Well, I wrote up a huge post yesterday; and then decided not to publish it. It was full of my angsty journey from hostility to understanding of my Christian heritage, and honestly was probably way more words than anyone would want to read about my childhood! So, a little late, I give you a new 'C for Christianity' post.
Many Pagans today were raised in Christian homes, and many of those in fairly fundamentalist ones. I am one of those Pagans, and the journey of transition was a difficult one for me, as it is for many. I know that at first, I took the stance of totally cutting everything about my birth religion out of my consciousness and my life - I refused to attend church with the family, refused to touch the books on religion they gave me, I even did up very elaborate goth makeup for my graduation to piss off the church elders! But my attitude has slowly changed over the years, and I'd like to propose today that we don't have to do this.
I'm not advocating that we, as Pagans in a Christian family or society, bow to the wishes of those around us, confess our sins, and convert! What we can do is carry forward some of the things we learned in our youth to inform the religious practices we have adopted as our own. One of my favorite services was always Good Friday - it was very ceremonial with candles being lit and extinguished at specific times, dark and melancholy words and hymns; it always felt as if a cloud was passing over the earth and death was very near. In my teenage wisdom I dismissed this as ridiculous; but now a bit older and a bit wiser, I can see that this was probably one of my first experiences in looking the otherworld in the eye, much as many Pagans do at Samhain. After this realization, I began to tap into that very strong feeling and memory association from my youth and used that in my Samhain rituals - I used some of the same hymn tunes and put my own Pagan words to them, and I still follow the Tenebrae extinguishing of candles; but this is to honor the death of the light and life on the earth rather than Jesus.
I have been accused of being a catch-all, eclectic, take-what's-shiny Pagan, and I suppose that's a fairly accurate characterization. But this is not just grabbing some random ritual from some random culture - it's borrowing from the religion of my birth, the religion of my society, and one with which I have very powerful sensation and memory associations. I no longer believe in the literal existence of Jesus, but why should that stop me from borrowing a ritual that fits my purpose, has exactly the right tone, and that I am intimately familiar with after having been part of it for almost twenty years?
In that same vein, I feel that it is at our own peril that former-Christian Pagans eschew the general holidays and merriment of wider society. I know one Wiccan woman who refuses to acknowledge the existence of Christmas to her children, insisting that they celebrate only Yule and that Santa Claus and Jesus are malicious stories intended to deceive their friends. I can understand where she is coming from, but at the same time I don't think she realizes just how hard it is to be a child that doesn't celebrate Christmas, or Easter, or any of the other major Christian holidays - even the harmless, secular aspects. My husband grew up Muslim, and he still carries animosity and anger about Christmas; not because he felt oppressed, but because he felt left out. Is that what we want to do to our children? Should we sacrifice their joy in the holiday season because we have issues about our Christian past? In my house, we have chosen to celebrate Yule and Ostara in very ritualistic, religious ways - and at Christmas and Easter, we open presents from Santa and hunt eggs left by the Easter Bunny. We don't generally talk about Jesus's birth or death, but that doesn't mean we have to ignore the holiday, especially in our increasingly secularized society.
I'd like to challenge all of the former-Christian Pagans reading this to take some time to think about your relationship with Christianity. Do you view it with animosity? Perhaps it is time to start changing that view. I like to remember the Pagans of Europe, who when confronted with conversion to this new religion, went along with it - but still kept many of their old traditions and rituals as well.