Stairwell Philosophy – Happy Holidays

The holiday season is fast upon us. For some it means a man in a red suit. For some it means a boy in a manger. For some it means free toys. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. Yet the more I think about it, the more it seems like it means the same thing to everyone, in a way.

Roundabouts the 20th or 21st of December comes the winter solstice, the point when the Earth’s orbit and rotation and whatnot make for the longest night of the year. It’s cold and it may yet get colder, but tomorrow will be brighter as the new year dawns. Most folks fit their various celebrations in a space stretching from late November through early January with a wide variety of reasons for the season.

Christmas needs little introduction, especially in the States where its so widespread as to be celebrated even by other religions and secular folks. It’s a time to gather for friends food and fellowship, and as with most holidays it’s a good time to give gifts. For Christians it’s actually a two-parter. The four preceeding weeks are the season of Advent, a time to meditate on waiting through the long dark night for the light at the end of the tunnel, symbolic of the Jewish peoples’ long wait and preparation for a savior to re-open the way to heaven. Following right after is the big day of course, starting off twelve days of Christmas to celebrate light returning to the world.

Speaking as a Christian I think it’s a neat little parallel that Jesus preached goodwill to people from every walk of life, and the modern Christmas season seems to have a little something from many of the big name solstice celebrations. Biblical historians place Jesus’ birth sometime in the summer, but it’s celebrated around the solstice both for the above reasons and to make for an easier fit with people wanting to convert.

Rather than weigh you down with a big history lesson I’m just gonna give you the cliffnotes version. Wikipedia’s right next door for the more detailed stuff. And we’re off.

Roughly two and a half millenia ago Zoroastrianism was one of the biggest religions in the world. Around solstice time they celebrated the rebirth of the sun and the victory of Ahura Mazda (the sun and other good guys) over Ahriman (darkness, evil, etc.). 7th century Japan had a similar gig with sun goddess Amaterasu being coaxed out of her cave to restore sunlight to the world. (Bet you want to take another look at Prince of Persia ’08 and Okami now.)

In the 3rd century Roman Empire held a solstice tradition called Sol Invictus (undefeated sun), broadly covering numerous similar religious figures like the above including Elah-Gabal (Syrian), Mithras (Persian), and later Jesus. Sounds like a pretty cool idea to me, having everyone come together to each celebrate the sun’s return in their own way.

Just a little further back we have Saturnalia, choc full of gift-giving and revelry for the elite and the common man alike. Here we also saw the tradition of decorating a tree, though it wasn’t until it melded with Germanic traditions that the trees were brought indoors. Said tradition of Yule inspired more than a few modern Christmas traditions such as burning a big yule log in the fireplace, having a great big yule boar (a.k.a. Christmas ham), and singing yuletide carols (which is what’s going on when people go a-wassailing).

Pagan and wiccan festivals often revolve around revering life, love, and the natural world. From these origins we have the practices of hanging festive wreathes and decking the halls with boughs of holly. The holly in the hall, the wreath on the door, and the evergreen tree in (or out in front of) the house all have something in common; no matter how long and cold and dark the night gets life keeps on going.

It’s increasingly common knowledge that very little of what we think of as modern Christmas tradition is unique to Christianity. I for one think maybe that’s not such a bad thing. A symbol can belong to many people at once and hold a unique special meaning for every one of them.

Let’s make this the last year people complain about the ‘war on Christmas’. Let’s celebrate our common traditions and join in fellowship with our fellow man, all the world waiting for the sunrise. Decorate a tree, hang a wreath, bake a big ham, swap gifts, and enjoy some fellowship via your winter holiday of choice. If you haven’t got one of your own find a friend who does and join in; can’t go wrong with friends fun and food.

Whatever your reason for the season, however you and yours want to celebrate it, happy holidays from the Paladin’s Post.

Link of the Moment – Holiday Hope

In two days we reach what many folks consider to be the official start of the Christmas season. Santa Claus is making his frequent appearances on behalf of the Salvation Army, groups like Toys for Tots and Child’s Play are doing their thing, and numerous big corporations are extending goodwill by letting customers tag a few extra bucks onto their bill to be passed along to various charity organizations.

If you’re feeling charitable and also want to do some good on a more personal level, a friend of mine has started up a new blog at http://holidayhope2010.wordpress.com/ with the aim of raising funds to take care of a family in dire need. Like so many of us in this economy they face hard times, and they’ve tightened their belts and soldiered on as best they can. Some weeks they can get by, some weeks they have to go without a few necessities. They’ve applied for aid and housing to fill in the gaps where good old fashioned hard work won’t quite reach, but the waiting lists stretch on for months.

A little bit here and there multiplied by the population of the internet can go a long way. If only a few dollars come out of this that’ll at least keep the gas tank full to get the kids to and from school and get to job interviews and make sure there’s enough bread/milk/toilet paper/etc. to go around. If it goes better you’ll know you’ve had a part in helping a family spend Christmas in a home instead of a shelter. If it goes fantastically well we might even be to say the same for multiple families. That last one’s a long shot perhaps, but as they say to reach the moon you’ve gotta shoot for the stars.

So, give http://holidayhope2010.wordpress.com/ a look. Tell your friends. Have them tell their friends. Have your friends’ friends tell their friends. Maybe we can whip up a little Christmas miracle.