Making Our Yuletide Gay

MidWinter harbors a series of holidays and traditions spanning the length of human history — transversing cultures and belief systems. What are some reasons for the season, and how can we make sure the Yuletide stays gay?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Political pundits remind us every year of some perceived “War on Christmas”, but the celebrations of the northern cold season continue to bring people together. After another grueling election season, it behooves us to make sincere efforts of goodwill and camaraderie. An abysmal chasm of ideology divides us further every day, but the wonderful mishmash of Winter break affords us the opportunities for contrition, reconciliation, and perhaps even forgiveness. After all, we have shared origins and a shared destiny; liberation includes us all or else is a farce. For just a moment, let us rekindle the flames of humanism and mutual aid — as that approach may well take us further than would continued entrenchment of our positions.

The Northern hemisphere, specifically, commemorates a whole host of rituals and celebrations which take place during its colder months. From Chanukah to Kwanzaa, Saturnalia to Christmas, we find reasons to warm up to one another during our annual cold season traditions. Some sensationalist individuals might have you believe in some digression of meaning for our fellowship. That understanding stems from a lack of historical knowledge which reveals, for Christmas in particular, eclectic and amalgamated origins of modern holidays. The reasons for the seasons include equal parts of indigenous and cultural folklore, religious custom, and commercialism. There really should be no call to alarm in response to this revelation (besides commercialism destroying our planet), as the fusion of sources facilitates appeal across otherwise insurmountable boundaries. What would make it most gay is to end extreme poverty. What would bring peace on Earth is justice for the powerless. Take note of these stories to remember why we come together and keep our yuletide gay.

One of the oldest Winter stories is that of Jewish people and Chanukah. When discussing liberation and the victory over oppressors, our Abrahamic siblings have for centuries been abused, oppressed, and genocided. The Maccabean revolt enabled the defeat of the Grecco-Syrian rulers and re-establish their Second Temple after having been desecrated by the son of the Syrian ruler — who came to control the land of Judea during the 2nd century BC. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, son of Seleucid king Antiochus III, broke with his father’s prior benevolence towards the Jews and converted their temple to worship Zeus instead, subsequently sacrificing pigs at its altar.

“Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.”

Flickr Creative Commons

Knowledge and Creation seem like worthy visions when juxtaposed with the nonsense of ignorance and destruction embodied by people in power today of similar spirit to Antiochus IV. We may know already of the menorah — the 8 branched candelabra representing the yearly commemoration — but may not know of its significance. Gentiles have a whole day of celebration and its eve, but Jews celebrate eight wonderful nights for the Festival of Lights. After a successful rebellion, Judah Maccabee and others rededicated the 2nd Temple. They discovered there was only enough lighting oil for one day, and not enough time to ritualistically purify more. Miraculously, the story recounts of how the menorah stay lit those 8 nights until more oil could be prepared. May this light your spirit to rebel against the oppressors and seek liberation.

Regardless of religion or lack thereof, we all experience the change of the seasons. Despite climate change, we still witness four somewhat differentiated seasons here in these United States. Punctuated by two solstices and further delineated by two equinoxes, Nature subjects us to the cyclical transformation that discriminates against no person. From the longest day around June 21st to the longest night around December 21st, we are united by the cycles of death and rebirth — growth and decay. The ebbs and flows of life give little regard for social status or vast wealth. We all die someday.

Photo by Daoudi Aissa on Unsplash

But for now, we live. In fact, that is one major focus of Kwanzaa — a celebration of life. Specifically commemorating African-Americans, Kwanzaa invites renewed commitment to seven guiding principles and defies the commercialism of the colonial holiday. Seeing as colonizers stole their lives and cultural memories, this holiday offers a chance to remember or be inspired to learn more. So what is Kwanzaa exactly?

“Dr. Maulana Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home. Dr. Karenga created this festival for Afro-Americans as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. In fact one might say that Kwanzaa has similarities with Thanksgiving in the United States or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. The word "kwanza" is a KiSwahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) word meaning "first."

Five common sets of values are central to the activities of the week: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. The seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa utilize Kiswahili words: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each of the seven candles signify the principles. Like the Jewish Hannakah, candles are used to represent concepts of the holiday.”

Dr. Karenga inspired a wonderful annual reminder of where all of us derive — Africa. Kwanzaa gives thanks in a way much preferred to the sadistic November celebration we begrudgingly regurgitate annually. Those 7 principles seem pretty radical if you ask me. Cooperative economics (ujamaa)? That sounds like my cup of tea. I established membership with a local credit union over a year and a half ago. Collective work and responsibility (ujima)? Well, I organize for the Democratic Socialists of America. Even a white dude like me — a “Brocialist” if you like — appreciates the merits and need for such a holiday as Kwanzaa. Diversity definitely makes our Yuletide gay.

Photo via BlackCulturalEvents.com

Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, in particular? We may not know Jesus' exact birthday, but wasn’t his birth originally celebrated in April-June by the early Christians? When was Jesus born? The world may never know definitively, but we do know the reasons behind its current iteration. Beyond wintertime unfolding through so many wonderful celebrations, Christmas, in particular, has its own diverse composite of cultural roots. The gradual conversion of Constantine the Great, emperor of the Roman empire during the early 4th century CE, led to the appropriation of once Pagan holidays into the domain or Christendom. Modern critics of religion note the patchwork nature of Jesus Christ. So where does the modern myth derive?

