When I was very, very small, I had a Christmas tree ornament that meant the world to me. It was crafted of red felt and was aggressively topped by a plastic elfin face in full, maniacal glee. Tiny arms were tied together so as to better grip a limb, while elongated leggings made for intriguingly morbid postures among tinkling lights and candy canes. I named him Christopher, after my brother, and never made the connection to his obvious namesake, Kris Kringle. He is terrifying in his mischievous delight–my children, mostly grown, are still in mortal terror of my beloved elf and refuse to put him on the tree with their own hands. Christopher rules the tree from the summit, ever young, ever mysterious, ever mythical in his felt skin. He is my first understanding of this thing we call Christmas, and I cannot think of anything more appropriate.
Over the years, I lost my childish joy for Christmas. Like Christopher, I was an elfin child and always thinking of my next great exploit, but such a nature was not acceptable in a world that spoke of sin and accused me of giving it safe harbor. No, I was taught by society (whilst sitting among glittery wrapping paper and Barbie doll boxes) that Christmas was about the Christ child, not glee. I would stuff my white-girl lanky legs into hosiery the color of a Rio landscape, twisted usually against one thigh (which made me walk funny) and be hustled into church whereupon I would immediately be handed a hymnal and a peppermint Lifesaver. The world of lit trees, scarlet stockings hung by a fire awaiting the King of the Elves and my dreams of sugarcanes were to be forgotten for exactly one hour while my soul got saved. No wonder, I suppose, that this situation was a breeding ground for big trouble: I wrote in the hymnals, designed little notes to fairies on tithing envelopes and thoroughly drove my mother to distraction. She was doing the best she could and teaching me all that she had been taught, I know this now. But my little ass was hung up on the hypocrisy of it all and never quite forgave that church for ruining what I now understand as Yule (or for making me wear Leggs, damnable torturous things). Baby Jesus ruined my holiday, every time, and it took me until around thirty to forgive him. Not his fault, after all. They had his birthday ALL kinds of wrong and I bet he would have liked a candy cane, too.
I was recollectin’ all of this last night as my children, one best friend and husband were decorating our tree. The friend, Vero, and I have since had a little chat about the whole experience, which breaks down to something like: finally. I felt connected to the holiday again. You see, most of us educated folk have come to understand that Christmas is just reappropriated Yule, the Winter Solstice, which translates to our curious Pagan brains as a fractured, beloved, fubar kind of sentimentality. We know now that mistletoe, the burning of logs, the fantastic “roast beast” and elves are Pagan, ancient and persevering, within the Christian tradition. In effect, we have been co-signed–yes, just like Easter and Halloween (Eostre and Samhain)–in a highly politically move that historically mass-converted our tribes. Nice move. A bit like forcing a child from her decorated tree and telling her it’s all about something else, just in grand and rhetorically-adept form. Yet, something primal and wild in our souls knows better. Something old and primordial calls out that dogmatic policement of our Holy Days. It’s not that modern day Christians even intend to shroud our traditions in new-fangled manner; it’s the fact that we don’t catch it and it fractures something deep within us. (Seriously. Many do not know the politics that went into the determining of holidays on a calendar. Many do not know that they, as much as ourselves, are walking in myth.)
So. Here we have it. So many of us walking around with treasured memories of Christmas, with deep wells of love for our Christian kin and with a sense of fracture that we have forgotten to heal. But–have we thought it all out? Do “our” Christians walk the same broken path? Regardless of enlightenment as to the true histories of our world and our spiritualities, Christians around the world put up our trees, sing our “Yule-tide” anthems, hang mistletoe in their homes and go caroling with abandon. For me, that’s enough. I no more want to rip their Christ from their breast than I want to be slung in a pair of Leggs and go to Mass. At the end of the day, I think it’s about forgiveness. Letting go. Allowing for my sister to pray while I divine, and loving the table of folks in their entirety. I have a lesson in which I remind my students: Do not repeat the politics and problems of other faiths. This means to me: watch that judgin’, son. We do not colonize. We do not acculturize. We do not recruit. Why not?
Because we are the inheritors of the Earth, my friends. What would be the point?
Therefore, I hang Mr. Christopher myself every year, high atop a traditional Christmas tree. He reclaims my childhood and the smells of cedar, hot chocolate and the embers of a family fire. He echoes my past, 1960 somethin’ in Alabama, as well as legends of elf and fairy kings in far away lands. He doesn’t seem to mind sitting right over that manger scene that my son made in kindergarten–rather, I think he and that little Playdough baby might be pals. They don’t seem to be all wrapped-up-nasty in the politics of the last 2,000 years. I reckon’ that’s good enough for me.
Inevitably, there will always be a disconnect for those of us who have a fondness for Christmas but revere Yule. I have heard many Pagans lament this fact, and heard more wonder at the manner in which to balance it all. For me, it remains simple: it always was Yule, y’all. You keep those memories, hold them tight, hang your elves and lay out your holly next to simmering pots of nog. And love the Christians in your lives. They need Santa, too.