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Lucius Alexander's Yule Essay Yule Essay: 2016 An open letter to a number of interested parties. (This is an essay I revise periodically) You CAN Just Say No to Christmas. I do. You do have a choice. December is a time of traditions. I usually choose not to participate in most of them. But even so I have my onset-of-winter, end-of-calendar-year traditions, and digging out and updating this essay seems to have become one of them. It seems appropriate to quote from something Andrew Sullivan said in 2005 : “Since…most solstice festivals are ultimately about cyclical renewal and resurrection, I have no real qualms about just reiterating what I said last year around this time.” I honestly am not sure when I began this – I think perhaps in 2001. It started with a decision to be more articulate about why I feel the way I do about what I call the "butt-end of the year." Why I not only don’t celebrate Christmas, but in recent years have refrained even from my own religion’s solstice festival. Partly because I wanted to understand it better myself. And partly because it is not just some eccentric objection on my own part; there are issues involved that, in my opinion, everyone should think more about. December, and especially the time around the 25th, is a very special time of year. All kinds of things happen more often: Auto accidents; Abuse of mind-altering substances, especially America’s "drug of choice," alcohol; Patients turning up in hospitals for depression and other mental problems. And all kinds of people who never (quite) attempt to harm themselves or others, who never check into a hospital or get themselves falling down drunk, or get fed-up and throw a vase or a turkey or a punch at a relative, nevertheless suffer from assorted degrees of stress, anger, bitterness, disappointment. Some of this is simply due to the facts of nature in these latitudes; long cold nights breed depression in a lot of people, miserable weather is more dangerous to drive in (or do anything else in) and creates not only accidents but its own quota of stress, and so forth. But I don’t think that’s the whole answer. Let me repeat something I’ve been saying for years. Dickens and Dr. Suess both got it wrong. Scrooge never reformed into a Christmas-loving good guy. Scrooge ALWAYS loved Christmas. And the Grinch never gave Christmas back after stealing it. He fenced it to Scrooge, who sold it back to the Whos down in Whoville. That’s why Scrooge loves Christmas, because he loves profits. He probably paid Dickens to write the story. And Scrooge and the Grinch both pull the same scam, year after year. I'll assume you're already familiar with "A Christmas Carol" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." That seems a safe assumption. Dickens' story is of course older. In fact, Dickens has been credited with having invented Christmas as we know it today. I think that's an exaggeration, but with some basis. And while I don't seriously think there was a "Scrooge" who paid him for it, there were plenty of real-life Scroogelike people who were glad he wrote it. To be fair, he wrote it in 1843 - about 3 years after Victoria married Prince Albert, a fact of interest in that it was Albert who introduced the Christmas Tree to the English speaking world - and the commercialization of the holiday did not take off for another 20 years, or at least, it's not until after the Civil War that a proliferation of Christmas oriented advertising in the newspapers is noticed. It was not until 1851 I think that, for example, an American named Mark Carr was the first to make a seasonal business of selling Christmas Trees. Which is something to bear in mind: Christmas As We Know It is only 150 years old, a product of a time when our civilization was undergoing rapid changes, becoming more industrial and urban, and people were already nostolgically looking back not on the past as it had been, but on a past that never was. A nostalgia that was also immediately being co-opted by commercialization. If Scrooge and his ilk ever hated Christmas, they got over it as soon as they saw there was money to be made. I can just hear the dialogue between Scrooge and the ghost of Marley his partner..... "I was a failure, Scrooge!" "But you were a successful man of business! Why, your assets were..." "Were so much less than they could have been! The profits I could have made, if I'd only known the true meaning of Christmas! Don't make the same mistake I did Scrooge - cash in on Christmas!" As for the Grinch - what is the Grinch really? How is it possible for him to "steal Christmas?" For the Grinch, Christmas is something he can steal because he thinks it resides in things like trees and lights, in "boxes and bags, packages and tags." Just as we are all in some sense the Whos down in Whoville, we can think of the Grinch in ourselves as being the part of us that is likely to make the same reductionist mistake, and the Grinch in others as being those people who ENCOURAGE that kind of mistake - what I think would in Christian terms be called the sin of simony, putting a finite monetary price tag on things of infinite spiritual value. This is how the Grinch manages to steal Christmas - and Hanukkah, Yule, and Kwanzaa and the rest - every year. By hoodwinking Whos into thinking he has it