O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging!....so the Christmas song goes. So goes this ode to the Evergreen, the kind of ode we have been singing as a race since before recorded history. From the research for my book into the kind of worship that went on in Scotland from that time forward till the dawn of Christianity, I found that almost everything we associate with Christmas in the twenty-first century has these early origins. I can hear the screams of "pagan!" from those who bewail that the Christian is being pushed out of Christmas. But it's a bit like the guy protesting Obamacare who was photographed holding up a sign that read, "Keep Your Hands off My Medicaid." Keep your hands off my Christmas: my santa claus, my christmas tree, my holly and the ivy, my Yule log. My Christmas wreath, which of course is not Christian at all, but a pagan symbol of the eternal.
Other traditions which came down that line are: gift-giving, Christmas pudding, Christmas trees. Like Easter most of what we celebrate at these "Christian" festivals has a much earlier, pagan, origin. Why? Because they celebrate life, and as a race, we have been celebrating life for much longer than the birth of a religious icon (born in "bleak mid-winter? Really? Do they have bleak mid-winter in Israel?) Although the Jewish toast Le Chaim! is closer to this winter celebration than our Christian preoccuption with sin and redemption.
But today is Christmas day. I never weary of it, commercial blastfest that it has become. I don't warm to the sentimentality of Little-Lord-Jesus-Asleep-in-the-Hay, but I do celebrate a time of letting our guards down and giving. We don't need any religious rites for that. When we look deep into ourselves, past the anger and prejudice, that's what we find in our deepest nature. Le Chaim!