I grew up celebrating Christmas with my family. There were some religious aspects to it. There still are, in some branches of the family. I have had the great privilege of seeing people with very different religious beliefs simply getting together and doing their thing. You want to say grace? Cool, knock yourself out. You don’t want to bow your head? Hey, that’s totally up to you. Feel like giving out cards with manger scenes? Fine. Science books about an ancient and completely natural cosmos? Not a problem.
What’s the point of all this? I’m not here to say that everything is fine. Not every family is as saccharine and cheesy as mine. (And perhaps I’m glossing over some details to make a point.) There are jerks out there – people who really do seem bent on stirring things up, who miss the irony of trying to impose peace and brotherhood by shouting down everyone who believes or acts differently from them. And there is a great temptation to shout back. We all have that inner four-year-old who insists the only way to win an argument is to be the last one still shouting. This isn’t new with the Internet. It’s just the newest annoying means for people to act like jerks to each other.
But … well, although I reject much about the metaphysical, moral, and spiritual backdrop to the Christmas story, I am quite happy to hold on to one idea that many branches of the tradition agree on: the idea of coming together. Of kindling our common humanity. It doesn’t belong exclusively to Christianity. It doesn’t belong exclusively to anyone. It is there, ready and waiting, in every single one of us. Any time two or more people encounter each other, there is the chance to make a human connection. A chance to make the world a bit less lonely.
Strip away all the sectarian crap, and that’s what midwinter is to me. It’s the Christian story of new hope. It’s the pagan season of rebirth. It’s the middle of the Canadian winter, when we all get together and keep each other warm by the strength of our shared presence, when we defy winter by enjoying being out in the snow, and we defy the bleakness by sharing what food we have, and we defy the daily grind by finding delight in simple contact with people.
So this season, my goal is to avoid arguments, but not to avoid people. I want to be with my friends, with my family. Not to promote a particular idea. Not to combat something or someone. Just to be together. To remind me of the point of it all. (Oh, I’ll get back to combatting bad ideas, promoting good ideas. But I need a couple of weeks of simple humanity, centering myself.)
Anyway, that’s my Christmas rant. I hope you all have a fine midwinter season, whatever you choose to call it, however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate. Be human; see the human in others; enjoy their company.
See you next year.