Tuesday, December 20, 2005 | It’s not often that the invaded entity in a war is the one who declares the war. But, so it is with the Religious Right, represented in this case by Bill O’Reilly, who claims that the secular world has declared a “war on Christmas.”

The war began – as wars tend to do this time of year – in department stores. While some, apparently more progressive stores are using the all-inclusive salutation “Happy Holidays” in their seasonal advertising, others, such as Macy’s, adhere to the age-old “Merry Christmas.” O’Reilly’s outrage on his Fox News program at Sears/K-Mart’s refusal to discuss their choice of semantics with him was palpable for viewers. The ensuing battle on both conservative and liberal talk radio has had nothing on those rehashed stop-action animation Christmas specials that are airing for the millionth time.

It is interesting that the Christians who are so up-in-arms about the alleged attack on their sacred day, actually engage in many traditions which predate the birth of Jesus and even (horror) stem from pagan origins.

While most of the discussion about how to address holiday shoppers focuses on respect for those observing Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or who may count themselves members of the “major” world religions, paganism goes virtually unmentioned. Meanwhile, the evergreen tree, a symbol of everlasting life for pagans, Babylonians, druids and other polytheists, dating back thousands of years, looms majestically above the hubbub.

Likewise, gift giving, the yule log, mistletoe and even the choice of day on which Christmas is celebrated, came from pagan traditions for celebrating yule, one of eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year..

Various estimates put Jesus’ birth in the neighborhood of August or September, and there is no mention in the Bible of early Christians celebrating Christmas. So, actually, isn’t it Christianity that has declared war on Yule, invading and pillaging all that they find in the name of their own deity?

Various observers of the winter solstice gave their reactions to the notion that there is a war going on, and not just the one where two women came to fisticuffs over a parking spot the other day at Wal-Mart.

Firewolf is the proprietor of Superstitious, a new shop in Kensington that offers psychic readings, spell components, candles and sabbat rituals. Having grown up in a Christian family – and for that matter, just living in this society – he has had ample opportunity to reflect on what this time of year means for different groups.

“Christians need to understand that Christmas not only has a pagan origin, but that they stole the idea of a winter holiday from pagan tribes, and to me personally the idea that they justify their holiday without admitting that it is stolen is offensive,” he said. Not one to quibble over semantics, however, Firewolf continued, “I think for any person to get mad over the word Christmas is petty and they need to get more of a life and find better things to do than worry about Christian holidays; I think they should worry more that Christianity has placed lies and criticism on witches, homosexuals and Jews, based on their ‘interpretation’ of the Bible.”

Jenna Walsh, co-founder of the Dharma Center in Ocean Beach, which is dedicated to teaching meditation and American Buddhism, celebrates the winter solstice. When asked whether she feels she is at war on Christmas, she chuckled. She said she enjoys Christmas, saying “it’s not just for Christians. In America, it’s become a non-religious opportunity for people to express compassion and caring.”

At home, she hangs lights and exchanges presents with loved ones. “I’m not into the whole tree sacrifice though,” she added, in her warm, upbeat tone. She says she is not offended by the word Christmas, because she doesn’t even think about it as inherently Christian. “I guess I should, I mean ‘Christ’ is right there in the name,” she reflected, laughing again.

Other non-mainstream-religion types expressed equally light-hearted responses. Is Stephanie, an art dealer and a pagan, offended by the use of the word Christmas?

“No. Yes. I don’t know,” she answered.

Despite her difficulty in answering that question, Stephanie talks readily about the paganism she sees underlying holiday traditions. “Wreathes are druidic,” she offered as an example. “It’s all about the darkest day of the year – light up the night, people,” she opined. Mark, an art student, recognizes the triviality of semantics as well, saying “It’s all pagan, anyway. We might as well just say ‘Happy Tuesday’ or something.”

A salesperson (who wished to remain anonymous) at the Wiccan shop Starcrafts in Ocean Beach, finds adherence to any strict tradition unnecessary. “I just do my own thing,” she said. She is unbothered by the C-word, since “everyone has their own belief system. The majority rules,” she shrugged.

Granted, this wasn’t a scientific survey, but the pagan community doesn’t appear to be fostering a bunch of war mongers. If anyone is waging a war on Christmas, it isn’t the people who would arguably be the most justified in doing so. The Reverend Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, appearing on John Elliott’s “Air America” radio show on Dec. 10 suggested that perhaps the fundamentalist element has generated a controversy in order to increase response to their year-end appeals. Others have suggested the so-called war is a distraction from that little skirmish currently taking place in Iraq. Whether the holiday war exists or not, the troops’ families will miss them at this time of year regardless of what anyone calls it.

The one thing everyone can agree on, is that late December is associated with light, whether in the guise of a newborn savior, a reborn sun god, lamps that once burned with a paucity of fuel, or just good, old-fashioned getting lit on eggnog. So, it might just be the appropriate time to shine some light on people’s similarities, rather than on their differences. Really, who doesn’t like getting presents, eating lots of fattening food and feeling justified in wearing out their credit card? It’s the perfect time for a truce. Unless, of course, there is reason to believe Christmas has weapons of mass destruction.

Kristina Meek is a local writer.

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