Celebrating Christmas the heathen way

Christmas is fast approaching, in the US religious organizations and presidential candidates are hollering about the war on Christmas apparently being fought all over the world and especially in the US. As an unashamed infidel I’m a bit miffed about this so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring by telling what Christmas means to me and how we celebrate it.

The first thing to know is that the word for Christmas is joulu. The word is derived from the same root as a Viking word for the sun and the original meaning of Christmas in Finland (and pretty much all Nordic countries) was appropriately the celebration of light returning. See, the winter solstice (occurs 21st-23rd of December) is a pretty significant thing this far up in the North because it marks the point when days start getting longer again and so has been celebrated far longer than Christmas especially considering that Christianity came to the North pretty late – the last Crusade to Finland finished around 1100 CE.

Being a lifelong atheist Christmas has always had this meaning for me. It is a time of good food, pretty lights, family and loved ones. A few days without obligations while everyone sleeps in and tries to enjoy themselves. As I’ve grown up Christmas has also taken on the solstice as a more significant part. As a kid I was so concerned with whether or not there was snow on the ground that I didn’t really even notice the days starting to get longer but nowadays I notice it almost immediately making Christmas the starter pistol for the long awaited winter. Everything before that tends to be grey, dreary and cold. Around the solstice the day is only 5hours 48 minutes, all of which occur during the time modern people are at work. And that’s just in Helsinki. The further north you go the shorter the day gets. So most days, this is all I see:

View from my study around 8 AM
View from my study around 8 AM

Before the solstice even when the sun is up it’s very low on the sky and the change right after the solstice can be seen and felt by humans and animals alike. I noticed last year that birds started singing almost right after the solstice. I celebrate Christmas because it means that the sun has returned to us. Even though intellectually I know that it must, by the middle of December it feels as if it never will.

The way we celebrate Christmas doesn’t differ that much from the way Christians celebrate christmas; we hang up decorations and lights, give and receive presents, eat far more than we should and spend time with our families, alternating years between mine and my husband’s because they live in different cities.

So happy hoilidays to believers and non-believers alike and seeing as the next post will appear on the first of January, have a happy New Year too!

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