Merry Saturnalia

 

Does anyone else remember the song about Snoopy and the Red Baron and their wartime cease-fire on Christmas? No? Just me? Well, it doesn’t surprise me, because it seems that everywhere I look I’m sensing more grousing than goodwill this holiday season.
 

That’s right, I called it a holiday season. No, that has no significance, unless you count the aforementioned bitching. I knew one of you at least would pick up on it and roll your eyes that I didn’t say Christmas. And that’s precisely my point: could we please, just this once, have a holiday season without the religious one-upsmanship that abounds every year starting the day after Thanksgiving? Pretty please with a manger scene and a little plastic baby Jesus on top?
 

You know who you are. You complain that pagans have hijacked your holiday. You grumble when people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, and you send “Keep Christ in Christmas” to everyone on your e-mail list.
 

I get that Christmas itself centers on the birth of the child Christians believe to be the Messiah. I don’t believe it, not even a little bit, but I totally understand and respect where you’re coming from with the whole Christmas thing. That does not mean that I don’t take issue with you being a total jerk about it, though. You don’t, actually, own the entire holiday season, despite what you may think. You may celebrate Christmas, but you know what? This time of the year holds meaning for much of the rest of the world as well, from Chanakuh to the Winter Solstice to people who may not be Christian but love the spirit of the season.
 

Take Clymer Park in Gulfport. Every year I attend and photograph the tree lighting. And, every year, I hear people complaining about Chanukah decorations or that the city calls it a holiday tree. As much as I have no issue – despite deep-seated personal beliefs to the contrary – wishing you “Merry Christmas” or decorating a Christmas tree, I hold no illusions about the blended nature of the holiday. I know, for example, that if the Roman Church hadn’t co-opted a big honkin’ load of pagan holidays, it’s entirely probable we’d all decorate a cactus and put up a replica of a barn for Christmas and be done with it. But it didn’t go down that way, and I, as a proud pantheist and struggling Buddhist, would appreciate it if you would all just shut the hell up about how we choose to smile and exchange warm season’s greetings with one another.
 

I really didn’t want to be the person who brings up the pagans at Christmas. I know it gets tiresome. No one, not even most other people like me, want to hear me go on and on about Saturnalia and pagan festivals. At this point in our evolution from apes to whatever we’re heading for, most Americans call this time of year Christmas, regardless of what we believe. I say “Merry Christmas” not because of any religious belief, but for the same reason I smile and say “great, thanks” on the rare occasion when the cashier at Publix looks up from what she’s doing to ask me how my day’s going: it’s a construct of a polite society.
 

So why belabor the point? Because I no longer care to hear complaints about Gulfport’s holiday display in Clymer Park. So they have a display honoring all the holidays people celebrate this time of year (well, all except Saturnalia, but I hold out hope for next year) and they call it a “holiday tree.” You know why? Because not everyone who pays taxes in this city believes in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, and Gulfport chooses to honor the spirit of the season.
 

I’m pressing the point because if I hear one more person – just one more – grouse about non-Christians “stealing traditions" I’m going to beat them over the head with a yule log. If you really want to go there, please remember that most of our ideas about Christmas (especially the greenery) comes from pagan rituals early Christians appropriated to help usher in acceptance of Christianity. The Wise Men? Yeah, they were Druids and sorcerers. Don’t even get me started on Jesus’ true birth date.
 

As I said, I don’t actually care about any of that. It’s Christmas, plain and simple, and if you see me on the street, wish me a Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Either way, I will wish you one back, gladly. But please, I beg you, stop with the worn out complaint about people not wanting to say Merry Christmas or that it’s a Christian holiday. Because, across the board, Christmas time is not supposed to be a holiday of exclusion.
 

Merry Christmas, y’all. Or Happy Saturnalia. I don’t discriminate.  

 
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