Mistaken Pretensions of Christ and Christmas

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?

[i]Wilson, Pastor Greg.  Let’s Keep Christ Out of Xmas!, http://libcfl.com/articles/xmas.htm.

[ii] Myers, Robert.  Celebrations, Hallmark Cards, 1 June 1972.

[iii] The evolution of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus (of Dutch origin) is a fascinating story (his red suit came from Coco-cola).

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Babylon, Buddhism, Calendar, Christianity, Christmas, Conservatives, Council of Nicaea, Druid, Holidays, Isis, Jesus, Jesus Christ, John McCain, Judaism, Julian, Mithras, Muslim, Pagan, Religion, Romans, Saint Nicholas, Saturnalia, Sex, Yule and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Mistaken Pretensions of Christ and Christmas

  1. Thank you for another informative website. The place else could I get that type of information written in such a perfect means? I have a mission that I’m just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such info.


  2. berlioz1935 says:

    Thanks for the history lesson. Since the Christians high jacked the the old, diverse pagan festivals they should give that back and celebrate Jesus’ birthday on another day. Jesus’ coming is really a festival of Hope as are all those festivals celebrating the winter solstice. The hope for the pagan was that the sun would return and climb higher into the sky.

    For me Christmas is really two festivals. One on Christmas Eve, where it is quiet as it says in the song “Stille Nacht”. The other festival is next day when the extended family comes together and celecrate whatever they want.

    If we did not have Christmas the family would have no reason to spend time together. You, in the USA, have “Thanksgiving” and I think it is a good festival to have, but it has never cottoned on in the rest of the world as has the red-clad Coca Cola man.. I wonder why that is?

    I send you best wishes of the Season from Australia, where we have enough light and heat and our hope is for a cool change this afternoon.


    • lewbornmann says:

      This reply is long overdue. I am making a serious attempt to follow up on some comments that were postponed due to other commitments. Now that my book is available, there is a short amount of time when I am able to go back over some of the comments received but were not felt to require an immediate response.

      While Christmas has religious connotations, it also is the primary holiday following the winter solstice. All societies seem to have holidays near the solstices and equinoxes. Saturnalia came at the correct time, it was popular, and the church recognized it was to their political advantage to retain it with a slight change in purpose (though initially with very little change in how it was celebrated).

      How anyone chooses to celebrate the holiday is personal. It took me quite a few years to realize that in our society, the funny old man in the red suit actually existed though not in the material sense in which I believed when young.

      If you think about it, we might do better by actually celebrating the solstice. The problem of course is that when Pope Gregory reformed the calendar, he was much too conservative and his corrections did not fully compensate for accumulative error leaving us with Christmas several day after the solstice which should be either the first or last day of the calendar year.

      Regardless, our current calendar does not meet the needs of a modern society. The fundamental problem with the calendar is the imperfect divisibility of whole numbers into an irrational number (fitting whole days into a month; fitting whole days or whole months into a year). The physics of orbital mechanics does not phase-lock the rotation of the Earth (the day) to its revolution around the sun (the year) nor the rotation of the Earth to the revolution of the Moon (the month). Therefore any attempt to divide a month into days or a year into days will leave a fractional remainder of a partial day. Likewise, any attempt to divide a year into months will leave a fractional remainder of a partial month. Such remainders accumulate from one period to the next thereby driving the cycles out of synch.

      Reformers cite several problems with the Gregorian calendar:
      • It is not perennial. Each year starts on a different day of the week and calendars expire every year.
      • It is difficult to determine the weekday of any given day of the year or month.
      • Months are not equal in length nor regularly distributed across the year, requiring mnemonics (e.g. “Thirty days hath September…”) or knuckle counting (ridges are 31, valleys are 30 except first valley [February] is 28 or 29 in a leap year) to remember which month is 28, 29, 30 or 31 days long.
      • The year’s four quarters (of three full months each) are not equal (being of 90/91, 91, 92, and 92 days respectively). Business quarters that are equal would make accounting easier.
      • Its epoch (origin) is religious. The same applies to month and weekday names in many languages.
      • Each month has no connection with the lunar phases.

      It now is too late to affect meaning full changes as it has become the internationally accepted civil calendar.


      • berlioz1935 says:

        Thank you. I’m so happy you are around to keep as sane. And your comment came across the dateline and arrived instantly, on what is for you, the next day. Peter


        • lewbornmann says:

          It is nice to know the Internet continues to function as intended. I’m always somewhat amazed how quickly messages are able to navigate their way through numerous gateways to reach their destination regardless of where it might be – even, as in this case, halfway around the world. (And even considering how many times and by whom the message might have been scanned.)


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  5. auntyuta says:

    Hello, Lew! This blog of yours is truly making me aware that there are many different ways and reasons for celebrating. On the whole I believe it doesn’t really matter what people are celebrating as long as it reminds them to show good will towards each other and share some of the good things in life. Sadly in some parts of the world war doesn’t stop even during the Christmas season. To me the Christian traditions have gained some relevance over the years, actually a lot of relevance. But I do not expect every one to feel the same about it. I believe in showing tolerance and understanding towards all the different traditions and beliefs!
    Hope you and your family had some great holidays. Wishing you all the best for 2013! Love, Uta.


    • lewbornmann says:

      Thank you for your holiday greetings. Christmas was spent with the kids/grandkids and very enjoyable. I hope yours was likewise memorable (though I’m sure your weather was more pleasant than our cold rain). Hopefully you are far from the fires in your country.

      I do not have any problem with Christians coopting 25 December and have fond memories of attending church — usually midnight mass — with my parents when young. It only is when Christians seem unaware of the true origin of their celebration and criticize or discredit the behavior of others with different beliefs that I feel it necessary to speak out. It took several years following my childhood loss of belief in Santa Claus to accept that he in fact does exist as the spirit of Christmas. The world is in need of “good will toward men” but not only do wars continue unabated, we even see fighting over discounted items for sale at shopping mall outlets. The season unfortunately does not bring out the best in some people, it always is marred by occurrences demonstrating a lack of that “good will”. Still, Christmas remains my favorite holiday. Happy New Year!


  6. auntyuta says:

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, our Christmas with family was very pleasant too and we were lucky that it didn’t get too hot over the Christmas Period. We had one rainy day, which wasn’t too bad. In the meantime we swelter in one heatwave after another. There are hundreds of bush fires in many states of Australia including New South Wales. Thankfully the fires didn’t get too close to our immediate area. We are a few kilometers south of Sydney.
    Thousands of fire fighters do a fantastic job in keeping the fires away from built up areas as much as possible. The last couple of days the temperatures dropped by some 20 C, which gave some fire fighters a chance to have a bit of a rest after a horrendously difficult job with so many fires burning on a large front in sizzling heat and sometimes very strong winds on top of it. The next few days are going to be much hotter again.


  7. lewbornmann says:

    I was unable to translate your comment. Please let me know what language you are using and I will try again…


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