Piggybacking off my last post, and in an attempt to write about something which isn't based in my disdain for some aspect of religion/politics/media/culture, a slightly more positive post follows.
An associate of mine, indeed probably the most eloquent individual I have had the pleasure of engaging in discussion with, always has interesting things to say. Being an Asatruar, and so fully living and embodying his beliefs, the man is an inspiration. In a recent post of his, he wrote at some length about the "spirit" of Yule (or Christmas), in a way that was the inverse of what passes for writings about the "true meaning of..." While the spiritual aspect is of course necessary (but of course for those who practice a lifeway, spiritual aspects are as necessary as anything else), the "secular" aspects were just as (if not) more meaningful. The feasting, the merry making, the tree lighting and gift giving are all sourced to the idea of clinging together during the darkest day of the year, and shining a little light in the face of such darkness. Truly, the secular aspects of Christmas are sacred rites in the most literal sense.
Being someone who does not celebrate Yule or Christmas as a holy day proper, but one who none the less celebrates the secular traditions as familial ones, this argument has an immense appeal to me. The idea of making offerings to the gods, ancestors and spirits of place, is rooted in the concept of reciprocity. "A gift for a gift" so to speak. Not to reduce the practice of giving offerings to some crass calculation, to curry divine favour with a bribe; such a perspective belies ignorance of what a reciprocal relationship is. No, the act of giving a gift in generosity, in receiving a gift in thankfulness and in ensuring hospitality abounds; all contain an element of the sacred in them.
Commercialism may be rampant, and may have long ago devoured the "true meaning of the season", but there remains a trace of the deeper practice. Many, non-Christians and Christians alike, shun the rampant commercialism, and often attempt to do so by extirpating the gifting element of their celebrations. Ironically though they have the best of intentions, they unknowingly remove a deeply spiritual component, long ago established by our ancestors. Prestige goods can hardly be said to have been shunned. Through such exchanges as were arranged, familiar bonds were made stronger and social order was maintained. Material culture may be paradoxically ephemeral in modern societies where planned obsolescence and mass production are the norm, but the concept of reciprocity still informs many of our most basic relationships. Gifting during milestones such as births, subsequent birthdays, coming of age ceremony's, graduations, marriages, retirement, etc., tend to not be looked at with the same critical eye which is all too often turned towards this particular seasonal festival.
I would posit that the anti-gifting is less rooted in an overall rejection or fatigue with commercialism (as so many claim), as it is in an attempt to ensure the religious component of Christmas is pushed back into prominence in the face of secularization. I certainly have my own biases in this particular perspective, but I believe the trail leads back to those who want "us" to remember the "reason for the season". So give gifts to Jesus, but not to each other.
Fortunately, I'm (and I am sure many reading this) are coming at the issue from a considerably different religious or cultural perspective. Celebrating Christmas as a time for family, feasting (but then what celebration doesn't include a feast, or decent meal, of some kind?) and gifting as a means of creating, reestablishing, and reaffirming the bonds which hold both kin and kith together makes perfect sense to me. Sure, it may not involve the gods in the same sense as the other, more traditional calendar feast days, but their spirit is there. The act of gift giving and receiving extends and imbues, what for me is a secular celebration, with a key element of the sacral relationship I have with my gods, to one shared with my family, regardless of religious affiliation or belief.
Enjoy a cup of Yuletide cheer with family and friends. Light a roaring fire if you can (or sit with the "yule log" channel on and a space heater pointing at your toes). Curl up in a blanket, pour yourself a nice cuppa, tell tales, watch cheesy specials or saccharine films masquerading as morality tales or if all else fails, read a book.
Feast and be merry!
Image Design: Kristen Fox