A Holiday for the Geats


I’m getting all these emails from university administrators wishing me happy holidays. And our campus is dressed as always in the tattered garments of Yule. This year, it feels very weird. Instead of celebrating common values, the practice of hanging holly wreaths now unites us only in that it probably annoys just about everybody.

I’ll bet my secular humanist and materialist friends are sick of anything involving “holy,” including “holy days,” since religion is increasingly associated with bigotry and hate at worst, and, at best, stubborn refusal to accept needed change.

I don’t know, but I suspect my Muslim and Jewish friends have always found the whole thing ridiculous and off-putting. As I understand it, Hanukkah is a rather minor feast, though I could be wrong (and I apologize if I am). And again, to my knowledge, there’s nothing special about this time of year for followers of the Prophet, peace be upon him. I imagine others feel the same way, but I know too little about other traditions to say.

As a Christian, I can say that many, maybe most, of my serious co-religionists are annoyed at the way the world took one of our really special days and turned it into this orgy of consumerism. And while it’s nice to know that the university President wishes all of us well, we get the message. There ain’t no Jesus in this stuff any more, and that’s not an oversight. OK, we understand. But then all the holly wreaths and trees and candles strike us as omnipresent reminders of the rejection. “This wreath is not for you.”

If wreaths are unpleasant for Christians and non-Christians alike, who are they for? To whom does this season appeal now?

It is about pine trees and candles and wreaths, yes; but also friendship and family; buying and giving and getting gifts; and feeding yourself to the point of medically-noteworthy abdominal distention.

This makes me think of the wooden halls of pagan tribes those many centuries ago, under the eves of dark northern forests. The sun went down and the King of the Geats called his warriors to feast, and distributed intricate treasures of gold and silver, circlets, braided torcs, banded shields, and fire-forged weapons of highest quality. “Let us celebrate the departure of Sun and the coming of cold and darkness. And in the darkness let us light the fires and eat and rest, most worthy men and women, for just as surely as Sun departed, Sun will come again.”

It was once a pagan holiday. The Church co-opted it. And now it is going back to its roots. A pagan festival of the winter solstice. And I guess the shamans of the whole affair are now university administrators, who keep sending these Happy Holidays emails.

Dear Administrators: Happy Holidays to you too, I guess. Happy Solstice! May your pine tree be, uh, glistening, and may you eat a lot! May you demonstrate your riches and grandeur most superbly! And don’t bother restoring human sacrifice, the wreaths are enough.