A few weeks ago, my school's principal made a blog post (He communicates staff info via blog post. It was 3 weeks into the school year when I discovered this and realized I'd been missing the weekly updates because of it. I am not with the times.) about not leaving the non-Christians out of our annual December celebrations. Between this and the edict that holiday parties were to be no longer than an hour (plus a recent dearth in the number of room-parents to put the parties together) there has been some grumbly talk in the staff room about the true meaning and all.
My first thought was that it a pretty cool message for him to post, so I shared with the staff how I saw "Christmas" celebrated in both India and Turkey, both decidedly non-Christian-dominant countries.
In both cases, Christmas was a fairly secular affair, with a parade in Delhi featuring both Santa Claus and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator as the main attractions of a giant parade. They threw candy to the onlookers, and I have to say, in all fairness, that it was the most disgusting candy I've ever tasted. If this had been my childhood experience with Christmas, I'd have boarded up the fireplace at an early age. But the local children seemed pretty happy with it, so maybe it's a cultural thing. In Turkey, Christmas had been conflated with New Year's, and was celebrated on the 31st, with feasting and merrymaking at restaurants or private parties in people's homes. In neither case, unsurprisingly, was the birth of Jesus ever mentioned.
This was unsurprising because one country is predominantly Hindu and the other Muslim. Besides which, December 25th has absolutely no relation to the birthdate of Jesus anyways, so it really shouldn't bother anybody. (If you don't believe me, Google it. Biblical scholars are abundant on this topic.)
So if it's not Jesus' birthday, what's the Reason for the Season?
It's the same reason that Hindus and Muslims are celebrating the primary holiday for a religion they don't believe in: it's cold and dark out.
It's December. This far north it's cold, even in India. It gets dark around 5 pm and doesn't get light again till way to late in the morning. Skies are grey, it rains and snows a lot, the wind is harsh and people are grumpy.
It has been like this for a long time. 4000 years ago when the people in the fledgling stages of what would become civilization developed calendars, they knew that these were the shortest days of the year. The last of the harvests were in, the fatted animals were all slaughtered, dried and salted, wine and beer were finally fermented, the ground was cold and covered with snow and there was nothing to do but wait it out till the days grew longer again. Food stores were full, days were short, and I can imagine many huts full of women sick to death of bickering children who could not run around outside and play enough. So why not have a celebration? On the 22nd of December or so, something truly wonderful happens. The days start to get longer again. The sun begins its long, slow return.
So why not have a celebration? Without something to look forward to, Winter is a time of unmitigated cold, hunger, misery and depression. (This would be the month of February in Ohio. We really need some kind of festival come the end of February. Someone needs to start a petition.)
The early druids knew this and celebrated Solstice. So did the Chinese and members of other East Asian cultures. The Romans had Saturnalia, and I'd be willing to bet that there are equivalent celebrations in the histories of every Northern Hemisphere culture settled far enough above the equator to notice the cold and shortness of days, and every Southern Hemisphere culture mid-June.
We celebrate in December because we need to.
In 336 C.E., Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor declared Jesus' birthday to be December 25 and co-opted the Solstice holiday from every other religion around. Everyone was celebrating then anyway, so why not give the feasts a spin that gave a boost to his reign?
Today, in America, Christmas is a largely secular and commercial affair, with stores putting out Christmas displays along with back-to-school sale items, playing holiday music before Halloween and starting sales on Thanksgiving when everyone knows the only people who should be working are the police, fire department, hospital workers and movie theater employees.
It's about being festive on the darkest days of the year and knowing that good things will eventually come again. That's something we should be able to celebrate in schools without anybody getting offended unless they want to be.
Food. Light. Friendliness. Giving. A little time off.
I can get behind that.
Whatever is *your* Reason for the Season, may it be celebrated with warmth, love and peace.
But seriously, I'm not kidding about that February thing.