I'm in search of more inclusive ways to celebrate the Yuletide season.
'Tis the season! Time to roll out tired images of Fat-ass Santa and his enslaved, abused elves and reindeer, while forgetting about Mrs. Claus doing all of Santa's work backstage -- without thanks or credit -- along with crass commercialism, and the baby Jesus who was lost in a manger at the center of credit card debt and hedonism! It's enough to make a thinking person's eyes cross.
Does the prospect of the holidays make you secretly cringe? Do you want to crawl away and hide? Does the disappointment on your kids' faces for not getting the gift that has been touted as the "must-have" present make you sick? If you answered "yes," to any of the above, perhaps it's time to reconsider the holidays.
To start, take the Belief-O-Matic Quiz. You may be celebrating a Kwanzaa tradition, when in fact, you're more of a Buddhist than a Methodist. Take that Menorah and swap it for old fashioned ancestor worship, a-la the Han dynasty! Chuck that Christian Nativity Scene for a rollicking drunken bonfire with your Wiccan sisters and brothers. As Beliefnet.com states on its website: "Even if YOU don't know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic will tell you what religion (if any) you practice... or ought to consider practicing."
I was raised a Lutheran, was married to two Jewish men and one lapsed Christian Scientist, and am currently married to a Buddhist. I am technically a Unitarian Universalist, but haven't joined a U.U. church, which is right in line with U.U. practices all over the world.
Over the course of five years or so, I've taken the Belief-o-Matic quiz, and I come out Unitarian Universalist each time. As the joke goes, a Lutheran man says: "I hear that you allow all sorts of weirdos in your church. Atheists, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans..." A U.U. Woman answers: "Oh yes. We allow Christians too -- we're very open minded!"
So much has been lost and forgotten since winter solstice gave rise to ancient and universal celebrations worldwide in a holiday that should be called "G.W.I.A.G.," an acronym for "Grateful Winter Is Almost Gone," for year-in and year-out, on the darkest day of winter, everyone knows that it's only sun-up from here on out.
But what traditions should I have here, in our home, if I'm a U.U.? Anything I want! I can celebrate the coming of the baby girl, Jesus -- a symbol of transformation and renewal if there ever was one! I can include a Menorah, the Kwanzaa Kinura, a Wiccan hearth log, anything I want, because that's how we U.U.s roll, baby!
I have also thought of some original holiday activities; one is the "I love my family more than my views," custom. Before the big family dinner, right-wingers stand in the east part of the living room, the left-wingers stand in the west. The youngest member of the family strikes a gong, signaling all the people over 18 to turn around, drop trou, moon the other side and be done with it: no talking, no arguing. This practice will reaffirm that opinions are not all they are cracked up to be, and it's also a great way to lose one's appetite, thus cutting calories for the holiday dinner.
Jesus needs a break for taking on all of the sins of the world, okay? Instead, let's go with the Italian winter legend of La Befana, and start a new custom that is an amalgam of holiday wishes. La Befana awakens three naked dumkopfs she finds in the forest at midnight: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity & Bill O'Reilly. She yells: "Get the F#*K up and run!" as they dash through the woods toward a distant light. When they arrive at the light, waiting for them are Joss Whedon, Sandra Fluke and Beyoncé! Rush, Bill and Sean beg for forgiveness from all the women, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and the rest of the people they have maligned, hurt and whipped up hatred against over the years. Joss, Sandra and Beyoncé make sure they really mean it, then give them clothing and a vegan meal. Hey, it beats crucifixion! The sublime aspect of this holiday custom is that it's very hard to commercialize images of Rush Limbaugh naked -- ew! Another appetite suppressant.
The main thrust of this is that we actually reflect on what means a lot to us and the times we share, not the material goods we share or who brings them. Santa, a symbol of all things gauche that I've been working against, has always given me the creeps. What I am for is more like La Befana, a kindly Italian crone who inadvertently turned away the three wise men, realized her mistake and spent her afterlife attempting to make amends. That is a value worth celebrating.
Happy Whatever everyone!
NOTE: This article is an expanded and updated version of my column in the Pasadena Weekly that originally ran on December 4, 2013