A little history lesson for the religious among us who believe the "War on Christmas" malarkey
When I see people today say “Put the Christ back in Christmas”, I almost want to laugh. While I enjoy Christmas as much as any other human who loves getting free stuff, I often get amused by America’s religious people when it comes to this time of year. The main reason for this is that the holiday we know today as Christmas, has very little tradition based on the story of Christ’s birth.
The main group that screams the slogan about “Christ in Christmas” is the religious right. In America, every year they cry about a “War on Christmas.” I have often heard that “leftists and atheists” want to take Christ out of Christmas. This is funny to me, because the modern incarnation of Christmas has a questionable basing in Christianity.
Aside from the fact that the character we know as the Christ (Jesus) was rabidly anti-commercialist, we celebrate his birthday with months of ultra-consumerism. This is a small point, however.
The main reason the “Christ in Christmas” thing amuses me, is that the modern incarnation of Christmas finds its origins and modes of celebration outside of strictly Christian origins. In fact, the main basis of the holiday we know as Christmas comes from pre-Christian (pagan) tradition.
The holiday we celebrate as Christmas was essentially created from scratch by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. What do I mean by this?
During the era when the Western Roman Empire began to collapse, the young Catholic Church in Rome needed to find ways to convert the overwhelmingly pagan population of rural Europe. While the Western Empire was collapsing, force could not always be utilized. Unlike today, the majority of Europe’s population lived in rural communities outside the major cities. Christianity in this period was a primarily urban religion in Europe, and much of the rural populations remained predominantly pagan.
Because the power of Christian Rome to subdue pagan communities by force was weak, the Church decided on a more diplomatic approach. This is where modern Christmas comes from.
During the 25th of December, the pagans in the Roman Empire celebrated a holiday known as Saturnalia. This was a holiday that was celebrated to coincide with the Winter Solstice, and was regarded as the birthday of the god Sol-Invictus (The Unconquerable Sun). December 25th was a time of festivals and celebrations, which usually involved feasts and gift giving, as offerings to the sun. This holiday was regarded as the birthday of the sun itself, in the form of a pagan deity worshiped in the late Roman Empire (Sol-Invictus).
In order to try and blend pagan Europe in with their own mold, the Roman Catholic Church decided to move their official celebration of Christ’s birth to December 25th. The Church used this move as a way of combining the two celebrations as the same. The Catholics claimed that both worshiped the same holiday, switching out the birthday of the literal “sun” with the birthday of the “son” (of God).
Have any of you ever wondered why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th? It’s not because that’s what is agreed to be Jesus’ literal birthday. It was a ploy by the early Roman Catholic Church to convert pagans to Christianity. Overtime, the pagan trappings of Saturnalia (feasting, gift giving) blending in with Christian theology to become the holiday we know as Christmas. It doesn’t stop there.
Have you ever wondered where the Christmas tree comes from? Have you ever wondered where the term “Yule-Tide” comes from? Yeah, those are pagan too. The Christmas tree and the term “Yule” originate from pagan Germany. Pre-Christian German tribes celebrated a holiday (around the same time as Saturnalia) called Yule.
Yule was an important holiday in the pagan calendar cycle in pagan Germany. A part of the celebration of this holiday was the chopping down of pine trees, known as the “Yule Log.” The Yule Logs were taken back to the homes of the tribes, who would then decorate these trees and worship them as symbols of eternal life. If anyone has ever kept a real tree in their house for Christmas before, you will know why the pine tree would be worshiped for eternal life.
For the religious right that love to use Christmas as part of their moralistic culture war, I can’t help but be both amused and feel pity for them. Guys like Bill O’Reilly waste every year babbling about a war on a holiday that is not even based entirely from his religion. They are effectively defending themselves via Christianity, when modern Christmas has very little to do with it.
In fact, today’s Christmas has so little to do with the birth of Jesus, that Puritans in New England banned the holiday up until the mid 19th century because of the pagan associations.
If anyone should be screaming about Christmas, it should be the pagans. It’s pretty much their holiday that’s being celebrated anyway, just hijacked by Christians in order to convert unwitting peoples. Modern Christmas is basically Saturnalia and Yule with certain tidbits of Christian iconography and storytelling. So, what exactly are you defending again religious right?
Personally, I could care less about who celebrates what and why. But I can’t help but laugh when I see Christians get upset over someone saying “happy holidays” over “merry Christmas.” Christmas is essentially a bunch of different holidays meshed together into one. So, saying “happy holidays” is more accurate of a statement.
It’s not to say that there are no Christian trappings and traditions linked to modern Christmas, but origin and practical application of Christmas traditions originate before Christianity. When someone says “Put the Christ back in Christmas”, I tend to think:
Was Christ ever in Christmas to begin with?