Any person or group of people who pay attention to the regular events of the seasons will notice the queer behavior of the sun as mentioned earlier. From the disciples of Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism to the Sun-revering followers of Mithraism, the predecessors to modern religious incarnations all symbolically admired the fiery, burning sphere that lights the sky and brings life where its rays grace with their presence. Zarathustra, another name for the prophet of Zoroastrianism, revealed a message of purity and stewardship for all Creation, and Mithras was the god of contracts — as the Sun lay witness to All things where its light shone.

From a strictly secular view, the sun reaches its “lowest point in the sky” around December 21st — as explained earlier from a northern perspective. For the following three days and due to the angle of the Earth’s axis, it appears as if our star lays dormant in this position. The 25th of December represents the day where its ascent resumes; the sun appears to rise once more after being apparently “dead” for three days. Perhaps the time is now to renew our contract before the sun to also be good stewards of this Earth; I know of no other place as best-suited to sustain us as this one. Doing so would make us all feel a bit more merry and bright.

Trees continue to be integral in not only human beliefs and customs, but also by being one of the few viable solutions to the global warming caused by industrial emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. Americans still practice decorating real or fake pine trees, and evergreen trees possess symbolism for more than just peoples of European descent. We continue to recount tales of a bearded man in a red suit whose flying reindeer take him to every home one night each year — completely undetected — to deliver gifts to all children on the “Nice” list. Unfortunately, the lists seem more aligned with Rich vs. Poor rather than Naughty vs. Nice. Most fail to realize the derivation of our holidays by forgetting or never learning history, and this even includes the mystical origins and later corporate revisions of Santa Clause.

The magic of the holidays inspires imaginations and elicits feelings of endless possibility. Such a mind trip is available to anyone who desires to sip from that cup, and there are other seasonal wares to sample. Another reason for the season may be a psychedelic pilgrimage. Why do we hang red balls from trees? Santa and his elves have yet to be sighted at the North Pole. However, there are an indigenous northern Tengusic people called the Evenki whose spiritual customs eerily reminisce customs of modern holidays in the Western world. The Evenki domesticated reindeer — whose existence enabled their way of life. Furthermore, amidst those coniferous trees laid fungal goodies.

Excerpt:

“The Evenki were also a shamanic culture. The word “shaman” actually has its roots in the Tungus word saman which means “one who knows or knows the spirits.” Many of the classic shamanic characteristics that would later be reflected in cultures all over the world were originally documented by Russian and European explorers while observing the Tungus and related people’s religious life. This includes the three-world system, the shamanic journey or soul flight, the use of altered states of consciousness, animistic belief in spirit, and so forth.

A significant aspect of the shamanism practiced in this part of the world during that time was linked to Amanita muscaria, also known as the Fly Agaric mushroom. This mushroom is more widely accepted in the modern world as the Alice in Wonderland mushroom. It was held very sacred by these ancient people, and was used by the shaman and others for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Amanitas – as you can tell by the pictures – range from brightly red and white to golden orange and yellow. They only grow beneath certain types of evergreen trees. They form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the tree, the exchange of which allows them to grow. One of the reported ancient beliefs was that the mushroom was actually the fruit of the tree. Due to the lack of seed, it is also commonly held that Fly Agaric was divine – a kind of virginally birthed sacred plant.”

Amania Muscaria via Creative Commons

By all means, read the aforementioned article in its entirety. It goes on to highlight the evolution of Santa Claus from winter spirit to a corporate mascot for entities like Coca-Cola. But please, don’t go eating random mushrooms without knowing what you’re doing. I disbelieve in capitalism as the ideal philosophy by which to structure society. I oppose the commodification of everything — especially the essential needs of human life in the 21st century. However, commercialization brings people together in the sense of shared interests and such. Though the basis of economies should be worker-owned businesses, we obviously lack that. But corporations do affect culture’s continued evolution, and I will remark on that. Sharing gifts, though, spreads the gaiety and cheer which characterize the unity of us all.

Sharing and being equitable — these concepts stand the test of time by overarching any one tribe or clan. Even during the Roman Empire, Saturnalia epitomized the reversal of roles and forgiveness of debts. Vexen Crabtree goes into full detail in their article: “The Meaning of Christmas: Paganism, Sun Worship, & Commercialism”. Slave families could elect emperors for a day, and rents were forgiven for the month of December.

As you can see, we can’t separate any one part of the season without leaving people out and disregarding their contributions to the stories of humankind. In that same spirit, let us honor the season by working towards a more equitable and less stratified society. We need improvement in our stewardship of the Earth. Let us revive the stories of our forebears, as well as make new ones to share for our descendants. Let us not deprive our fellows of their stories, and remember that mutual liberation is the only way going forward. Take the best parts of our past and progress into a better future than any one of us could possibly imagine. So happy all the holidays to you all. May we all find reasons to be full of holiday cheer and be über gay this and every holiday season.

Born and raised in Tennessee. Broad range of discussion from gardening to direct action, spirituality to poetry. Finding gems to polish for you.

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