‘Tis the season. Of Yule trees, gift-giving, cheese logs and—wait for it—-neopagans complaining loudly that it was all stolen! These are OUR traditions! How dare the Christians steal the tree! The stockings! The cheese!
Today, I’m going to tell you why I don’t care that the Christians “stole” the Christmas tree.
Everybody gets a tree.
(Or maybe, we can just stop slaughtering trees to celebrate nature).
Which pagans, exactly?
Let’s start with the facts.
It’s true that ancient pagans liked them some trees in the cold months.
In fact, decorating evergreens (or decorating with evergreens) wasn’t so much a “pagan tradition” as it was a near-universal practice anywhere they grow to celebrate winter holidays.
It makes sense if you think about it. When you look around a barren landscape, and the only life you see is a spruce tree, it seems like obvious to associate it with inspiration and hope in the face of darkness.
In Scandinavia, the Vikings worshipped evergreens, which they believed to be the domain of the sun god, Balder.
Saturnalia, a holiday celebrated by pagans in ancient Rome, featured evergreen branches as decorative focal points during their festivities.
And the ancient Celtic influence on Christmas was especially prolific. Not only did they decorate trees, the hanging of mistletoe, the burning of the Yule log, and decorating with “boughs of holly” are all pre-Christian Celtic traditions.
So which pagans were “stolen” from? On whose behalf do we express our outrage?
What does all that have to do with modern witchcraft?
Almost nothing. You could just as easily claim that modern paganism “stole” the Christmas tree, because, after all, there is no such thing as an “unbroken lineage” of magickal heritage.
While many practitioners have been influenced, or informed by (or “stolen,” if you prefer) from pagan cultures like the religions of indigenous Celtic people, none of them can actually claim direct experience with that heritage.
So stop whining about it. After all, people actually living in the countries where these traditions originate don’t seem to care.
We have legitimate grievances. This is not one of them.
Of all the atrocities committed throughout history by organized religions, are we seriously complaining about hanging a bunch of shiny red balls on a tree?
You guys. The world has suffered through the Inquisition, The Crusades, and forced conversion on a mass scale. It continues today throughout the globe.
In the United States, where we are presumably guaranteed religious freedom, there are custody battles won and lost over whether or not mom is a witch. People are forced to hide their religious beliefs from their employers for fear of being fired.
But OMG The Christians stole the Christmas tree!
There are countries where you can literally be put to death for practicing witchcraft.
I’m not worried about a tree. Forget the freaking tree.
This is not helping our relationship with Christians.
Look, I get it. Some of you are really mad at Christianity.
A lot of people come to alternative spiritual practices because they had a bad experience with larger, more mainstream spiritual traditions. I respect that. You have a right be angry about whatever happened to you. And a right to be angry at the institution that either allowed it, or cultivated a culture that made it seem okay.
But there’s a difference between being mad at Christianity, and being mad at Christians.
I, for one, don’t want to been seen as a bigot who goes about hate-mongering on an entire group of people just because they like to drag trees into their living rooms once a year and make a spectacular fire hazard out of them.
This doesn’t change anything.
So, the next time you’re sitting around the old Solstice fire, bemoaning all this “theft” over a chalice full of spiked rosemary and cran, I just want you ask yourself: What are we hoping to accomplish here?
Because I’m telling you, nobody, I mean nobody besides us cares about this “issue.”
So this Yule, I implore us all to sit back with our Christian brothers and sisters.
And just enjoy the damn tree.