It’s that time of year again.
Every time I see a car bumper sticker about Jesus being the reason for the season, I want to invoke the presence of Huey from Boondocks, who says exactly what goes through my mind, with the exact attitude with which I want to say it:
Unfortunately, Huey also gets the exact reaction that I am pretty sure I would get from most of my friends and family, and getting that reaction would hurt me a lot. I’m sensitive like that. So when the topic of Christmas comes up, I very rarely speak my mind. Instead, I focus on the psychological value of the holiday.
I have spent every winter of my life in the Midwest of the United States of America, specifically in either the states of Illinois or Iowa (with occasional brief excursions into Wisconsin). The winters around here are vicious. It’s good to have a reason not to focus on the long dark nights and drab, dreary days. I look out my window right now, and it’s not a white Christmas – the sky is flat grey and the ground is flat brown and the trees are stark naked and the houses all look like they would rather be somewhere else. Most Decembers, it looks like this, most of the time. The magic of snow shows up later, in January, in February – and now that I’m old enough to be driving a car around, snow is just as much a cause for teeth-gritting anxiety as it is for frolicking. It’s good to have something else to think about, something beautiful, like the generosity of my fellow humans, or the knowledge that the Solstice is the nadir of the light and even while the winter is dragging its heels into March, the light is getting stronger.
Yes, I celebrate the Solstice. I have a very good friend who practices Asatru, a particular form of Norse/Germanic Neopaganism. He probably wouldn’t want me to use that anthropological term for it, but this is my blog, not his, and if our friendship weren’t built on openly acknowledging our differences and respecting them, it would quickly crumble, so here I call it what I call it in my head: Neopaganism. Let’s briefly review what Neopaganism has to say about Yule, the winter Solstice celebration…
Basically, the story of the God’s incarnation begins at the year’s first Quarter, the Winter’s Solstice, when, after the year’s longest night, the darkness begins to give way to the returning light. The Light is reborn as the Sun — the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. The Yule celebration honors the annual Birth of the Holy Child as a time of joyful innocence, possibility and hope.
(For more information about the Neopagan holiday cycle, check out the entry I wrote about my poem “Blossoms for Corpses.”)
The morning after the Solstice this year, my Asatru friend and I quietly exchanged our gifts, acknowledging both the value of our chosen spiritual paths, and that psychological value behind the Christmas traditions celebrated by our families.
My chosen spiritual path is Buddhism. There is no quintessential winter holiday to celebrate on this path. My private suspicion is this has much to do with the religion’s origin in India, where winter looks very different than what I have always known.
Of course the reasoning behind this different holiday emphasis is not solely climate based. After all, Buddhism has roots in Hinduism, also native to India, and Hinduism has Diwali, slightly earlier in the year than the Neopagan Yule but containing similar themes – light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair. I think the reason that Buddhism leaves Diwali behind can be found in the Buddha’s challenge to Hindu priests to sacrifice their desires, rather than making material offerings to the gods.
Yes, my chosen spiritual path is Buddhism, yet I still celebrate the Solstice to give myself that psychological boost of faith in good’s ability to triumph over evil, and I still attend Christmas gatherings and share Christmas gifts with my Protestant Christian family, and with my husband’s Catholic Christian family. My husband and I love our families very much and would not wish to hurt them by refusing to participate in their celebration of love. I suspect it may be easier for me, the Buddhist, to participate in these celebrations than it is for my husband, the existentialist.
If Joel had more control over the way his life was structured, I have come to the conclusion that every day would look pretty much the same for him. He would spend his time pretty much the same way every day. He would eat pretty much the same food every day. He would see pretty much the same people, for pretty much the same amount of time, and do pretty much the same things with them when he saw them. To use a term from the Old World of Darkness, Joel has a Pattern Essence. In this respect, he and I are very different. I have more of a Questing Essence. Drawing upon a different game, Joel is more like a Ranger, exhibiting the virtue of Spirituality, and I am more like a Bard, exhibiting the virtue of Compassion. A Ranger in Ultima IV has uniform stat values across all characteristics – it is slightly better than average at everything the character is expected to do. A Bard in Ultima IV has variegated stat values across those characteristics – some things it is quite good at, others it is below average. If you total the points that a Ranger has to work with, and total the points that a Bard has to work with, the numbers you arrive at are the same. The points are just distributed differently. In other words, there is a Relative difference between the characters, but in an Absolute sense, they are the same. That’s how Joel and I work. It’s a dynamic that plays out every day in our relationship, and at this point, it plays out pretty predictably most of the time.
Joel’s Pattern Essence, his desire for every day to look pretty much the same, makes holidays difficult for him. They throw him out of his routine. They’re inherently stressful for both of us, but they’re more stressful for him than they are for me, because I use different holidays at different times of the year to provide balance – to even out my variegated stats, and Joel doesn’t need to do that because his routine is already quite balanced. The different holidays that I celebrate perform a mood-balancing function similar to nicotine for a smoker. They bring me up when I am down, and down when I am up.
(Or at least, that’s how they are supposed to work.)
So when I say “It’s that time of year again,” I don’t mean the same thing as a lot of my family and friends. When they say it, they’re thinking of celebrating love and light, or possibly of some reaction to consumerism (either gleefully engaging in it, or trying to bulwark against it). When I say it, I’m usually thinking of the delicate dance I must perform to interface between my own beliefs about reality and the beliefs of other people I know.
I hope you have enjoyed this sojourn into my world, reader. Thank you for reading this blog entry, and I wish you peace and love in this, as in all seasons. Namaste.