It seems to me…
“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” ~ Dave Barry.
Christmas seems to bring religious conservatives out of their closet for their yearly rant demanding we keep Christ in Christmas while failing to accept that Christmas is more than a religious holiday; it is a festivity celebrated by people of many religious faiths. I, like many people, have friends and acquaintances that are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or professed atheists and instead of wishing them a “Merry Christmas”, will wish them “Chanukah Sameach” or whatever seems appropriate even if it is the “Happy Holidays” to which many of these conservatives profess their dislike.
Do not take what I am saying incorrectly – I am not criticizing Christians for associating a personal Christian significance to the holiday, my criticism is reserved strictly for those unwilling to accept any values and beliefs different from their own.
Many of them apparently believe liberals are trying to take Christianity out of Christmas but seldom consider whether Christianity should even be associated with Christmas since most celebrations actually have little to do with Jesus, the Feast of the Nativity, the Incarnation, or anything else some Christians associate with the holiday. Christmas customs pre-date the birth of Jesus Christ and today’s Christmas is an amalgamation of traditions and practices taken from many cultures and nations.
Instead of stating “Jesus is the reason for the season” in the mistaken belief that people have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, they should accept that Christmas can be celebrated in a totally secular manner since it is not a truly Christian holiday. Christmas goes beyond religious and cultural differences and is popular in non-Christian countries such as Japan.
They should ask themselves what Christ has to do with some of the most popular Christmas traditions such as erecting and decorating a tree, hanging wreaths, sending cards, drinking eggnog, giving presents, hanging mistletoe, etc., which obviously are of pagan origin. Many Christians throughout history have objected to Christmas celebrations and at one time even celebrating Christmas was illegal among the Puritans.
While it may come as a surprise to some, even the origin of Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The 25 December date for Christmas should be a clue to the non-Christian origin of the holiday[i]. While it is not known when Christ was born (most likely in summer or early fall around 4BCE[ii]), it definitely was not on 25 December: shepherds would not have been in the fields with their sheep at night nor would Caesar have required all citizens to return to the cities of their birth for a tax-census during the bitter wet cold Judean winter.
From 17 to 25 December, Romans celebrated the ancient feast of Saturnalia, commemorative of the Golden Age of Saturn, the god of sowing and husbandry. December 25th marked the winter solstice on the Julian Calendar and was considered a special day in many pagan religions. In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast. It was considered especially important in the cult of Mithras, originally a Persian deity whose cult spread to the Old Roman Empire in the first century BCE. It was the Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, which took place just after the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.
The weeklong holiday of Saturnalia was a period of lawlessness when Roman courts were closed and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people. The celebration included human sacrifice, widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits (still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season).
Christianity adopted the Saturnalia festival in the 4th century CE hoping to convert large numbers of pagans to Christianity by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians. Though there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia, Christian leaders renamed Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday. The earliest Christmas holidays consequently were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
In northern Europe, many other traditions now consider part of Christian worship began long before the introduction of Christianity. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated their own winter solstice known as Yule. Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule itself means “wheel”, the wheel being a pagan symbol for the sun. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Holly berries were thought to be a food of the gods. Witches and other pagans regarded the red holly as a symbol of the menstrual blood of the queen of heaven, also known as Diana, and used the wood to make wands.
Evergreen trees were common to almost all northern European winter solstice celebrations where pagans had long worshipped trees, considered a phallic symbol, in the forest or brought them into their homes and decorated them. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.
Pre-Christian Roman emperors compelled citizens to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia (in December) and Kalends (in January), a ritual later expanded to include gift giving among the general populace. The custom was adopted by the Catholic Church supposedly due to gift-giving by Saint Nicholas (named a saint in the 19th century), one of the most senior bishops who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE which created the New Testament[iii].
I do not object to how someone wishes to celebrate what always has been my favorite holiday nor will I criticize anyone celebrating it differently than me. Christmas is a truly magic holiday. It is a celebration open to the entire world and everyone is welcome to join the party. I willingly accept anyone’s greeting of either Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Both are equally representative of this yearly madness as are countless other greetings.
Merry Christmas; Happy Holidays…
That’s what I think, what about you?