As I write this it is now (for the next couple hours, anyway) ten days until Christmas, and a week until Solstice. I've just about reconciled, though, that those two words mean pretty much the same thing to me.
I am not and never have been a Christian, except maybe in the vague fluffy Unitarian sense of "what Jesus said was so nice, who cares if he was God or not" (and, when I'm in the right mood, the even vaguer and fluffier Alan Moore sense of "the idea of a god is a god," of course); as you can well imagine, the neocon War On Christmas paranoia reads to me like dispatches from Bizarro-World, because from where I sit, Christmas qua Christmas is freakin' everywhere, a cultural default. I've always sort of been of two minds about it, I suppose, because while the assumption that I'm buying into the same theology has made me uncomfortable for most of my life, I harbor a deep and shameless and uncompromising love of Christmas itself. I adore the lights, the decorations, the gifts, the overeating, and, unlike almost everyone else I know, I like to see it all get started just about as soon as October is through. Holly and evergreen and strings of light obviously speak to something profoundly resonant in me, which I suspect is nothing more complicated than the same thing that inspired folks in the northern hemisphere to first want to light fires and quaff wassail in the long nights of the year aeons past: it's cold and it's dark and if we don't do something fun we may give up and die of despair.
So I've come to understand that what I'm really celebrating at Christmas is the Yuletide, "older than Bethlehem and Babylon" (as Granpa HPL put it in a much creepier context), and calling it Christmas is a matter of cultural convenience and shorthand. I used to feel weirder about that, when I was first working out my identity as a pagan and aspiring magician and making like the important thing for me was observing the Solstice, but keeping Christmas at a distance never quite took. (Nowadays, I'm still inclined to want some sort of quasi-religious ritual on the Solstice proper, but it's in addition to, not instead of, the presents and revelry of the 25th, and I'm more and more of a mind that it's all part of one big Yule festival anyway.) I am in my heart a syncretist, which I suppose I must irritate alike both the religiously orthodox and the critics of cultural appropriation, what with my pentacle and my Ganesh puja and my heretical DIY patchwork pantheism; but I'm convinced there's a lot of good in the squishy lumper magpie approach to culture, collecting the shiny bits of diverse things together and discarding the parts that don't fit. So it is that I've come to understand that I've been observing the Good Parts Version of Christmas, and all the sanctimonious moralizing in the world about the "reason for the season" isn't going to make my experience of it any less authentic, even if what I mean by "Christmas" is something very different than what They do.
And what's in a name, anyway? Christos means "annointed one"; whether Son of Man or Sun Unconquered, the Mass we enact at the close of December is a crowning - a new day, a new beginning, the Kingdom of the world remade in a better and brighter light. Let Heaven and Nature sing! You don't need a Messiah in order to take comfort and joy in the hope that this time around will be better than the last, or just to be glad that it's only going to get sunnier from here for a while. (Although, while we're at it, you also don't need to believe in miracles in order to honor a great teacher who spent his life trying to convince people that charity and mercy and forgiveness are better than the alternatives, should you want a reason to keep the Christ in Christmas that's less vague and fluffy than mine.)
All of which is to say: Merry Christmas, everyone, whether you keep it for yourselves by that name or not; I trust that a bit of Midwinter cheer and Peace on Earth are things we can all get behind, even all you hard-line Scrooges out there. (And a very happy whatever-else-it-is you may observe around now as well, needless to say.) And here's a Yule cup raised to you as well, for the sake of good company in a dark hour and a warm hearth on a cold night. Gaudete, all; winter is coming, but there's light and green lingering yet, and soon the night will begin to fall back. If that's not reason enough for the season no matter what you call it, I don't know what is.