wrapped up in a box, a box they don't have. And every year, Scrooge turns around and sells it back to the Whos the Grinch stole it from. They make it very hard not to be accomplices in the crime. My friend Amadan Na Briona has pointed out that winter gift-giving is an honorable old Pagan custom, but I don't think it is possible to practice it in this day and age without feeding into the Santa Claus myth - and Santa Claus (or is it just the disguised Grinch?) is fat enough and doesn't need any more feeding. It is especially hard for parents of children. Whether children have a naive belief in a literal Santa or not, they are like the littlest Who in the Dr. Seuss story - they look right at the disguised Grinch and think HE is Santa. So do most adults actually, but children fall for the scam even harder. That only makes the crime so much more insidious. Now, I’ll admit part of my reaction IS idiosyncratic. Obviously, not everyone else has the kind of rebelliousness that automatically resists anything that is made mandatory, that resents not being free to choose to take something or leave it. And Christmas is mandatory. If I want to, I can remain blissfully unaware of Ramadan or the Chinese New Year. I have actually gotten quite good at evading and ignoring Christmas, but unless I go hide out in a cave, sooner or later those two hustlers, Grinch and Scrooge, are going to be in my face, trying to sell me Christmas. But this is one Who who isn’t buying it. And I know I'm not the only one who tries to stock up on groceries and provisions in late November just to avoid having to shop in December any more than can be helped. It’s not just a question of the "commercialization" of Christmas. I find it ironic that Christians so often complain about the merchants stealing Christmas from them, when they stole it and filed the serial numbers off it themselves. And let me be clear about what I mean by "stealing." Religions and cultures share or borrow ideas all the time. By "steal" I don’t just mean adapting something for one’s own use, I mean deliberately trying to deprive someone else of it. A great many Gods at one time joyfully shared the 25th of December as their birthday. It was the Christians who decided that there was only room for ONE Birthday Boy at the party. Which brings me a little closer to the point I want to make. What monotheistic religion, especially Christianity, has done, is to drain the "magick" or the "sacredness" out of the world, investing it into a transcendent abstract thing they call "God." I put the words magick and sacredness in quotation marks because I know I am not really expressing myself well here. Of course the magick and the sacredness are still there, despite the denials of Western monotheism. Perhaps the word I want is "meaning." Or possibly "value." Now, this was a long process, and never a completely successful one, that reached its peak in Puritanism and related movements that sought to "purify" Christianity of anything left over from primordial Paganism. Which if actually carried out thoroughly would purge Christianity of almost anything worth keeping, and a great deal that’s NOT worth keeping. But I digress. The next thing our Western Civilization did, after in so far as possible cramming all the (magick - spirituality - Ultimate Meaning - whatever we call it) into God, was to try to kill off God. Humans can do, and refrain from doing, a lot of things, but we can’t refrain from meaning. We have to mean something. We have to value something. Or if there is nothing to mean, we just have to mean in the abstract; to paraphrase Terry Pratchett - "I don’t think it’s symbolic OF anything in particular. It’s just symbolic." From this point I could delve into some deep philosophical swamps, such as the question of whether Human Beings actually create meaning or are just compelled to find and recognize it in our experience somewhere. But find it or make it, we end up with it, and we have to PUT it somewhere. The mystics say that all places are holy, all things are holy, all time is holy. Or at least, the pantheists say that. And I think in a very deep and true sense they are right. But for practical purposes, such as the purposes of religion and magick, there is a distinction between the sacred and the profane. After all, the physicists are also right when they say there is a tremendous amount of energy tied up in any given atom of ordinary matter, but they use uranium and not lead to fuel a nuclear power plant. I want to start by discussing sacred space, hoping that will shed light on what I want to say about sacred time. To Pagans, especially Paleopagans, many sites are sacred. Whether or not a shrine was built, the people of an area might respect the holiness of a certain tree, a spring, a hill - anywhere that a numinous presence was recognized. I have said – nor is it an original thought - that monotheism "drained the sacredness out of the world." But never entirely - I suspect many Europeans and Americans hold their own homes sacred, although they would not use that word. And they would understand without ever thinking about it that someone else’s home is sacred to them, that "home" is always sacred, but is a different place for different people. But if you are told that there are no faeries under that hill, that there are no sacred groves but only