Everywhere you look, it seems like religious intolerance is the order of the day. Just turn on the news—it is like one never-ending freakshow parade of bigots, zealots, crusaders, jihadists and other pinheads. The deafening chorus never ends, as all these people cry out as one narrow-minded hate monger "Our hatred is justified! They started it! They're worse!"

Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay"
He told his niece, "It's Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style"
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it's been awhile"

Here in the land of Top-40 country music and talk radio, it has never been an easy task to find any music that is anywhere outside the mainstream. If I want to hear 1970s rock standards repeated endlessly, or keep up with the creative canon of Tim McGraw, that is pretty easy, but it has always been difficult to hear more obscure music around these parts.

Years ago, our local NPR affiliate, KERA played music during the early afternoon. It was cool music. It was not music like I could hear anywhere else—they would play stuff like Leonard Cohen, big band jazz, Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson, Warren Zevon and many other artists that that I had barely heard of, and never heard.

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

The end of the year presents its own challenges. Supposedly a gentle time of "peace on earth and goodwill towards men" for Christians, a time of miracles for Jews and a season of hope and rebirth for pagans—it seems to fall short of those promises every year. The loudest voices always seem to be the ones who are grousing and griping. Between heated arguments over "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays,"* and the numbing over-marketing and commercialism, the idea of a peaceful or contemplative holiday season seems like a bitter joke.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian,
But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere"

One Christmas season, I heard a song on there that moved me nearly to tears. Now, I am not the kind of person to get choked up that easily by a sappy song. Okay, maybe I am, that that is hardly the point.

This song told a wonderful story of a young pagan who goes to visit her Christian uncle and his family for Christmas, finding a warm, happy, familial understanding that transcends their religious differences. I thought of the many kind and wonderful people that I have known: Christian, Wiccan, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist and many other faiths, and I dreamed of a world where they can live in understanding and mutual tolerance.

Where does magic come from, I think magic's in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning

The song moved me, but I never wrote down the artist's name. Soon afterward, my best friend handed me a newspaper review. She did not say another word. It was a review of an album called Mortal City by an artist named Dar Williams. The review mentioned a song named The Christians and the Pagans. I got a Ladyslipper Music catalogue from a friend and ordered the CD immediately.

Religious differences have caused problems in my family, just as they do in the world at large. The whole album is good, but this song remains a holiday favorite. During the December holidays, or at any time cynical reality is just too much for me, I listen to Ms. Williams' words and dream of better things.

Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old,
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold

*A couple of Decembers ago, I chanced to say "Happy Holidays" to a big, intimidating redneck-sort of fellow. Looking me in the eye, he intoned, "Only one holiday I'm celebratin', boy." I kept snarky comments to myself out of sheer self-preservation.

CST Approved