First, I’d like to thank my husband for inspiring me to think about this topic and helping me to see how important it is to establish holiday traditions. Writing this has made me think more about holidays and the importance of building spiritual paths for our family.
Where I live it’s the time of year when we are swamped with several holidays in a row. Whether we celebrate them or not, we are bombarded with images of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the secular new year. This always gives me a feeling of being slightly left out of things because my family doesn’t celebrate the holidays that are the most popular with people in the Midwest. We hear a lot of “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” along with arguments about “keeping Christ in Christmas”. Just last week I heard about the new Kirk Cameron movie in which he argues that Christmas has no pagan roots and has always been strictly a Christian holiday. Since I’m surrounded by people planning their holidays, and stores trying to sell their holiday merchandise, I thought it would be a good time to talk about celebrating holidays as a pagan in an area that is largely non-pagan and often anti-pagan.
I grew up in a small town where my family and most of the people I knew identified as Christians. I fell into the habit of preparing for and celebrating the various Christian and secular holidays that are commonly celebrated in the Midwest region of the United States. As I moved away from Christianity and learned more about paganism, I also began to think about adopting pagan holidays. I found that starting and keeping new traditions after making the move to paganism was more difficult than I had anticipated. Below are some of the questions I have asked and continue to ask myself as I work with my family to establish holiday traditions.
What spiritual holidays will I celebrate?
One of the things that drew me to paganism is the individuality. There are many spiritual paths that are considered to be pagan paths, and we each have the freedom to choose which paths work best for us. Some modern pagans prefer to follow the Celtic Wheel of the Year and celebrate either four or eight holidays per year. However, someone who identifies more with other spiritual paths may wish to choose holidays from that path. One person might plan to celebrate pagan Egyptian holidays, while another chooses to celebrate Native American holidays. Some people are more eclectic and may choose to celebrate holidays from several different paths. You may choose to celebrate a Celtic winter holiday, an Egyptian holiday in honor of Bast, and a Native American holiday celebrating the Turtle. If you are looking for the right holidays for you, there are many resources online and in libraries that describe holidays all over the world. The important thing is to find which holidays mean something to you.
Will I celebrate secular holidays?
This is a very individual and personal choice, just like the recognition of spiritual holidays. I live in an area in the United States where many people celebrate Independence Day. Personally, I choose not to celebrate it as I don’t see how colorful explosions and air pollution contribute anything of value to our country. However, I am quite fond of Valentine’s Day, and, although I don’t generally celebrate Thanksgiving, I will sometimes go to a family dinner because that’s one of the few times each year that we can all be together. For some people, Christmas is more of a secular holiday, and I know several pagans who choose to celebrate Christmas as a holiday based around Santa. However, some pagans only celebrate Yule, and this may or may not include a visit from Santa. Secular holidays vary greatly depending on what area of the world you live in. If you don’t want to keep celebrating a holiday that doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s probably time for you to break that tradition and start some new ones. Keeping a holiday around merely out of habit will only lead to extra stress and frustration.
Who will I share my holidays with?
If you have family or friends who share similar spiritual paths, you can discuss with them which holidays are important for you to share. It’s important to find a balance of celebrating what holidays you find to be important but to also respect that your friends and family may not want to celebrate all the same holidays that you do. If you don’t have anyone close who shares the same spirituality, you can plan solitary celebrations. Another option is to find local groups who share similar spiritual paths; however, I advise you to use caution any time you are meeting with strangers in a situation like this. You need to be sure you are meeting in a safe environment and that no one is going to share private information about you outside of the group.
How do I start new traditions?
This is an aspect of the holidays that I have struggled with. I am very much a creature of habit, and I find it difficult to get into the habit of celebrating a new holiday. It requires extra planning to start new holiday traditions, particularly when you have family involved. You must plan ahead or you will find yourself, as I have, the night before the holiday wondering how you are going to celebrate. Be sure to communicate with anyone you want to celebrate with, and come up with a feasible plan for the holiday. If something about the celebration doesn’t work for you, plan on how to change it the next year. Some people may like changing it up, while some people may prefer to find certain activities they enjoy and stick with those every year.
How will I deal with the perceptions others have of my spirituality?
This is the aspect of the holidays that vexes and saddens me every year. There are many misconceptions about pagan holidays and pagans in general, as well as misconceptions about any spirituality that’s not considered “normal” wherever you live. As I’ve said, I’m from an area that is largely Christian, and, while some people are accepting of other religions, many are not. I’m fine with it when someone wishes me “Merry Christmas,” although I feel “Happy Holidays” is more inclusive. But every year I get someone who knows I don’t celebrate Christmas, but who tells me “Merry Christmas” just to try to annoy me. Why anyone wants to be rude in celebration of their holiday is beyond me, but it does happen. I’ve found there are a lot of people who just aren’t knowledgeable about other spiritual paths besides their own, and some of these people are open to learning about my spirituality. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to be cautious when sharing information like this. I’ve worked at businesses where no one cared that I’m pagan, and I’ve worked at businesses where I just didn’t talk about it because I needed to keep my job. While it’s not legal for an employer to fire an employee for religious reasons where I live, that doesn’t mean the employer won’t fabricate another reason to fire someone.
How do I deal with discrimination?
Different states and countries have different laws regarding spiritual holidays. Where I live, employers are required to do their best to accommodate time off for holidays, but are not required to pay holiday wages for these days. Depending on where you work, it could be difficult to actually get the time off that you want, especially if you don’t want your employer to know about your spirituality. At one point I worked for a company that advertised itself as a company based on Christian values. From the beginning I was determined to insist on my right to my holidays. When I would put in my requests for time off I would note that these were for spiritual holidays. I had no problems getting the time off that I needed - until we got a new manager. He absolutely refused to give me the time off. I ended up quitting due to this and other reasons, but I didn’t realize at the time that I could have at least tried to fight this discrimination or put in a complaint about the company. Take the initiative to check into the laws in your area so you’ll know what rights you are supposed to have at work. You may want to go ahead and find out what steps to take if you do feel your employer is discriminating against you. Be aware that, depending on where you live and who you are dealing with, it may be difficult to do anything about the discrimination. It will be up to you to weigh the pros and cons of the situation and to look at possible consequences of fighting the discrimination. It would be great if we didn’t have to worry about this, but it is something that we have to think about.
Whatever holidays you choose to celebrate, remember that only you can find the spiritual path that works best for you. Think about which various holidays mean something to you and communicate this with friends and family you wish to share it with.
I hope everyone’s holidays will be full of joy and blessings!