Today is the solstice, the reason we have any kind of winter holiday, and apart from my choice of meal this evening, and some meditation, it will not really be marked in this house in any major way. There are two reasons for this.
1. Good Pagans treat it as pretty much the most important day of the year, they have a ritual, they choose this day over Christmas to gather their family and celebrate, it is A Very Big Deal. I am not a good Pagan, I am the Pagan equivalent of the Muslim who drinks alcohol, or the Christian who only attends church for weddings and funerals. There was a time when I toyed with the idea of becoming Pagan clergy but I'm too lazy and selfish. And busy.
2. I live in a secular society. Today is a working day. It's easier and more logical for me to celebrate at Christmas when everyone is off work. I see the modern Christmas as secular and generic, after all it is pronounced Krissmus, not Christ Mass and apart from the obviously Pagan history and associations thereof, for most people (including many Christians) it is not treated as a solemn religious event, but as something much broader and more inclusive.
Now, there are all manner of ways to observe and celebrate Yule, but I've noticed an increasing amount of neo-traditions in the Pagan community, some with a Wiccan bent, some more Nordic, and some...well, I think it's just creative really. The point is, all of this is reconstructed because apart from noticing the actual solstice itself, nobody really knows what ancient ancestors did to mark the day. Maybe they just slept in.
Certainly, an absolute wealth of symbolism and tradition grew from this basic need to recognize the turning point in the year, after which days get longer and we start looking forward to spring. In days of yore this was pretty much a matter of life and death. But unless you live in a very small percentage of the globe geographically, the weather doesn't actually fit in with the scheme. Here, we only have a small amount of snow, and the worst of the winter is still to come. In Australia, it's summer. At the equator they scratch their heads at the whole long/short day idea.
One of the most interesting things I am seeing a lot of this year is the Sun Child. It's a sort of reverse situation to that of early Christians tolerating Pagan beliefs and including them, to make them more likely to convert. I like the symbolism, so don't get me wrong. I've always liked the Christian nativity story anyway. You don't have to believe in a myth to enjoy it. Some dramatizations have been beautifully done, with good acting, moving music, and so on. Who doesn't love a new baby anyway.
Or possibly the Sun child story came first, and the Christians borrowed it. Well, stole it, I suppose. From Mithras. Who knows. Christians object to that idea, but for those of us who are not troubled by it, the similarities are compelling.
Mithraism developed from an Indian religion, and then swept through the Roman empire and thence northwards, into Scandinavia and the Celtic countries, and it picked up some middle-eastern bits along the way, because this is what religions do. They are sort of magnetic to local culture.
None of this is breaking news, I might add. The Christian church was always aware of this "problem" and addressed it at first with the usual "the devil did it". Later they tried to prove that Christianity came first, and there are even allegations of Mithraic records being deliberately destroyed for that purpose. Who knows. But subsequently, plenty of pre-Christian evidence has been found by archaeologists not interested in religious arguments.
Does it matter? Well, I daresay it matters to the more literalist Christians. While I actually know plenty of Christians who are not worried by it at all. They have always known that religions are syncretic, and that such details are not what it's all about.
Some Pagans are seriously uptight about it too. I just leave them to it. As fascinating as this all is (when you are a history and mythology buff like me this stuff is positively drool-worthy) in the great scheme of things it's just a puzzle. As much as I love puzzles, they are not meaningful, they're just fun.
The Pagan sun child is not real. It is a symbol. A rather obvious one. Depicting an actual child is not harmful, it is an artistic expression. On the other hand if somebody out there wants to believe in an actual child as historical fact or spiritual entity, there's no harm in that either. These are fully harmless beliefs, and especially nice for children. Seeing the sun "return" as a new baby, and the tired, waning sun end as an old man is nice and easy to get your head round. That's why we have symbolism. And without symbolism there'd be no art, no music, no poetry, no literature.
If course there is danger in any mythology if it's taken literally and used to hate and oppress, but I find the winter holidays the most harmless, the most symbolism filled, the most natural, and therefore the most joyful. It makes me even more than usual open to sharing and toleration. Joy to the world. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.
Share gifts, eat, drink, be merry, but most of all show someone love. Love is what it's all about. It's THE most important thing, and everything else is just stuff. Celebrate any way you wish, and try to remember those who don't have anyone else. If you have a lonely neighbour, bring 'em in. If you have some spare cash, or spare time, there are people who would appreciate it.
Be nice to one another, and if, in any size, shape, or form any belief system asks you to be anything other than kind and loving to all, ignore it. It's rubbish.
Welcome back sun.