding her, “How could you do this to him? Poor child not getting Christmas! You horrible mother!”
I remember one night she sat up with me crying…“He gets everything and what more could any other child get? Would they ask a Jewish person to take part in a celebration that was on Hitler’s birthday? ‘Oh it has nothing to do with Hitler anymore – it’s just about family’ Just lots of Hitler symbols and songs about Hitler. Really - would they ask this of any other tradition but ours?“ I remember feeling angry and upset that she had been placed in this position – having to undermine her own beliefs so that her child would ‘fit in’ to the main stream. While this was an extreme example she gave, it was fair, festivals are far from neutral. They are imbedded with deep social, cultural and religious ideologies. I remember discussing this very issue one year at Roma park lands with the Buddhist and Muslim woman from my workplace. The three of us had quietly stepped out while the rest of the staff happily celebrated their Christmas party. It has never occurred to them to just make it an end of year party, or indeed reflect upon how isolating these cultural and religious symbols can be for people who have different beliefs. But that’s what mainstream privilege brings…your festivals are viewed as normal, other people are the ones causing the problem. My friend in Canada decided to stick to her traditions and honour the Earth path. Then he started daycare….
It didn’t matter to these children that he received everything that they received and more. The following year he was teased mercilessly as the child who doesn’t get Christmas. He then came home in tears, “Why doesn’t Santa love me? Haven’t I been good enough?” Her heart then broke in a whole new way.
The following year she had a HUGE solstice. The Solstice Faerie came and filled the garden with presents and the lounge with glitter. Family and friends visited. But she also decorated her first evergreen tree with lights and symbols of both the Solstice and Christmas. A few days after the Solstice Faerie came, Santa visited too that year. Not a lot of presents (as Santa knew he already had a lot of things from the Solstice Faerie of course!). When at daycare, as always, he was asked about his Christmas. He proudly said ”I had a great Christmas, and the Solstice Faerie came to my house too! What about you?“ Suddenly - instead of being teased – all the children wanted to know more about this interesting Solstice Faerie that brings presents…two days earlier than Christmas!
I remember thinking then, years away from having my child that my own beliefs and politics need to have flexibility when it comes to bringing up a child in a mainstream world. That I would learn from this moment, and while I respect the choices many people make in this area, for me I decided that my world would have to open more when my child/children came along.
So tonight I will get out the lights, and the new decorations of the Suns and the Santa’s. The Solstice decorations will go up as usual around the house and garden, filling my home with light. But now there is also a tree. Perhaps in years to come I can re-story this tradition. This tree may become a way for me to honour the winter solstice happening in the land of my ancestors, when our country is in the peak of Summer. The old Celtic winter solstice symbols of red and green, mistletoe and holly and lights that always honured the Earth Mothers labour in the longest night of the year, and the birth of her son at the break of winter solstice dawn in mid-December each year. So within one tree we will have the celebration of the sun and warmth happening here in this land and the remembering of our ancestry in the coldest time of the year.
I have not felt the need to celebrate other peoples’ traditions ever since I left home. But as bizarre as it is…here I am…now planning my first Christmas since I was a child. In my heart this is still the warm time of Summer Solstice, Alban Heruin, of feasts, of friends, of dancing, of sun flowers, cicadas, geckos, wild storms and dancing. When the strong Sun shines brightly…and for just a moment…stands still. But my daughter has her own story to write, so somewhere in these warm and wild celebrations I shift and allow room for other stories to be nurtured alongside my own, as we all move into the tide of celebrating our lives together within all these sparkles of light that surround us.