As we approach the winter holiday season, I invariably end up with something in my inbox to the tune of “What’s this Christians Stole Christmas thing I keep hearing about?” This year is no exception. And here is this year’s version of my seemingly-endless, whiskey-fueled attempt to set the record straight.
” I keep seeing reference to Christians stole Christmas? Is there a link you can point me too? I’m just curious as I’ve heard this for years. “
HOLY MOTHER OF MITTENMICE, CHILD. Back away slowly, you know not what madness you toy with. It is an unholy can of worms which opens each year around this time and believe me when I tell you, there are many of us who dread it like the clomping hooves of Krampus upon our doorsteps. It is a wraith of woe and suffering which visits us not once, but SEVERAL times each year, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The whole mess makes me want to deck the halls with barfed-up holly and when I see those posts start to make the annual rounds, I always need a little Christmas right this very minute. If by “Christmas” we mean “copious amounts of Irish whiskey.” It makes a witch wish fervently for a silent night.
-sigh- Well, the lid’s off. Best get this over with.
There is an annual debate…and I’m using the term very generously….which centers around the juxtaposition of Christmas and Yule, the key points of which generally hinge upon the inability of some pagans to tell the difference between cultural integration and outright theft.
Key terms in this debate are “syncretism” (the blending or amalgamation of cultures, traditions, and philosophies over time) and “conflation” (the merging of two or more similar or related ideas into a single concept, not always correctly). It is largely the latter that is the cause of our pain, namely in the mistaken assumption that since Christmas and Yule occur at the same time of year and share a number of traditions and symbols that they must be the SAME holiday and/or that the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus is entirely adapted or “stolen” from older pagan festivals.
Which is about as correct as saying that because there is a Dublin in Ireland and a Dublin in Pennsylvania, both sharing a large population of Irish people, a similar climate, and a surrounding of dairy farms, that they therefore must be the same town and/or the more recent settlement’s ways were maliciously purloined from the elder.
If you’re already frowning and saying, “Wait, that makes no sense,” you’re beginning to get an idea of what several of us have to deal with every winter solstice. And every Halloween, every Easter, and more recently, on Walpurgisnacht as well. It’s maddening and headache-inducing, and trust me when I tell you, the battles get ugly.
The short version of the stance held by witches who are students of academic history (rather than whatever Llewellyn is limping to the barn with) is that Christmas and Yule share festival traditions and symbols because of generations of coexistence and cultural blending between the Church and the pagan country folk. Christmas is as much a secular holiday as it is a religious one, and many pagan traditions became secular traditions during the process of conversion. This is particularly true of symbols and celebrations connected to solstice festivals. Ergo, over time, formerly-pagan secular traditions were adapted and adopted into the secular festivities associated with the Christmas season.
Yule, as we know it in modern paganism, is largely adapted from Gerald Gardner’s interpretation of the older Norse holiday of the same name. In Scandinavia, Christmas and Yule are celebrated as one and the same. In fact, the word for Christmas in Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, and Icelandic is some permutation of Jul or Jól. (It’s their word and their festival, they can conflate the two as they see fit. Are you gonna tell them no? I’m certainly not.)
The trouble arises when witches who are students of authors who were students of Gardner (or at least his writings) claim with the majestic authority of having-no-one-around-to-say-them-nay-back-in-the-1980s that Christians, the ostensible enemy of all things pagan, are still persecuting us in the present age by daring to have a holiday with shared history and traditions to one of our own. Ravenwolf and Buckland, we’re all looking at you. Glaring, even.
(Please note that despite similar timing, traditions, colors, and symbols, nothing is EVER said of Yule and Hanukkah being conflated, which illustrates the other part of the problem: some pagans just seem to need the crutch of perceived Christian oppression in order to feel validated. And so they see fit to ruin everyone’s holiday cheer by complaining about problems which are either hundreds of years dead and gone or which never existed in the first place.)
There’s SO much more to it than this, but it begins to delve into minutiae and I’ll just wind up writing yet another book. Suffice it to say, it is far wiser and far more in keeping with the spirit of both Christmas AND Yule to offer each other peace and goodwill, rather than bickering over who really owns the religious version of intellectual property rights to decorated evergreens and flying reindeer.