Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Festivus

Crankyreader wrote:

I apparently missed out on the whole "Ban Christmas, call it Winter Holiday/Festivus" thing that's raging this year. Although I seem to recall it happening some years back, as well.

What amuses me is that Christmas has pagan roots---Christianity at first banned pagan winter festivals or holy days, then when that didn't work, tried to take over the pagan holidays (by placing, for example, Jesus' birthday on Dec. 25, the birthday of the Persian god Mithras, who also had the magical number twelve around him), and covering the pagan winter solstice holy days with Christian festivities.


And I was going to comment there and then got wordy, so Hecka. My own post.

My grandfather was born in northwestern Iran (but he always called it Persia). He was Armenian. Armenia was the first Christian country and the Armenian Orthodox Church is, obviously, very old. At some point in the early 1900s my grandfather's village was visited by Presbyterian missionaries--he would say later that they converted the village. I don't fully believe that. I think the villagers were very polite and happy to get the attention and the bibles, but really, after the missionaries left? I think the village just went back to whatever it was they were doing before the nice ladies from Smith College showed up.

When he was about nine, my grandfather's family was warned by their Muslim Kurdish neighbors that the Turks were coming to level the village. They hid in the grape vineyards that night and eventually made their way to America. In Connecticut Grandpa met a very stern Yankee woman whose mother was a fire-breathing Methodist. (Well, she breathed fire AND she was a Methodist. I don't think Mr. Wesley made her breathe fire per se.)

Here's a bad scan of a picture of him when he was in High School--See why the Methodist ladies liked him?













Suddenly Grandpa was a Methodist, and he went on to become a pillar of the Methodist church: building fund, Council of Churches, etc. Except he traveled back to the Middle East every year to trade and never fully left that culture. (He often visited Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and went into the Soviet Union to visit Samarkand when such things were not done.)

In his heart of hearts, he was a Christian, and I think he enjoyed singing hymns. His laissez faire attitude about the details of religion combined with his dedication to the emotions or the spirituality of the practice of religion is, I think, both an ancient and a modern phenomenon. It's almost New Agey. He prayed, but he carried worry beads. He was Christian, but he carried blue beads to ward away the evil eye. Covered all bases, I guess.

He was run from his home by Muslims, but he was grateful to the Muslim Kurds who warned him. He would point out Rosicrucian and Mithraic symbols on various Persian tribal rugs. (My daughter's named for a Mithraic goddess.) And he would gleefully point out the five legged goats on tribal pieces to demonstrate that a tribal mindset isn't interested in ripping out to correct and mistake to make it perfect. Miscounted? Medallion too short? Oh well. (His other theory was that maybe the five and six legged farm animals ran faster.)

I think Easter was his favorite holiday. He loved the flowers, the Easter music, and the Spring Lamb. He once told me that after a winter of eating mutton fat mixed with rice and no vegetables at all that the feast of the Spring Lamb was what he, as a child, imagined heaven was like. His village didn't celebrate Christmas--Orthodox traditions focus on the Epiphany. I remember him saying that the women would sew their gold coins onto their dresses for Epiphany, but I don't remember him saying much else about winter holidays.

Anyway, all this to say, I get deeply confused when people get up on their high horse about some aspect of religion. We have to fight against the secularization of Christmas! (Huh? Where were you on The Day of Annunciation?) We have to make sure that all Christians believe as we do! (Huh? Go practice your own stuff and leave the rest of us out of it.)

Holidays are traditions and traditions are cultural. (Ever hear David Sedaris riff on the giant chocolate bell which delivers chocolate to good little French children on Easter? No Bunny? What are you guys, nuts?) Please, everybody go hunker down around your own tree, real or plastic, and let us Mithraic, Christian, Jewish families figure this season out on our own.

Happy Holidays!

Edited to add: I had to edit this about six times to get the spelling, the picture, and the formatting right. Blogger! I raise my fist at YOU!!

10 comments:

Megan Frampton said...

First off, F*CK Blogger. I am bypassing their uploads, and doing it straight from Picasa 2, which works, but you can't seem to upload more than one at a time.

And second, YAH! I CANNOT BELIEVE THESE RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS trying to ram THEIR version of Christmas down everyone's throats. It makes me so mad. Uh, hello? Not everyone believes as you do, and we're trying to be courteous to others here, fuckhead.

There, I said it.

Your grandfather sounds like a cool guy. Pretty foxy, too.

Suisan said...

Wait. You edited "Fuck blogger" but you allowed fuckhead?

And yeah, Grandma fell pretty hard for him.

CW said...

LOL--the early Christians were mad that people were practicing both Christianity and the older traditions--covering their bases, as you said--and that was probably one of the reasons for co-opting the holy days into Christianity.

I'd like to see more spirituality and tolerance during the holidays, too, rather than regulation.

And your Granddad sounds very, very cool. Great post. :)

Megan Frampton said...

I know, but--consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds. Usually I am consistent.

Here, I just got too mad.

Suisan said...

Yes, well, Megan, you'll be glad to know that I never ever get mad.

Well, there was that whole embarrassing circus thing, but between friends we can overlook that, right?

Wait. Did you just ever so cleverly say that I have a petty mind because it is bedeviled by notions of consistency? Curse You And the Horse You Rode In On!

(Not really. You're welcome here anytime. Just be sure to bring a string of worry beads if you come visit the house...)

Megan Frampton said...

Oh, gah, open mouth, insert foot.

No, no implied pettiness. Plenty of neurotic insecurity on my side. And quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Should I worry that I don't have worry beads?

Suisan said...

There's lots of neurotic insecurity over here too.

And as the Aussies would say, "No worries, mate."

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas...Take us out Burl!

Kate R said...

Reminds me of Life of Pi. That was one handsome dude! Lovely that you have such strong memories of him.

Here's what I hate about the season: No one's entering my blog contest. (what a great segue into advertising, huh?)

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