Its no secret that I was more Pagan than Christian before becoming Mormon, and it was only via the complimentary encompassing of Paganism and Christianity into one traditiom that led me to renouce the faith of my youth and to become converted. One minor detail of Mormon theology that I especially appreciated was the acceptance of the fact that Mormons known that Christ was not born on December 25th.
On Christmas Eve as a teenager, I recall listening to the UU service celebrating the manger scene. It was a stark contrast to a few minutes before when the reverend mentioned the historical evidence that Christ was born at another time of the year and that placing the observance of Christ's birth on December 25th was a purposeful and malicious attempt to trick heathens to convert to Christianity. Of all denominations, the Unitarians ought to have known better than to perpetuate an injustice that occurred centuries ago and brush aside the injustice that is perpetuated by overlooking it. It was with disappointment but not much surprise to see that Mormons do the same; however I can accept their desire to attempt to fit in with other Christian denominations.
And yet, this frustration stayed with me each and every year--my sadness at the injustices experienced by my ancestors in the name of religion and the difficulty of distancing myself from the cultural traditions taking place around me. I wasn't even sure if that was what I wanted. So it was, that the last few years, I have experimented with different ways of observing the season. This year, I think I have found a blend of traditions that strikes a balance and brings light and merriment to the dark and cold of the season in a way that I can feel at peace with morally and spiritually.
Historically, the celebration on the Winter Solstice was to bring light to the darkness, and celebrate the signs that the depths of winter would not persist evermore. Fires, evergreen trees, singing, dancing, feasting all bring merriment and activity to a time that can be very bleak and depressing for those in more northern areas. American Christmas traditions do well at these activities and make it easy for the entire month of December to be a time of good cheer. Adding traditions from other cultures creates a number if Holy-Days to bring spirituality and mirth to the season.
|Our St. Nikolaustag Celebration|
This year, the Descent family added Hanukkah (with a celebration of all the LDS temples that had been dedicated this year), Advent on each Sunday preceding the 25th and St. Nikolaustag (complete with new boots for the children that were filled with chocolate and switches) to the typical celebrations of Yule and Christmas. Next year, we will likely include Santa Lucia Day, the traditional Swedish holy day and Twelfth Night for a complete month of candle lit feasts, fires in the fireplace and reminders to seek joy and gladness in the dark periods of life.
The common thread that I am finding between the nature based celebrations, the cultural traditions and the religious Christian observances is that all are intended to celebrate light in the darkness. When Christ is viewed as the light and the life of the world, and his whole life is honored and celebrated, rather than placing all the emphasis on his birth, I find December and early January the perfect time to celebrate the role he plays in the lives of all people ever upon the earth. In teaching about Christmas to our children, we emphasis the Christlike loving and care shown by Santa Claus, and how he was a religious man who wanted to spread joy to those who were underprivileged. We emphasize his example of showing love for the children and gift donations in the children's honor to Heifer International, and the local Food Bank.
As I reflect on my need to find hope and light in the darkness, my heart is turned to those who do not have the shelter and protect that I enjoy from the elements at this time of year. Winter creates a more intense need in the lives of the homeless and undernourished as money for food might go towards heating bills at this time of year.
With the focus on Christ's life and the shared symbols of light and everlasting life, Christmas works as a Christian Holiday for me and I am able to put to peace my objections through blending traditions, while giving respect and obeisance to the injustice experienced by ancient pagans.
A Christmas tradition adopted from my husband's family is the reading the Luke 2 on Christmas Eve in the languages spoken by those in the house. For us that is English, German and Spanish so each night preceding Christmas Eve, the chapter is read in a different language at the time we typically read scriptures before going to bed. For the night of Christmas, I wanted to compile a list of scriptures that encompassed Christ's mission to the earth and the outcomes of his sacrifice. Our Christmas Night devotional included the following:
Isaiah 9: 6-7
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Price of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Host will preform this."
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God , and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment:and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death: because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. But it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in the the land. He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Mosiah 15: 1, 5-9, 18-23
And now Abindai said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being on God, suffereth temptation, and yeildeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be be mocked, and scourged, and cast out and disowned by his people. And after all this, after working mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Yes, even so he shall be lef, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father. And thus God breaketh the bands of death, gained victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men-- Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.
And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people. For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you were it not for his, all mankind must have perished."
2 Nephi 9
"O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of that awful monster death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit."
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
Those verses contain my favorite scriptures teaching the significance of Christ's mission and when read in that order, they have a power that I find thrilling. I look forward to our next Christmas where we can repeat these traditions that we are creating. It is clear to me that enjoyment my children derive from our festivities and it is my hope that they will remember them fondly as they grow and mature.