A little history lesson for the religious among us who believe the "War on Christmas" malarkey

no christ in christmasWhen 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.

no christ in christmasYule 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?

25 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, but this is less a thoughtful column than a reflexive rant that is unclear in its direction, has no particularly meaningful point to make and relies on a questionable premise or so. In your attempt to be the anti-Bill O’Reilly, you come off sounding just like Bill O’Reilly.

    Despite that, I get it: You are ambivalent at best about religion in general and Christianity in particular and, for all kinds of disconnected reasons, you think Christmas is bogus both in its origins and in its present practices.

    So, what?

    There are plenty of folks out there who share your sentiments but don’t feel the need to go visceral about it. There are even some who share your sentiments but articulate them within the context of understanding how religion functions in the culture and, for that matter, how the Christmas Cycle came to be part of the liturgical calendar/worship of the church and how it thusly functions within the Christian community.

    Christmas and the Christmas Cycle most certainly was not “essentially created from scratch by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.” Put simply, it evolved from earlier traditions within which the celebration of Epiphany was the third most important Festival of the emerging liturgical year—following Easter and Pentecost.

    Epiphany was inclusive of Jesus’ birth, baptism and his activity at Cana in Galilee. However, a growing number of fourth-century Christians were interested in celebrating separately the unique events of Jesus’ life and thus Christmas became separated from Epiphany as a particular day (though both, of course, are still part of the Christmas Cycle).

    Epiphany had always been celebrated in the deeps of winter, given that it celebrated the light of revelation coming into the darkness of the world, so to speak. Hence, it was only natural that Christmas itself, preceding Epiphany by only a short period of time, would also be celebrated at that time of year when daylight was at its shortest.

    There are several equally credible possibilities as to how the exact date of Christmas was then set. One would most certainly be its proximity, because of Epiphany, to the winter solstice. Another would be that nine months were counted forward, more or less, from Annunciation Day, which was March 25. Even another relates to evidence that the birth of John the Baptist was celebrated on June 24 and the church counted six months forward from the summer solstice to the winter solstice (hence the theological paradigm of sunlight waning after John’s birth until the birth of Jesus).

    Though the winter solstice reference has gained much popularity as an explanation, there is no more evidence for it having been the determining factor than evidence for already existent fragments of an emerging liturgical year having been determinant.

    In the end, who cares? The issue has never been “Is this the right date?” The issue has always been “What does this event mean to us as a community of believers?” and “When, in terms of a liturgical pattern, should this event be celebrated?”

    As to Christmas trees and all that, again, “Who cares?” I don’t care that a tradition might have had pagan origins. It makes no difference whatsoever.

    The best critiques of Christianity typically come from Christians. The second-best come from people who may not be Christian but are intimately associated with and have due respect for religious traditions in general and Christian traditions in particular. Way down the ladder are those that come from people who seriously don’t have any depth of understanding as to what religion in general and Christianity in particular are actually about.

    • There is not much I can say, except that I still don’t understand your reasons for finding my critiques so bellicose. It seems that any time the slightest criticism of religion is made, that means that I am being aggressive or dis-respectful. I am sorry you and other people of faith get off-put over outsiders criticizing the silliness of the religion, but I will not retract.

      As far as the issue regarding the holiday of Christmas is concerned, the holiday we know today as Christmas was created “from scratch.” The main elements we associate with Christmas (The tree, gift giving, feasting, and winter season) come from earlier pagan traditions. These are historic realities, that even an educated Christian such as yourself cannot deny.

      My criticism is the culture war around a holiday that is not even entirely Christian in its present form. Christmas is no more a Christian holiday than the 4th of July is a Jewish Holiday. The name and certain theological tales stem from Christianity, but the modes we use to celebrate Christmas come from pagan traditions that came long before Christ. Christmas did evolve, but the holiday was effectively created by combining Christian theology with the well established date and traditions of pagan celebrations.

