December in a UU Congregation
Long before the coming of Christianity, with which this time of year has been inextricably linked, people all over the world celebrated the rising of the Midwinter sun and the birth of the gods who held out to them the promise of a New Year with new hopes…. most often with fire -- a symbol of hope -- and with boughs of greenery that symbolized the eternal circle of creation.
~ John Matthews
In most of our UU congregations, the month of December is filled with festivities, rituals, traditions, and joyous celebrations of winter holidays, many of which seem to mirror the culture beyond our walls in its focus upon Christianity. Which is disconcerting for some UUs.
People often join our congregations because we hold space for a plurality of beliefs, which allows for seekers, explorers, interfaith couples, and freethinkers, to gather in Beloved Community. We do so with those who aspire to live out certain principles and values, while welcoming a variety of spiritual traditions which hold love at the center.
So for those who did not grow up with Christian traditions or who do not profess Christian or theistic beliefs of any sort, it’s no surprise that December in a UU congregation might bring forward feelings like, “What’s up with all the focus on Christianity? I thought this was a pluralistic community?”
I was surprised when I heard some express that December especially, with its emphasis on Christian celebrations, caused them to question whether we are living into our pluralistic intentions. While others, I’ve learned, have wondered if it is better to not attend at all on Sunday mornings during the month of December.
My heart is deeply troubled when I hear this, though I am also grateful to become aware. Troubled for those who believe their community has now -- even if only temporarily -- become an unwelcoming space. And troubled for us all in our quest to create Beloved Community that offers a radical welcome.
Christianity is at the root of our Unitarian and Universalist traditions, and as with any religious tradition, at some point in the year it is helpful to remember its roots through storytelling, ritual, and celebration. Even as we who are UUs of the 21st century also understand that this living tradition of ours is continually expanding in what we have the capacity to hold in the widening circle of our beliefs.
Now that I am a UU who no longer claims Christianity as the focus of my faith, though I do recognize it’s impact upon me, what I have personally found compelling about the celebrations throughout December is learning about other traditions that have become imbedded within Christian beliefs and traditions as they were being formed. For example, Pagan, Celtic, Jewish, Gnostic, and even those of the ancient world thousands of years before the birth of Jesus:
A surprising number of the gods of the ancient classical world shared nativity stories that would later influence the development of the story of the birth of Jesus. Among those recorded are Tammuz (Mesopotamia), Attis (Asia Minor), Apollo and Dionysus (Greece), Mithras (Rome), and Baal (Palestine). All are Wonder Children, born under extraordinary circumstances and conditions, at or near to the time of the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas
Many of us can easily say that those espousing some form of Christianity throughout the ages have done us or our people great harm, of which there is much evidence around the world. I count myself among you. And I also know that when looked at closely, it can be said that most humans have unfortunately engaged in harmful acts, in the name of religion or spirituality or secular beliefs; if not globally then certainly locally.
Christianity, as it is practiced among those focused upon it at ERUUF, centers upon Jesus the Teacher who helped people to make meaning of life through core teachings also found in many other traditions. And as humans are inclined to do in our meaning making, traditions and rituals have been created around those teachings. As UUs we have let go of some of these, and others we still acknowledge, often with innovations or have reinvented altogether.
It is my desire to see our pluralistic congregation celebrate traditions deemed sacred by all those who come to call this community their own. We did this with Kwanzaa seven years ago, and now Jazz for the Holidays, both of which have now become a rich part of our December celebrations. I believe we all benefit when expanding our awareness of traditions beyond those we might already know. To avoid a misappropriation of what is not ours, it is also important that such traditions be brought forward by those who can authentically claim them.
I hold in my heart a desire for December to be seen in a new light among us here at ERUUF. May we come to appreciate traditions we do not know as we learn something of our UU roots. I hold in my heart that we might all celebrate together in the beauty of winter’s luminous darkness and in the welcome of its wintry light.
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