And here it starts again! Happy … no, Merry …maybe, oh holy hell, what do I say? I can’t offend anyone! The HORROR!! The verbal gymnastics it takes not to offend anyone this time of year is so unnecessary. So let’s take a look at what is celebrated each December and try and figure out how to proceed.
Ashura (Islam): Ashura, the 10th day of the first month on the Islamic calendar, which actually occurred in November this year, but often falls in December. Sunnis, the largest group of Muslims, remember that the Prophet Muhammad fasted in solidarity with Jews who were observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Later, after falling away from being in solidarity or tolerance of any other religion, Shiites changed the holiday to recall the death of Muhammad’s grandson in battle, an event that led to their differences with the Sunnis. Ashura is a voluntary fast, as it has remained among Sunnis. Shi’ites, however, celebrate through public expressions of mourning and grief which include self-flagellation or cutting of oneself.
Hanukkah (Judaism): Hanukkah came much earlier this year, converging with Thanksgiving, but runs into December (something that won’t occur again for almost 78,000 years!) Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jewish people overcoming oppressive rulers and taking back their faith.
During the second century B.C., the Greeks ruled over the Jews in the Land of Israel. They had outlawed any Jewish religious practice, and a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, finally put their foot down and revolted. Once successful, they restored the desecrated Holy Temple. The menorah in the Temple needed to be re-lit. In Jewish tradition, the Temple menorah should burn continuously. There was only enough oil to light it for one day, but it God made it last for eight.
Kwanzaa: This holiday was made up in 1966 by Maulana Karenga in order to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Initially Karenga meant this to replace Christmas in the African American community, but soon found that it was alienating Christians. He backpedaled and said it was to be practiced along side of Christmas. He designed it to be a celebration of family, community and East African culture. The celebration is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving.
Winter Solstice (Pagan/Wicca): In a non-religious sense, Winter Solstice is the time at which the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon, winter in the northern hemisphere, summer in the southern hemisphere. In a religious sense, it is generally celebrated by Wiccans and other Pagans, as a festival of the rebirth of the earth, the sun and the year.
Christmas: Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In the four weeks preceding it, Advent, Christians await Christ’s birth and prepare for his second coming. Jesus Christ was born around the 3rd year of the AD calendar, in Bethlehem of Judea. He was born to Mary, a poor Jewish girl. His father is God. He is also called the Messiah, a Jewish term that describes a man who would free the Jews from oppression. Christ frees us from the oppression of sin.
Christmas is celebrated in many ways, some of which were co-opted traditions from peoples who converted to Christianity. Traditions like Christmas trees and wreaths (Pagan traditions of bringing in greens and yule logs), and even the date, December 25. Written records of the time place Christ’s birth in May. The date of celebration on December 25th was most likely set by the early Church when dealing with pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice.
Other traditions like Santa Claus stem from different country traditions, but the most likely is the true person of Saint Nicholas of Myra. He was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop. He became known for bringing generous gifts to the poor. Gift giving itself comes from several traditions. One is St. Nicholas. Another is the gifts given by the three wise men to the Christ child after His birth. All symbolize the gift of Christ to the world.
So what does all this mean? Different people celebrate different things. What a waste of time to spend the entire month of December perpetually offended because someone wished us “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas!” If I know someone is Jewish, I wish them Happy Hanukkah. If I know they are Christian, “Merry Christmas” falls from my lips. If I don’t know, I may say “Happy Holidays,” or I may just joyfully wish you a “Merry Christmas!” I celebrate Christmas.
I say “Merry Christmas” because it is a joyful time and a jubilant celebration of hope. Christ came to save us, Alleluia! If that offends you, so be it. I can’t spend my time worrying about it. That’s on you. I have a better solution for your state of perpetual offendedness … just be glad that someone cared enough to wish you whatever they did, and LIGHTEN UP!
Merry Christmas everyone. May the joy of the season fill your hearts with love and light. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, for He will come again … Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Image: Courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soulofchristmascom/342794044/