unharvested lumber, that Stonehenge and the Pyramids are monuments to ignorance and superstition only - even if you hear that until you believe it, even so, there is one place that you can still call "Holy Land." The conflicts among the three major Western Monotheisms are caused not so much by disagreement, as by agreement. All agree that on the whole enormous surface of the planet, only a very tiny fraction is "Holy Land." And while they don’t agree 100% (Islam has Mecca and Medina, for example) they do mostly agree on exactly where the Holy Land is. Imagine a billion people deciding the same place is "home." Some of the people I am writing this for have some experience of magick. The rest of you will have to take my word for it that you can get real, and sometimes quite surprising, results, by steadfastly focusing your attention and intention by means of symbol and ritual. Especially if a group of people unite their awareness and their will. Now – Imagine the power of millions of minds, perhaps billions, investing value and meaning in the same thing. The "Holy Land" suffers from toxic levels of mana. There is a phenomenon called "The Jerusalem Effect" that strikes people in the so-called "Holy Land," especially visitors who are not acclimated to the psychic atmosphere. Now, it stands to reason that if a person is already unstable, an intense experience like a pilgrimage could trigger a psychotic episode; but the Jerusalem Effect strikes people who had no previous history of mental illness or disorder, who temporarily become deluded, usually into identifying with some Biblical character, and then recover and go on to lead perfectly normal lives afterwards. "There will never be peace in the Middle East." This has been said many times by sane and reasonable people who despair of ever healing the plague of violence that is endemic to the Holy Land. This plague is yet another symptom of the same basic disease. You may think it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but if you are trying to light a candle in an atmosphere of 99% oxygen, you’re wrong – dead wrong. Expecting peace under these conditions is like expecting a seed to sprout when you have a huge lens focusing a hectare’s worth of sunlight onto it all day - and then at night you illuminate it with a laser. Of course, I can (and do) choose to never go near that region of dangerously intense, uncontrolled, and conflicting psychic energies that is called "Holy Land." But I can’t choose to skip over the month of December. And just as more and more value and meaning has been focused over time on that unfortunate Sacred Space, so the same thing has happened to the Sacred Time that American culture usually refers to as "The Christmas Season." It has become a kind of black hole of significance, warping everything around it. Yes, many cultures of the Northern Hemisphere have had some variation of a festival of light around the time of the Solstice. There is nothing inherently "wrong" with holy days, any more than there is something wrong with sacred sites. But just as it’s possible to concentrate too much spiritual power in a given region, far too much power has been given to Christmas. And power, even spiritual power, corrupts if there is too much of it. Christmas wasn’t always so overwhelmingly important; at one time there were a lot of little feasts and festivals from late Autumn through Winter, that have now mostly been sucked into the maw of Christmas. St. Nicholas for example originally had his own day, before being identified with Father Christmas. Hanukkah has its distinctive customs, the dreidel and menorah, but even that "stiff-necked people" (to borrow the words of Moses, by the King James version) have surrendered to the gift wrapping compulsion, although such customs are "all made up and have no basis in tradition." (to borrow the words of Rabbi Tuvia Hoffman) And even I have been a hypocrite. I participated in the "gimme-grabbee" gift exchange - because it was fun. It has nothing to do with Paganism, nothing to do with the spiritual uplift I get from the Yule ritual. It’s fun, and after all - everybody does it. Everybody. And I know that the Yule Rite is not only deeply fulfilling spiritually, but absolutely vital. I know that if it is not done, the Sun will not rise. So I, too, sometimes stand vigil on the Longest Night. Someone has to carry the torch. But maybe now you understand why I sometimes feel as if the torch I’m carrying is but "another faggot borne to flaming Troy." Why I am happy to give or get presents any other time of year, but give few in December and then on the Ides. Why I don’t send Christmas cards, and don’t display those sent to me. Why, if it’s at all possible, I prefer to be at work on the 25th of December. Why - even though I have come to respect Santa Claus as another form of Deity - I don’t want Him too prominent in how I celebrate Yule. A few years ago I heard someone complaining about having to go shop for gifts - "But it has to be done." I couldn't let that pass. "Does it?" I asked. "Why? Do you really feel like you don't have a choice?" I've used a lot of words here, but this is one sentence I really hope comes through loud and clear - You CAN "just say no" to Christmas. I have. Whether or not you do really is up to you. Lucius Alexander Copyright Palindromedary Enterprises