#2042

There’s a War on Christmas – In My Heart


Oh Christmas, what a strange holiday you have become. Some say you have your source in paganism, others in Christianity, and still others curse you as a capitalist conspiracy. Regardless, you have centered yourself in the American mindset as the most important holiday of the year, so important in fact that you overshadow your competitors – Hanukkah usually gets a polite nod, Kwanzaa the occasional tossed crumbs, and as for the rest, well, they have to be content with “happy holidays”.  But I don’t hate you, Christmas. In fact, up until the last few years Christmas was one of my favorite holidays. I love how cheerful everything looks covered in evergreen boughs and twinkle lights; I love holiday foods like stuffing and pumpkin pie; I even love the old Christmas hymns like We Three Kings and O Come Emmanuel. This time of the year hearkens back to all those happy Christmases of my childhood, filled with choir performances, homemade decorations, and the nervous excitement of trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve. And yes, I’ll admit, I am certainly a fan of getting lots of gifts.

That being said, I’m just… not feeling it this year.

Actually, it’s more than not feeling – I’m downright bah humbug. I know my lack of enthusiasm is from a mixture of the usual reasons so many people hate the holidays: family drama; monetary stress; no two weeks of freedom like when you were in school. It can be hard to recapture the magic you felt as a kid when you’re unwrapping a tofu press instead of a new toy, or giving a gift to someone you are obligated to interact with but don’t actually like. It’s even harder when you’re in a committed relationship and either have to slight one family in favor of another or spend the holiday apart. So yeah, partly I’m being a grinch because Christmas as an adult isn’t nearly as easy and fun as when I was a kid. There’s more to it than that, though. I think. My feelings are very tangled right now, but when I try to work out the knots and get to the problem in the center I get the feeling it’s not just about family drama. It’s not just because I miss kid-Christmas. It’s because Christmas… isn’t my holiday.

Uh, DUH, you’re probably thinking if you know me. You’re pagan, of course Christmas isn’t your holiday. And yeah, there’s the rub. Up until 2015, I was a pseudo-agnostic content with celebrating a Christian holiday which has forced itself into the secular world. After all, almost everyone I know celebrates Christmas regardless of their spiritual beliefs, and in America it is very much assumed that you celebrate Christmas too. Sure, some folks go to church on Christmas eve, but many others just stay home and have cocoa. No one questions why you would celebrate this particular Christian holiday if you’re not Christian, and so you grow up not questioning it either. After all, most of us got baskets of candy on Easter, too.

But this year I find myself tripping over that “Christ” in Christmas. Despite how secular Christmas has become in our society, this year its religious connections seem to chafe me. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus was a great guy – but he’s not my savior. Why am I celebrating a Christian holy day? I’m proudly Kemetic, so isn’t that a little insulting to both Jesus and Bast? Somehow, celebrating Christmas as a pagan feels less okay than celebrating it as a maybe-agnostic, even though in both situations I’m still celebrating the secular version of the holiday. I feel like the guest no one invited to Baby Jesus’ birthday party, you know? Some friends dragged me along and now I’m standing awkwardly in the corner while Mary’s asking Joseph who the fuck I am.

To clarify, I don’t think I’m getting these vibes from either Jesus or the Netjeru. I don’t think anyone is angry or feels ignored, or is trying to push me into a decision I’m not ready to make. I think this is just the next logical stop on my spiritual journey; where I go from here is up to me. That’s kinda scary, though. What if I decide I don’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore? Does that mean I have to start explaining my religious beliefs to everyone who asks? Does it mean our family traditions have to change, or that I have to forgo seeing them on the holidays? What would my wife tell her staunchly Catholic family? What would I tell my fairly atheist family?

I know I have a lot of options no matter what decision I finally make, and Christmas 2018 is quite far away. Still, I think these feelings mark a turning point, and I’m both excited and scared to see where they take me. I’m pretty unapologetic about who I am – I’m fiercely queer, fiercely feminist, and fiercely geeky – but pagans don’t get a lot of respect in American society. People who embrace my queerness might mock my belief in Bast behind my back; people who support my rejection of Christian morals might draw the line at worshiping actual pagan deities. You just never know, and that unknown makes me anxious. Right now I fly below most people’s radar, even with my ankh ring and tattoos. Am I ready to be seen as pagan by everyone and to possibly defend my faith to family and strangers alike?

