Winter Solstice Wonderland: A Not-All-About-Christmas Story

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A.P. Scheiderer

Senior Contributor, Associate Editor
Feminism and Snack Eating Enthusiast

It’s that time of year again. A time where we all come together, eats lots of garbage, listen to the same songs over and over and over again, and spend a shit ton of money traveling to fun-datory events and gatherings.

Isn’t it interesting that I didn’t even have to say “Christmas time”? You just knew that’s what I was talking about? (I’m assuming… maybe I’m wrong… wouldn’t be the first time…). A few years ago during a consciousness raising discussion concerning the “Holidays” (so “Christmas”), I started to get really upset when people began talking about how Christmas is a dominant, Christian, capitalist holiday that caters to white people and the wealthy, and excludes marginalized populations and other winter religious and spiritual days. I mean… yeah, they were right, and I probably got so upset because I knew they were right – isn’t that usually the reason? But you have to understand something about me. I love Christmas. No. I LOVE Christmas. I listen to Christmas music all year round, especially when I’m sad. I know every word to every song, including the artist and usually its origin. I start watching Christmas movies in October. I have never had a fake tree. Only in my 20s and I already own enough ornaments to fill an entire real one. I kept all of my childhood Christmas books. I have 3 Rubbermaid tubs of decorations. Our cat gets new Christmas-themed toys every year. I have dishes, and towels, and a table runner, and silverware galore! I! LOVE! CHRISTMAAAAAAS!

So you can imagine my frustration with these OUTLANDISH ATTACKS on my favorite thing in the world.

But my friends were right. And they still are right. Other winter religious celebrations like Hanukkah (16th-24th) and Kwanzaa (26th) are often made fun of, looked down upon, or in most cases and similar to many other non-Christian holidays throughout the year, just not even acknowledged. Businesses and schools are closed on Christmas and Easter but are open on Rosh Hashanah and throughout Ramadan. In many jobs and as students, even asking for those observances off can be tricky and uncomfortable. Realizing that these are some of the things religious non-Christian people experience really challenged me. It wasn’t until I started observing non-Christian holidays that I could even begin to understand this feeling of exclusion.

Many of the traditions and activities we associate with Christmas are derived from other spiritual practices. In fact, most Christian traditions were adapted from other cultures or religious practices. The Winter Solstice – also known as “Yule” or “Midwinter” – rests between the 20th and 23rd of every December. It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, but is also considered one of the eight holidays, or “Sabbats,” in Pagan, Wiccan, Celtic, and other goddess/Earth based traditions. After the Winter Solstice the days become longer, the weather temperatures slowly rise, and we begin the ascent to the Summer Solstice – or “Litha” – in June when we experience, oppositely, the longest day and shortest night of the year. These holidays, and six others, are based on The Wheel of the Year, a calendar that has been used for thousands of years to mark the passing of time by the seasons and thirteen moons. This calendar took a dive into the abyss along with the Mayan, Incan, Aztec, Hebrew, Islamic, Chinese, Native, and other calendars that did not mirror the twelve-month Christian calendar we standardly use today.

The Winter Solstice is a day of rebirth. Not “birth,” as in just one singular birth to one very important man, but rebirth, as in a cyclical movement of all life that rotates without intervention. It is a day to celebrate being in the darkness of winter, and coming out of it with new intentions and goals for the upcoming months (sounds like another more popular holiday, hmm?). It is a time of dwelling, grounding, and centering. It is a time of merrymaking and honoring the Holly King – god of transformation. Some traditions even recognize the friendly spirit of Jack Frost as the weather chills overnight, especially in stories told to children. Seasonal foods and drinks are made and consumed with friends and family. Traditional folk songs are sung, often outside in circles and groups. Any of this sounding a little familiar? The adaptation of Winter Solstice traditions into Christmas ones does not make Christmas inherently bad. What’s bad is that it has become so dominant, so omnipresent, so in-your-face that other holidays don’t seem to matter, and no credit is given to the origins.

My love for Christmas has not wavered, but my understanding of the intersectionalities of holidays and traditions has benefited me greatly in interacting with others during this time of year. Unless someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” first, I don’t initiate the gesture. I have stopped assuming that everyone celebrates Christmas and Christmas alone. Some day I would like to feel comfortable wishing someone other than the woman working behind the desk at Inspiration Point: Candles, Incense, Books, and Gifts a “Happy Yule!”

So remember!