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  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill

Keeping Christmas

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

[Warning: this message is unabashedly pro-Christmas, in a Pagan sort of way.]

Growing up in an informally Secular Humanist but culturally Christian household, my love of the Christmas Season had little to do with any formal religious teaching, since I received none.

As a little kid, it was easy to love Christmas. What's not to like about getting presents, eating cookies and candy canes, singing songs, and bustling around with secret activities such as hiding presents, or waking up early to claim a stocking full of treats that Santa had delivered in the middle of the night?

The Christmas story of the baby in the manger was part of the lore, with the magical star, the angels, the talking animals. The little baby was born into poverty and a life of hardship, but he and his family all had golden haloes , a mystical aura shining around their heads.

But the most beloved and awe inspiring part of Christmas was the shrine we created, the living evergreen tree that was brought into the house. It was fragrant and draped with colorful trinkets and amulets, and glowing candles that were lit only briefly, for ceremonial purposes, and then extinguished promptly to avoid burning the house down. This tree was a pagan shrine which we assembled each year, and it was beautiful.

I was grown and the mother of an infant myself before keeping Christmas took on more meaning for me. It was clear to me, heading into the long, dark, northern winter, that having a Festival of Light to look forward to at the outset softened the psychic blow of enduring this bleak and difficult season. Then it was also that I understood Christmas as being an adoration of the Family. Not just the idealized Holy Family as being the one and only worthy of reverence, but that all families are holy, that all are deserving of love and reverence. However difficult our circumstances, here we all are: the parents, or those taking on a parental role, each child, the animals, all recognized as manifestations of something eternal, all bathed in the light of our communal love.

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