One particular documentary I saw today (not for the first time) discussed the history behind the different aspects of the Nativity story, and the scientific plausibility of the various elements. Now, this time watching it, I was watching it with my literalist Christian mother, as I am in North Carolina visiting family for the holidays. All whilst hearing the various theologians discuss how the virgin birth is a metaphor for this-and-that and not historically accurate (I am inclined to agree), I hear my mom asking me "you don't really believe what they're saying, right?" and lamenting "If you don't believe in the virgin birth, you may as well just not even bother with any of it". As can be imagined, I find holidays very difficult with my family, no matter how much I love them. I struggle to come up with ways the more mainstream religious holidays that I include in my spiritual practice can have meaning to me as a Gnostic Druid, whilst simultaneously celebrating them with a family I seem to have only genetics and family history in common with. At times I feel like I'm being a fake, for not being forthcoming about the true extent of my religious beliefs as of current - instead I smile and nod and go along with it, telling myself that I only see them a few times a year and everybody does basically the same thing over the holidays. I answer questions only when directly asked (such as, incidentally, just a few minutes ago, when my mom asked about The Infancy Gospel of James, after hearing about it in the documentary), or in other cases such as her "Do you really believe this?" accusatory question, I just answer vaguely or don't even acknowledge I heard her, pretending to be absorbed in the book/tv show/whatever. Not exactly healthy confrontational skills, I know.
Nonetheless, Christmas this year does have a different "feel" to it than some years past, as it were. I seem to be more aware of the nature symbolism behind the traditions - the Christmas tree as a symbol of life in the death of winter; the lights as a symbol of the coming light in the darkness of winter. I feel more connected to the nature aspects of the holiday and the history behind the traditions. As such, it is becoming a more meaningful holiday to me this year than it has since I first began this path (even though, unfortunately, on the Winter Solstice I held little celebration, doing so a day late, and could not see the eclipse very well). I even read my current favorite version of the Christmas story, the aforementioned Infancy Gospel of James online.
I'm not yet sure why I like this version so much. Perhaps because it is different from the standard version of the Christmas story that we read every year in the canonical Bible, quoted in my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas special. In addition to that, it's the first Infancy Gospel I have finally had the chance to read in its entirety. This version begins with Anna, Mary's mother, lamenting that she has not had children, and she and her husband are old. An angel appears to her, and she is told she would conceive. Of course, she then has Mary. A couple of more stories regarding Mary in the temple and things that show her specialness compared to other girls, and Joseph not wanting to marry her because of her age, and the fact that he is older and has children from a previous marriage. But he does take her in, she is visited by Gabriel, etc. etc. I think my favorite passage, probably due to how different it is from anything else I'd heard or read up to this point, is when Joseph is looking for a midwife while Mary is in labor in a cave, as quoted in this post:
Now I Joseph was walking, and I walked not. And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.In other words, Pleroma, the True God, stopped time so that Joseph could find a midwife before Jesus' birth. It goes on to say that the midwife went to get a second midwife, Salome, to assist, and Salome disbelieved the first midwife's story about Mary, so when she arrived she "tested God". As a result, her hand falls off. She prays for forgiveness and is healed.
I think to me, just like the mainstream versions, this version serves as a metaphor of Pleroma's love for us, for the Divinity within us, and the importance of Jesus as a Wayshower, alongside Buddha, Krishna, and other prophets from all religions. To me, they all lead to the same Source, and Christmas is the celebration of just one path, celebrated alongside a commemoration of the natural world around us near the Winter Solstice, a conjunction of the spiritual and material. So, on that note, I hope everyone had a Merry Yule and has a Merry Christmas!