Now, I’m not here to judge those friends of mine in the pagan and polytheist communities who do Christmas; I’m actually ratherambivalent about the whole subject, and I figure that just so long as some-one isn’t trying to tell me which holidays I “should” or “shouldn’t” celebrate, I’m just fine.
So, then, why do I celebrate Dionysia, if not for the smug sense of superiority?
Well, as a sort of Unverified Personal Gnosis, I’ve come to merge a lot of Saturnalia traditions into a Dionysia, and I tend to justify this based on the fact that much of the Christmas traditions originated with Saturnalia, and then you get a lot of the older Christmas symbolism, including ivy, pomegranate, and grapevines1 have ancient ties to Dionysos.
Now, historically, the Rural and Urban Dionysia were theatre festivals, and I do tend to keep this in my own way. Lacking the money to go to the opera or ballet (and really, the only ballet you’re going to see around this time is The Nutcracker, and I have a Russian production on DVD, thank-you), this tends to become a self-imposed film-fest, and my tastes run all over the place.
The reason I tend to include the traditions typically associated with Saturnalia and/or Christmas is very simple, UPG-based: As a teenager, at home by myself one evening during the Christmas school holiday, I’d had a brief vision of an infant crowned in vines and laying atop a basket filled with the winter fruits. I’d thought little of it at the time, but in recent years, I’ve come to associate that vision with this holiday season, and so I’ve come to pick up the habit of inserting a lot of those traditions into Dionysia.
- decorating my evergreens (rosemary, laurel, faux pine wreath) with glittering objects, including lights, tinsel, ornaments…
- FRUITCAKE! No, serious, holiday cakes are a very ancient polytheist tradition, and a well-made fruitcake is something to choke a baby for.
- feasting with my (surrogate) family, when possible — that last part added because, seriously, the only time I had available this year to get my wisdom teeth pulled was the morning of 16 Boukatios (22 December, Gregorian calendar), and only just today have I been able to start eating foods slightly more-solid than cottage cheese and applesauce.
Gift-giving, I can take or leave, cos the important part is the decorating, the food, and the thirteen days of watching some of the best (or the best of the worst) films I can find. I can’t afford to buy stuff for everybody I know, but cos my flat-mate offers to get me stuff I honestly need (like a pair of winter boots or new jeans), I do try to get him something small and fun. I also try to get special “cat spoiling food” and maybe new little toys for the cats, but mainly cos I have few bad memories surrounding Christmas itself, and see no harm in it, since the toys these cats like best tend to be stuff made from scrap.
That’s it, really. No guilt tripping about how you just may be a “bad pagan” if you buy gifts for your family; if only cos I tend to assume that those who actually read this blog are intelligent enough to know not to just buy tonnes of useless crap for the sake of buying it.
So whether you’re celebrating Saturnalia, or Dionysia, or (oh noes!) are doing a secular Christmas with friends or family, I hope you and yours have a happy one this year. I myself an dealing with the teeth just fine and am already several days into the nightly films and fruit smoothies.
1: My source on the latter two would mostly be the little info cards at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Hell, a year-round Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan — which has billboards advertising for it as far south as Florida.