With the combination of festivities and reflection that make up Christmastime, it’s often easy to forget there are plenty of folks out there who don’t celebrate the same things we do during this time of year…
According to the latest U.K. Census figures, Jediism is now the most common “alternative” faith and the seventh most common declared faith overall in England and Wales (go ahead and laugh, but remember, nobody took Scientology seriously to begin with either). And here in the States, Jediism is now recognized by The United States Department of Defense as an official religion and cannot be discriminated against. So it’s not out of the question that sometime soon an acquaintance might just ask you to celebrate Life Day with them. But could a Catholic in good conscience participate in such an observance?
Well, to try and answer that, let’s see how things work with something that’s going on right this minute, Kwanzaa, a holiday that’s not much older than Life Day, but is a bit more widely celebrated. Kwanzaa is a week long holiday beginning on December 26 which was created in 1966 by African American activist, Dr. Maulana Karenga. While purportedly intended as an alternative to Christmas for African Americans, the official Kwanzaa web site currently states that Kwanzaa is to be considered a non-religious cultural celebration of African identity rather than an alternative to other religious holidays. In Dr. Karenga’s words, “The holiday, then will of necessity, be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people’s culture.”
That being the case, the apologists over at Catholic Answers suggest that “if Kwanzaa is an authentic cultural holiday and not an alternative to Christmas, it would not be wrong for African-American Catholics to celebrate it, just as it is not wrong for Chinese Catholics to celebrate the Chinese New Year. But if, after study and reflection, a Catholic were to find that Kwanzaa was intended to undermine Christmas, it would be problematic to celebrate a holiday created for that purpose.” For those Catholics who do choose to participate in Kwanzaa, Franciscan Father Jim Goode, president of the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life, has asked that they do so in a way which “brings us closer to God and closer to each other… [and] which enables us to see in every human face the face of Christ.”
So, would Life Day fall into the same category as Kwanzaa, which would potentially allow a Catholic to celebrate it? It sounds like a silly question, I know, since the whole thing most likely started as a joke. In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Australian Star Wars Appreciation Society president Chris Brennan admits that most of the people who claimed Jedi as a religion on the Census “did so for a laugh or to poke borax at the Government.” So if Jediism had remained in the realm of good clean fun, then there would be no problem with a Catholic donning a red Snuggie, scarfing down some Wookie Ookies and Hoth chocolate, and gathering around the television with some friends to watch a bootleg of the Star Wars Holiday Special. But the problem these days is that, for better or worse, Jediism is now recognized as an official religion. And since that’s the way things are, we have to actually approach the question with some degree (no matter how small) of seriousness.
Now, according to the Wookiepedia, “Life Day most likely was originally intended as a stand-in for the American holiday of Thanksgiving, as The Holiday Special was originally aired on November 17, the Friday before Thanksgiving that year.” Given that Thanksgiving is a secular holiday which Catholics are free to participate in, there would appear to be no problem there. As to its purpose, Life Day “was a celebration of the planet’s [Kashyyyk] diverse ecosystem and the many forms of life it encompassed. It also was a time to remember family members who had died, and the young ones who continued to bring new life to a family.” That definitely makes Life Day sound like a cultural celebration along the lines of Kwanzaa rather than a purely religious one, so therefore it should be potentially safe for Catholics to participate in.
Unfortunately, as often happens, a snag has arisen over time. Wookiepedia notes that “the canonical date for the observance of Life Day has, nevertheless, been established in what sources there are as December 25, or the equivalent thereof in the Wookiee calendar. Whether this means that Life Day actually is intended to be understood as a solstice festival akin to Christmas as opposed to a harvest festival akin to Thanksgiving is unknown.” So these days, instead of a fun sci-fi alternative to Turkey day, we’ve got a formally recognized religion with a holiday that may or may not have religious overtones depending on who’s celebrating it occurring as an alternative to Christmas. And for Christians, alas, that’s a problem. So while the Church has made no official pronouncement on Life Day, the safe bet is that in its modern incarnation it’s pretty much off limits for good Catholic boys and girls. I guess, that’s just the way the Wookie Ookie crumbles.