      My criticism of O’Reilly is fairly simple, and I can’t see how me pointing out the irony of using Christmas as a tool of culture war makes me look like the irony I am criticizing.

      • It sounds to me like you are blaming Christianity for the mode in which Christians celebrate it. It feels like you have a value animosity toward Christianity in the first place but can’t quite put your finger on why, so you take on the commercialization of it and dance around some of the other attributes — like Christianity taking on some of the pagan days of celebration to make it easier for Christianity to be assimilated into the pagan community. There is no question in my mind that down through history, the powerful story of Jesus Christ has given tyrants the tools to control the population, but it seems to me it has also given individuals the tools of salvation. I believe the former will be noticed in the hereafter, even as the latter will be celebrated. In the meanwhile, neither you nor I are privileged in this life to judge the legitimacy of either.

      • Actually, I don’t typically find your columns re religion “bellicose.” I typically find them to be relatively uninformed. I typically find them to be almost completely devoid of nuance. But I do not typically find them to be “bellicose.” Indeed, I didn’t find this one to be “bellicose.” I found it to more resemble “a reflexive rant” than “a thoughtful column.”

        As to the implication that I might be sensitive to critiques of religion because of my own faith, I can only respond with laughter—indeed, out-loud laughter. Few members of my own faith community are as curious/critical about both the historical and present-day distortions and misuse of our primary text, our faith itself and the institutions that prop up the dying dynamic of biblical Christianity than me. Furthermore, critiques made by “outsiders” don’t bother me in the least as long as they are reasonable, credible and reflect a genuine understanding of both the way religion functions in communities/individuals in general and the way Christianity does so in particular.

        And, again, “the holiday we know as Christmas” was most certainly not “created from scratch” by “The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages” no matter what you may “mean by this.” “The holiday we know as Christmas” bears virtually no resemblance in the way it is celebrated to the way in which Christmas was celebrated by “the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.” It was, in its nascent form, an entirely liturgical Festival Day viewed only as a precursor to Epiphany until, as I noted in my earlier post, a growing number of Christians wanted to focus more on what they considered to be the specific events of what we can inclusively term the Jesus-Event.

        That it began to gather accretions from any number of sources down through the centuries is not in doubt. And neither is there any doubt but that those accretions distract and distort the theological meaning of not just Christmas but the entire Christmas Cycle. However, to speak of Christmas only in terms of its “pagan” accretions without even a nod to the other historical realities—well-substantiated, well-documented, and generally accepted by serious scholars—that were not extant to the faith is to simply be a Far Side version of O’Reilly.

        Your bio indicates that you are a student. When I occasionally suggest that your understanding of religion in general is seriously lacking, take it for what it is: A suggestion not that you change your overall perspective on religion in general or Christianity in particular, but that, as a student, you engage the issues with a deeper understanding of them.

        In an effort to be inoffensive this year, I’ll close by using Scott Walker’s apparently preferred greeting for this season: Molotov!

    • Awesome! Thank you. You have summed up this author perfectly! I use the term author very loosely! More like an agreement atheist with a keyboard. Funny how atheist claim there is no God yet all they can talk about is God! Logically, are they are talking about nothing? 🙂

      • Atheists talk about God because of the fact that them declaring themselves non-believers puts them as targets to the religious. You realize that atheism was once punishable by jail or death? Many states bar atheists from holding public office. Whenever we declare non belief in absurd mythology, we are called Satan Worshipers, Sinful, Bad Influences, and just about every thing in the book. Atheists are so demonized by religious people, that polls show many Americans would trust their daughters in the company of known rapists than with someone who just simply doesn’t believe in god.

        Atheists would like a world where God was no longer an issue, but the religious, like you, make it an issue because you demand all society adhere and exclusively respect your specific interpretation of religious doctrine, and discriminate against all other belief systems in the process.

        Saying you are a pot calling a kettle black ins very inaccurate. You’re more like the pot calling the silverware black.

