Holidays as we know them are largely rooted in pagan tradition.
The conquering Christians were smart enough to ease heathens into this new lifestyle of gild and guilt, so they allowed them to keep many of their traditional celebrations … with a Jesus rebrand. As a result, holidays are weird as hell. And they only get weirder with each passing generation.
In just a few thousand years we’ve gone from the midwinter celebration of Yule, which involved heavy drinking and zombies (seriously), to the midwinter celebration of Christmas, which involves worshiping the modern nanny state in the form of an elf who reports on children’s misdeeds. Flying reindeer, gaudy Christmas trees, and a man who sneaks into your house to deliver gifts to worthy children are all accepted as totally rational ways to kick off Jesus’ birthday party.
Unlike Easter, with all that death mixed in to an otherwise jaunty spring fling, Christmas doesn’t make me anxious. It’s got ghost stories, magic, an overload of sugar and booze, gift giving, and just a dash of Jesus-as-refugee. Somehow it all works.
Nothing about this season makes sense and I absolutely love it.
As usual, this year my family will mix religious tradition with regional tradition. We’ll go to the big cathedral on Christmas Eve to say three Hail Marys and an Our Father. Then we’ll have cashews, stilton, and port wine while we read aloud about magical Christmas trains. We’ll sing along to the Christmas classic St. Stephen’s Day Murders. And then we’ll tuck my niece in to bed with promises of Santa’s imminent arrival. On Christmas day we’ll eat tamales and my sister and I will watch the decidedly not festive 90’s film, White Squall. All across the world people will celebrate various holidays in their own unique and weird ways.
Some will have traditional Christmas Day Chinese food for dinner, or head straight to the movies as soon as the presents have been opened. My Dutch friend will receive sweets from Santa’s controversial helper, Black Pete. Another friend will try to beat her sister at religious board games in order to win gift cards. And yet another friend will exchange books with her mother and then proceed to read in silence for the rest of the day.
It will be a wild mishmash of customs that only make sense to those on the inside. But of course tradition itself is the tie that binds. It doesn’t matter which traditions you follow; whether in total religious reverence or embracing the quirky and gauche. It doesn’t matter if you celebrate the birth of Jesus, or the winter solstice, or if you just really love to Jingle Bell Rock. It merely matters that time is marked. That collectively we stop to acknowledge the changing seasons and the dwindling sunlight, interrupt our regularly scheduled lives to have a party, and light up the cold dark nights with some color and cheer.
So Merry Christmahanakwanzika Yule Festivus to you and yours. Whatever you do, make it weird.
Read more Marsh: coloradodaily.com/columnists.