Enveloped in religious and secular tension, there has been controversy about Christmas in the Western World over the past few years. But I believe that separating a festival from its religious connotations does help. After all, there is a reason why Christmas is celebrated near the Winter Solstice rather than at some other time of year. It is a reason that for a very short moment allows even Christians to look into their past.
In a world that finds little over which to unite, celebrating this time as a ‘pagan festival’ could really be the global event that unites all. Because wherever we have had an agrarian society, we have seen a festival that celebrates the Winter Solstice, the last feast of the winter, just after the last harvest; when we all looked into the cold winter with hope of a warmer tomorrow. Winter Solstice celebrations capture that hope and essence of togetherness that kept our ancestors alive in the face of uncertainty about the future. This was a moment when families and communities would come together and celebrate, give symbolic gifts, and feast. The ebbing of the sun corresponded with ideas of rebirth and life. And all of this had nothing to do with any of the modern religions.
It is a celebration that spans many continents, many cultures and time periods, in various forms. It ranges from the celebration of Shab-e-Yaldaa in Iran, inspired by pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism, to Rohatsu, celebrated by Buddhists. There is Lodhi celebrated in North India, the Beiwe festival celebrated in Scandinavia, the Dongzhi Festival in East Asia, the Goru in Mali, and so on.
Listing all the festivals can take an awfully long time. But all these festivals are but one common thread that runs through all people in almost all cultures. And even though we have evolved newer religions and cultures and moved into the modern age, we still retain an essence of a common past.
Happy Winter Solstice!