I do not believe in theology behind Christmas. This is not some grand statement; anyone who knows me well already knows this. They also know I find the divine in nature. For this reason, I love Christmas and its pagan roots. Saturnalia, the solstice, all those lovely forgotten celebrations from which we get our beloved Christian traditions – trees, wreaths, and gift-giving – all suit my belief system more accurately.
Pointing all this out this time of year, my friend Leah points out, makes me kind of an ass. I’d love to disagree with her, but, actually, she’s totally right. Honestly, as much as I may like to think of my tree as a celebration of the seasons, telling people I have to head home to decorate the Saturnalia tree does make me into a pretentious, self-righteous ass, almost as much so as the people who insist that Christmas is a Christian tradition.
Why? Because the season is now and always has been about belief. Whether you believe that some lady in a manger just gave birth to the son of God or if you have faith that the days will now grow longer and spring will come, Christmas celebrates those beliefs.
I don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, but that doesn’t mean I lack faith. I believe that the Universe provides things as we need them, not because we ask. I believe I find what most people call “God” out on the water or amidst the trees in a forest, not in a church or temple. I believe that life goes on long after we do, but not in a heaven separate from us. I believe in karma, the divinity of the Universe, and love. I believe organized religion works for some people but not for me, and I don’t believe there’s a hell I can go to for believing that. Hell, like heaven, is a private destination by one’s own design.
I believe that miracles happen. I believe that one happened over 2,000 years ago, give or take a few months. I believe that for whatever reason things happened that no one then or now could explain. I believe, wholly and completely, that for some people, that miracle involved a variation of the same force in the Universe in whom I believe. Sometimes miracles happen for other people but aren’t meant for you.
A far cry from a baby in a manger, I know. No doubt many of you disagree with me, which is absolutely fine. I don’t need to convert you and will have zero patience if you try to convert me. I’ve explained these things to you so you’ll understand what I’m about to say next:
I wish you a Merry Christmas. Not a happy Saturnalia, or Chanukah, or even Kawnzaa. I’m not going to wish you a good solstice or a pleasant harvest (unless, of course, you actually have things to harvest, then by all means, let’s get to it!). This – Christmas – is the holiday we’ve celebrated for the past 140 years, not those beautiful ancient ones or the ones that I wonder if we’ve perhaps oversold in a misguided effort at political correctness.
My family and friends have given me amazing Christmas memories, not solstice traditions: the wonder of Santa Claus’ reindeer eating graham crackers out of our cupboard, the joy of seeing snowy bootprints on our hallway carpet on Christmas morning (Santa’s a bit of a slob, as it turns out), and the anticipation leading up to Christmas morning.
I like the idea of Saturnalia, but I love Christmas and all its traditions: the smell of fish on Christmas Eve, the cookie extravaganza leading up to the big day, the silly songs on the radio, the fact that for a solid four weeks before Christmas every event the Gabber sends me to photograph involves Santa arriving on a boat, fire engine, golf cart, or other non-traditional transport. I love the Grinch, Rudolph, Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree, and Snoopy and the Red Baron. I love going to Leah’s house to decorate a tree the size of a small building; I love the Gabber’s “food festival” that leaves the staff rolling around and moaning for a good three days afterwards. I love heading back to my parents’ home for a few days before Christmas and remembering that I love my mom and dad more than anything, but I should never, ever attempt to live with them again.
I wouldn’t trade these things for anything. I love my memories, my traditions, and, to put it plainly, Christmas. If you find me flawed for thinking that they’re Christmas memories when I know damn well Christmas wasn’t the original winter holiday, then, well, I’m flawed. If you think I’m a hypocrite for celebrating Christmas when I have not a shred of belief in the religion of the holiday, then I’m a hypocrite.
Here’s what I have to say to that:
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.