The Secular Holiday I call Giftmas



It’s that time of the year again!

Last year, I realized a dilemma in my life. I wanted to swerve my life towards encompassing completely Gaelic Polytheism, but I wasn’t raised in the Gaelic culture. And the first blatant conflict because of that came around the holiday season.

This hopefully will shock no one: but “Christmas” isn’t a Gaelic Polytheist holiday.

So the obvious “pagan” thing to do is to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Great!…only there aren’t any pre-Christian sources that describe what the Gaels did–if anything–on the Winter Solstice. There is evidence it was observed, but the Quarter Days (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasa) were/are bigger celebrations.  But MidWinter is obviously something to be celebrated, if not just observed with small prayers and offerings.

…But that didn’t fix my itch. I was raised Catholic. I am use to a big o’ tree being in my house, carols being sung, and presents being given. And to leave that was to abandon that is abandoning part of my heritage. My American Heritage and Upbringing, anyways.

Let me step back and address my “Love Language”. One of the best ways I describe myself to friends and family is by talking about my “Love Language.” Some guy wrote a whole book about them, but you can read this article and bypass buying some marriage book. Basically, there are FIVE languages in which people express emotional love:

  1. Words of Affirmation – saying things that reinforce feelings, like “I care about you” or “I love you” and etc
  2. Quality Time – doing things with the other person, like watching TV, going on a date, etc.
  3. Gifts – buying things that express the emotional love physically and show care
  4. Acts of Service – doing things for the other person, like chores, taking care of a garden in their honor, etc.
  5. Physical Affection – physically reinforcing feelings, like cuddling, sex, kissing, etc.

While a lot of people will a few on this list are how they express and feel love, there is also typically a dominate language. So someone will need to hear how much their spouse loves them, or someone will need their friends to spend time with them, and so forth to feel love in that relationship. (And while the author is talking about spouses, this really applies to any relationship.)

My strongest love language happens to be Gifts (followed closely by Acts of Service and Quality Time.) And I put so much thought and care into my gifts. I view gifts as an embodiment of understanding–that I know you so well that here is a gift that reflects that understanding. And if someone gets a gift that they don’t like…I failed as a friend.

So while there is a lot of mockery by people that Christmas is just about gifts… I actually really value that. It’s a time for me to express how much my friends and family mean to me. A way for me to let them know I care about them. (And this is also why I try my best to memorize birthdays…) And so, I have started to make my own secular version of Christmas called “Giftmas” to fill that itch I was talking about. Spiritually, I will celebrate the Winter Solstice and culturally I will celebrate with my Jewish fiance Hanukkah. But for everything that mainstream culture has deemed “Christmas” that I want to keep in my life? That’s going to be my Giftmas.

There is of course a lot of reason to just keep the name “Christmas.” I live in the United States where the culture of this time of year–be ye Christian or not–is to celebrate Christmas in one fashion or another. It is a national holiday. But that does not sit well with me. “Christ” is right in the name, and even the “Xmas” is still referring to the Christian religions. And that is not what this time of year is about to me. That is not what makes me feel warm and excited.

Instead it’s the lights, the cold weather, the warm fire, the caroling, the movies, the trees, and everything short of the Nativity Scene and Catholic Mass.

So I got a tree last year (pictured on top of this post) with HelloKitty ornaments to start my collection going forward. I plan to make a new ornament each year with the date and place I’m living. I want to get A Charlie Brown Christmas because dammit that movie is one of my favorites. I have a playlist of my “Giftmas Music” to listen to while I decorate a tree. And yes, there will be presents under that tree too! Presents for my family and friends.

I don’t want to fake some religious reasons for why I give gifts this time of year and force reasoning around the Winter Solstice. That isn’t fair to the history of the Solstice in Gaelic traditions, nor true to my reasons for keeping these traditions. These traditions–as shallow as they may be mocked–are some of the only family traditions I grew up around. While I plan to give my children more than just these traditions, it’s one of the few things I have that ties me to my parents, siblings, and close relatives. And that is important to hold onto.


2 thoughts on “The Secular Holiday I call Giftmas

  1. While not strictly “pre-Christian Gaelic”, the custom of gift giving and merry making are ones which are necessarily rooted in a pre-Christian Gaelic virtue; hospitality. A Heathen associate of mine made the case to me some years ago that the gift giving, merry making and sharing these things with both people and the gods were just as important as the other cultural trappings which permeate the Christmas holiday. The “secular” parts of Christmas having deeper meaning and significance than crass commercialism and consumerism.

    Traditionally the larger feast days were ones where social ties and bonds were made and reinforced, and in a society which valued prestige goods, the act of reciprocity was both expected and necessary to establish a physical connection (beyond something like marriages). A chieftain or land owner who was able to be a generous patron could ensure the fealty and support of his clients, or alliances with other groups for the same reason.

    I understand that you don’t want to try and shoehorn in religious significance, and I would agree that the winter solstice is not going to “do it” for everyone, there are elements and themes which are ingrained within the existing cultural narrative of Christmas which are most definitely at home in G(R)P.

    • Yes! The traditions I am keeping are certainly not at odds with Gaelic values, but rather the timing of it all and the reasoning for the actions are not from pre-Christian Gael.

      And I am also using the phrase “religious” to mean something purely connecting to the Gods in some way. For example, Lughnasa has the “religious” significance of Lugh putting on games in memory of His mother Tailtiu dying for Ireland. If that makes sense?

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