Merry Christmas To All
Why would a radical anarchist care about Christmas? Isn't it just a commercialized glut of shopping days and gift wrap made of broken trees, a celebration of consumption with a little dose of state-sponsored Judeo-Christian oppression thrown in for good measure?
Well...no. I love Christmas. I'm not the least bit sheepish about it, either. I'll tell you why.
Christmas comes from a very old tradition, common in virtually all cultures. Before shopping days, even before Christianity, we celebrated the gathering in, the return of the light. It's a time to come inside, literally and figuratively. A time to gather together by the hearth, to reflect, to tell stories, and to break bread together. (Bread, not turkey. Friends are better at the table, not on it.) The winter feast is sumptuous and meaningful, and sustains us through the long, dark winter.
Although scholars believe Jesus was probably born in the springtime, we celebrate Christmas near the time of the Solstice. Why? A cynical soul might say that it came to be this way because Christians wanted to co-opt an ancient pagan holiday to lure people into the new religion. I think, though, that it's deeper than that. Christianity wasn't always about televangelists, or God-a-thons, or oppressive dictates. Yes, I know, it's hard to think of it any other way now. But these, like the impulse to capitalize on everything, are the weaknesses of the human condition, and they'll creep in anywhere we let them. It doesn't mean they're intrinsic to the spiritual impulse that gave rise to the original traditions. No, I'm no Christian, and I'm not here to proselytize. But I think it's possible to see meaning and truth in any religion, once we remove the layers of misuse and control that have collected like dust over the years. This is the dust of the elite, settled over the spiritual seekings of the people. Shake it off, and look again.
The truth is, and I say this in all seriousness, Jesus was a revolutionary. Don't tell Billy Graham, or Jerry Falwell, or all those God and Country patriots, but it's true. His message wasn't about blind obedience, submission to authority, patriotism, or any of the other entanglements usually associated with Christianity. He didn't hate gay people, he didn't look down on women, he didn't even believe, believe it or not, in organized religion. On the contrary, he believed in solidarity and mutual aid, built community among radical groups, broke down stereotypes concerning women, poor and homeless people, sick people, and all other stigmatized groups. He broke all the rules of his time, pissed off the elite, and railed against capitalism. In short, he was one of us.
At the risk of arousing the ire of those who are rightly suspicious of Bible thumping, I'm going to give a couple of examples. Bear with me. Again, I'm not trying to convert anyone here, just reclaiming a worthy tradition.
In Mark 2:15-20, Jesus offended the respectable folk and religious authorities of his day by eating with people considered too lowly to associate with, and by eating at a time when the rules said he was supposed to be fasting. In other places in the Bible, we learn that he spoke directly to women and used examples in his teachings that would relate to them. This went against all the dictates of his culture. Despite centuries of efforts to erase this fact, if we listen, we also learn that he had women disciples. Although many people have used Christianity to argue for the inferiority of women and the stigmatization of gays and lesbians, this actually goes against Jesus' own message. He reveled in the company of those who were rejected by society, he liked poor people better than rich people, and he didn't like stupid rules.
Again, in Mark 2:23, he totally pissed off the religious authorities of the time, the Pharisees, by letting his disciples root around in the grainfields for food during the Sabbath:
The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the House of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."
Yikes! Breaking the rules of the Sabbath? Saying the Sabbath was for the people? Arguing against using religion to control people? EATING THE BREAD OF THE PRESENCE? This was pretty shocking stuff. After that, he went on to (GASP!) heal someone on the Sabbath as well. This was considered a faux paux, to say the least. Again, the ruling elite was aghast. Mark 3 says:
Again he entered the synagogue and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him."
Of course they did. Like authorities everywhere, they were threatened by people who were willing to use common sense and their own judgement rather than blindly obeying the rules. Jesus went on to throw the capitalist money changers out of the temple, enraged that they had turned the commonal spiritual life of the people into a crass commercial enterprise. (Sound familiar?) So the authorities called out the riot cops, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The point of all this is that early Christianity wasn't about oppressive, relentless, intolerant authority. It was about reclaiming a spontaneous, giving, loving, (dare I say anarchist?) spiritual life. Far from being intolerant, it was probably very syncretic. So people who were Pagans, could also be Christian. The spiritual thought behind all religions is the same, deep down inside. I believe that's how so many Pagan traditions came to be part of Christmas. We bring a tree into our homes, symbolic of everlasting life and a connection between worlds. We hang decorations on it, symbolic of the gifts of Mother Earth, to sustain us all through the cold, dark winter. We light candles and yule logs to celebrate the return of the light into the world. We feast together, warm in the wombs of our homes, ready for rebirth into the world in the spring.
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