“I’m not Christian, I don’t celebrate Christmas”, “I’m pagan, why should I be forced to celebrate Christmas”, “It’s too hard to tell your extended family that you do not observe their bastardized holiday.”
I received several messages like these over the past few days. For those of us who do not celebrate the Christian Holiday, no matter what time of the year it is, there’s another way to look at spending time with your family members who do.
You go to parties that are given for your relatives and their birthdays. Moments to mark another year older, or an event for celebrating a milestone in their life, such as a graduation, a new job, retirement and so on. Why do you observe those days? It’s not your birthday or your achievement. So why do you participate in those events? Isn’t so you can share in the celebration of what’s important to those you care about? So you can be with your family and friends to create happy memories while they are here with you?
Religious holiday’s are really no different. It’s not an “us” against “them” event, unless you make it that way. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, no one controls how you think. When someone is saying a prayer to their view of who “God” is, they can’t stop you from addressing the prayer to the God or Goddess you believe in. And if you don’t believe in any Divine force in the Universe, you can show your acceptance, love and respect by sitting there and holding your family in compassionate thoughts. You don’t have to believe in what they are saying to be respectful and enjoy the good meal or party atmosphere shared by being together. The energy you want to be part of is all within your grasp and what YOU create it to be.
I remember the first time I went with my best friend to Midnight Mass at her Catholic Church. She knew I was Pagan, but she also knew I wanted to attend one of her evening events even if it were for no other reason than my own curiosity. She knew I would be respectful and ask a lot of questions during the service. So when she invited me, I jumped at the chance to go.
During the service I quietly asked a few questions, learned about her practices and why they did things certain ways and what it meant to them. I truly enjoyed the evening, not because I looked for what they stole from my “people”, but because I choose to see the beauty and love within their rituals no matter where they came from. There’s a huge amount of paganism in their rituals and it’s lovely to watch. It was exciting to learn something new and to discover the reasons and purpose behind why they do things a certain way. Learning about something new doesn’t mean you give up what you believe in, it simply means understanding others and removing the ignorance we hold about what they do and why.
Immediately after the service a little old grandma type lady who was sitting in front of us quickly turned around and told me it was nice to see “other Christians coming to their church to see what happens”. She overheard some of the questions I had asked and was pleased my friend was so knowledgeable about her beliefs. I smiled, but before I had a chance to respond, my friend told her I wasn’t Christian, I was Pagan and came to see what “we do here”. Granny looked puzzled and asked, “If you’re not Christian, why are you here?” I patted her on the back and replied “Because she’s my friend and she invited me”.
Granny’s daughter was involved in our conversation by this time and she replied “That’s nice that you can come and learn more about us. Are you thinking of becoming Catholic?” I replied “No. I simply wanted to see your Mass service for myself. It was quite lovely. Even if you don’t believe in the same things, you can respect each other and actually find interest and enjoyment in what someone else cares about. That’s part of friendship and love. Isn’t it?”
Now it was interesting that both Granny and her Daughter seemed surprised by that concept. That even if you don’t believe in the same things you can respect each other. We’ve gotten so used to opposing each other, to being at odds and fighting over religion that it’s the underlying thought to everything we see or do. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Yes we have been persecuted as pagans throughout history, but before you stand too high and mighty remember that Pagans also persecuted Christians, Jews and Muslims when they were in power. You can find some place in the world where a number of religions are still persecuted today, no matter what the faith. Pagans don’t have the corner market on that. And before you say “Well they have done more to us than we have to them”, perhaps you can tell me when this war became a contest of who did the most to who? Doesn’t that belittle those who have come before you and fought to keep what you believe in alive and known?
At some point someone has to be the one who simply says enough is enough and stops the fight. Who rises above the hate, anger and ignorance and takes the first step toward peace and acceptance. You and I are not going to change history and what humankind has done to each other over stupid intolerance and ignorance. We’re not going to change the minds of others today who refuse to be accepting and tolerant of others who are different from who they are. You can’t fix stupid.
You can be true to your beliefs and the underlying principles of your moral code. Rise above the hate and try showing respect for others to believe as they choose regardless of how they treat us. Be an example for your beliefs not a confirmation of their beliefs about people like you. Don’t say you want respect for what you believe and then turn around and not show respect to others for what they believe. Not only will you prove their point about your heathen, pagan or hateful ways, but you will also present yourself as a hypocrite as well.
When you do what they don’t expect you give yourself power to stand tall and proud. But you also create a moment where you can explain what you believe in a way that might actually make a difference. Even if it’s only in your personal circle of family and friends. That small change can expand and impact others. It can grow and make real change in your community, your county, state and maybe even your entire country.
Through out history we all have been influenced by others. We all have assimilated the practices of others into our observances. Even among Pagans, past and present, we have taken from other belief systems and incorporated into our own. Today we admire diversity and compliment the eclectic practices of others. We say there’s nothing wrong with taking what you like from others and leaving the rest.
You don’t have to look at the world through the eyes of the past. If all you see is the ignorance and bigotry from the past, that’s all you will attract and be forced to react to in your life today. Stop looking at celebrations with your family as chores that grate on your nerves. Look with better eyes. It’s a time that is important to them and holds meaning in their life. You don’t have to share their view to show respect and celebrate with them out of love.
And if they don’t respect your views, it doesn’t mean you have to react to them the way they predict you will react. If you want to “win the battle”, do exactly what they don’t expect you to do. Ignore their attempts to bait you into a fight. Smile and give them a hug. Tell them you still care about them, even though they hold no respect or love for you. Then let it go and refuse to allow their negative energy to ruin your day.
Holiday celebrations are like any other moment in your life, they are what you make them to be. Make these moments good ones, filled with laughter, love and joy. Happy Holidays!
© 2013 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.