I grew up in upstate New York, where Mormons constitute a very small minority. My home was in a rural area, right in the middle of a large state forest. One of the few neighbors within walking distance is a couple who moved to the area forty years ago, around the same time that my parents did. The husband is a folk singer who does voice-work for the local radio and his wife works as a lab technician.
For the past thirty-five years, my neighbors have hosted a annual series of three parties --- May Day, Stone Soup, and Winter Solstice. For May Day, there is a may-pole and dancing, along with a distribution of flowers to remind us all that spring is coming. Every year, I got a paper cup with a little johnny-jump-up. I took the flowers home and planted them in our garden, where the flowers are still blooming. For the Stone Soup party, there is a dramatic re-enactment of a tired old soldier wandering into the party, begging for a meal, and promising to make soup from a single stone. “Oh, but if someone, anyone, had just a few sprinkles of herbs --- or a little carrot --- or just a potato, one potato --- that would just make the soup so much better.” he would ask as we taunted him, telling him to leave the party and go elsewhere. Then, one by one, everyone would bring forth an item and add it to the pot. For the winter solstice, we hiked up into the woods to burn the may-pole from the spring before. As the may-pole burned, we stood around the flames holding hands as we shared our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. Winter solstice was a reminder that though the winters were long and cold, the sun would once again make an appearance.
When the celebrations had ended, we all ate a potluck dinner, crammed into the warm, rough-hewn confines of my neighbors’ house. Afterwards, everyone got out their instruments and the singing lasted well into the night; the party only ended once everyone had left. This was an event where everyone was welcome and no one was ever forced to leave; people came from as far from Vermont to attend these parties.
What I only realized as an adult is the fact that my neighbors are pagan. I never thought to ask and I also never connected the celebration of pagan holidays with the parties that my neighbors throw every year. My neighbors are private people; they won’t tell if you don’t ask. I don’t know what their interactions with my parents were like; knowing my father he has tried to give them a Book of Mormon at one time or another. But my neighbors never treated me any differently because of what my family was. And I also understood, even as an over-enthusiastic teenager, that discussion of religion with my neighbors was off-limits.