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#2029

It’s “the holidays”, so let’s talk about… eating disorders! (Wah wah.)

I’m about to throw a big ball of crazy at you, so fair warning. Possible triggers: eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, and chronic illness.

I don’t want to bore you with my whole life story, so I’ll try to give you the relevant highlights. I have always had stomach problems: cholic as a baby, a lactose intolerance diagnosis in elementary school, and an IBS diagnosis in high school. Add to this an anxiety disorder that makes my stomach rock and roll whenever I’m nervous, excited, angry, or upset and you have a bad, bad combination. Basically, my stomach hurt all the time when I was a kid and I rarely knew why. Food became dangerous and untrustworthy; something that was fine the day before might upset my stomach the next day. I was miserable (and frequently still am).

In college, I added to all this a healthy dose of body issues. I was a chubby child but it never bothered me, as I eschewed most of society’s expectations for the female body. Sometime in college the bad body vibes hit me, though, despite my best efforts, and I’ve never been able to shake them. My food anxiety and OCD combined with the shiny new body issues and morphed into a stronger, faster, meaner obsession. I counted calories, carbs, portions, and anything else that was trackable. About a year out of college, I had managed to get my body, which likes to be between 132-135 pounds, down to 111. I had even managed to cease my menstrual cycle completely, which was awesome but not super healthy.

Nowadays I’m back to a proper weight, but still in a weird limbo where my anxiety-ocd-body-issues monster is constantly at war with my queer, feminist side that strives to cast off all the gross social conditioning and love my body exactly how it is. Every single day I expend so much energy worrying about my weight, my IBS, what I should eat to be healthy, what I should eat to be skinny, what I should eat to be comfortable and happy and not-crazy that I exhaust myself. If I have one cookie on the weekend, I mentally berate myself for it. If I take a day off from exercising because my stomach hurts, I swear I’m already a pound heavier. Even this very moment, while I write this, I’m craving Chex Mix but no, it’s so many calories, what if it makes my stomach hurt, I shouldn’t! Rinse and repeat forever.

All of this is to explain why Thanksgiving and Christmas have gone from being my favorite holidays to ones I dread through all of September, October, and November. See, I love eating and the winter holidays have the best food – pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, candied yams, mashed potatoes, honey rolls, hot chocolate, donuts and cheese danish on Christmas morning… mmm! More than anything, though, I love eating my mom’s stuffing. It’s soaked with butter and chock full of dried and fresh fruit, and I would eat it every day of my life if I could. But stuffing isn’t a good food according to my OCD brain. It’s bad for my stomach; it’s high in calories; it has no nutritional value. How dare I have even one bite?! So for the last ten or eleven years, the holidays have involved far more anxiety and internal panicking than enjoyment of the dishes I love. I drink water to fill myself up to the point of pain, and I eat a big, healthy breakfast so I’m not tempted by the Christmas donuts. When I have one anyway, I then spend the day wondering how I can sneak away from the festivities to work out. It’s pathetic, honestly, and majorly depressing.

I am going to change that this year. Or at least, I’m really going to try. I want to eat a nice dinner without worrying about my stomach beforehand and hating myself afterward. Wouldn’t that be nice? It really would. And I deserve that. I deserve to enjoy the holidays with my friends and family. I deserve to nourish my body with food that is healthy and good, and to not feel guilty for giving it the fuel it needs (or the treat I want!). I deserve to live free of anxiety and obsession. I deserve to live my life, to be present in every moment, and so does everyone else in similar situations. There are so many of us hurting out there, starving our bodies and souls to meet impossible ideals, and there’s just no reason. We weren’t put on this earth to make ourselves suffer.

I think this will be my goal for 2018 – to be kinder to myself and to love myself, not despite my various burdens but because of them. Maybe 2018 will be the year that I get to know my body again. We’ve been at war for too long.