  2. Also – the Jewish holiday Hannukah is ALSO on the 25th day of the corresponding month in the Jewish calendar. As a matter of fact the date is part of the name of Hannuka – it’s a combination word – Hannu – they camped – ka – 25th – each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has numeric value (see the Kabbalah – which literally translated means the receiving) so Hannuka means that they camped on the 25th.

    No coincidence that the combination of pagans and jews that made up the early christians would absorb some of their rituals into their new “religion”…

  3. Let ’em whine…If it isn’t about this, it’ll be something else. Christmas is about what you choose to make it about in your own mind. It just goes to show you, that evangelicals have been trying to force their beliefs off on the unsuspecting, and vulnerable for longer than we have been giving them credit for. I am NOT taking a stab at God, Christ, or Christianity. I AM taking a stab at the lying, scheming, coniving Religious Right.

    • That’s okay. What you speciously call the “Religious Right” are wearing the Kevlar of faith. Their only error is forgetting that the New Testament superseded the Old.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your detailed description of the origin of the modern Holiday known as Christmas. ..Commercialization of this Final Secular Holiday has diluted the True Meaning of. the Birth of Christ as Savior. ..NOW it’s just another day for some retailers to sell junk to some consumers. ..That’s why I always say Happy Holidays. ..the only people who get offended are the ones too clueless to understand the True Meaning of Christmas ..More $$$ for the Oligarchy

      • Some friends are Jewish …some nondenominational. ..some get angry …it’s pretty much the gift that keeps giving. ..I always start with Happy Holidays…if somebody answers back Merry XMAS. ..I’ll nicely return that greeting as well …if they get angry…i generally won’t. ..Usually it’s the Fanatical kind that want everyone to practice their religion and can’t understand not everyone feels the same way..Only happens down here in the Federation of the Confederate States by the way..never had this issue out West or Up North

        • One of the big problems we have in this country with the rising influence of leftists who want to control all living things and quite a few that aren’t living, is the belief they have inculcated that whatever it may be they choose to find offensive, the fact that they find it offensive compels specific performance on everyone else to cater to that mindset.

          It does not. If the subject is Christmas, the greeting is Merry Christmas. If the subject is Hanukah, the greeting is Happy Hanukah. If the subject is Kwanzaa, the greeting is “go jump in the lake.”

          If the response is “I am OUTRAGED that you would carry a firearm into a public restaurant,” the reply is “I will protect your right to be outraged with force of arms, if necessary, but your choice does not compel specific performance from me.” (I’ve actually heard and sometimes received attempts to control others couched in those terms, and I’ve been hearing a lot of them on this board, on other threads. Seems like a standard operational tactic of Marxists pretending to be Socialists and trying to hide it by calling themselves “Progressives.”) Off-topic, but it illustrates the point.

  5. There may well be no connection between the date (Dec. 25) and the birth of christ. However to say that there is no Christ in Christmas is ridiculous. Do you really believe, if the church hadn’t selected that date, that we would be celebrating anything on Dec. 25? Don’t get hung up on the date, Christmas is celebrated because of Christ, like it or not.

    • I could care less about what is celebrated for and why. It’s the Christians who care about that.

      Why make a big deal over a fabricated holiday? Christmas today is far from Christian. Religious people make big deals about this, not me. Yet, they get mad at me for pointing out the stupidity of Christ in Christmas.

      If I was religious, I would pray for you people.

  6. “When I see people today say “Put the Christ back in Christmas”, I almost want to laugh.”

    Laugh it up, Furball. The rest of us knows who laughs last. FYI, Christians are the ones complaining most about the commercialization of Christmas, but maybe you missed the memo.

    Oh, and before I forget: Merry Christmas!

    • It’s a good thing, seeing as Christians are the ones who distorted the “holiday” to begin with.

      I’m sorry history upsets you. I’ts good to know god has no sense of humor.

      Oh, and happy Saturnalia!

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