Well, tomorrow’s the big day. The day that some look forward to all year, some dread for weeks, and others just think it’s a nifty day, but only one day so why drag it out for so long?
In addition to hearing about how people are supposed to be waging a “war on Christmas”, chances are you’ve seen bumper stickers or signs proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, so you should “Keep Christ in Christmas”. These cute slogans stem from the mistaken notion that Christmas originated with Christianity. The truth is that virtually nothing originated with Christianity. Everything about the religion, from its core principles to the supposed biographical details of its supposed founder to even its supposed founder’s name (in linguistic variance) are borrowed from and/or parallel to older traditions from other cultures.
Virgin birth? Already been done. December 25th? Likewise. Three kings bearing gifts? Old hat. Miracles? Ditto. Twelve disciples? Tell me something I don’t know. Crucifixion? Been there, done that. Resurrection? Ho-hum. No wonder they strung the dude up along with a couple of thieves!
Christianity has a long, bloody history of conquering, eradicating and stealing from other cultures. It didn’t begin with the relatively benign “civilizing” of Native Americans (which included wiping out their religious practices) by 19th Century missionaries after the more macho invaders had massacred many of them wholesale. It didn’t begin with the early European explorers to the New World who sometimes reversed the order – first converting and baptizing the natives before murdering them so they wouldn’t be sending them to hell, and wasn’t that considerate. Nor did it begin with the Crusades, or other medieval insanity that included branding pagan traditions as “devil worship” and spreading nutty rumors about evil hexes, black masses and human sacrifice.
Nope, it goes back almost to the very beginning, or to at least the 4th Century. Our history books (written by Christian historians) tell us that ancient Christians were ruthlessly persecuted, tortured and slaughtered by pagan authorities. The part of the story they leave out is that more often, it was the other way around. We hear a great deal about Nero supposedly feeding Christians to the lions, but we never hear about hot lead being poured down the throats of non-believers. Or Christians invading and brutally murdering entire cities of pagans – not to mention how they tortured and murdered other Christians who interpreted certain passages in the Bible a little differently. All done in the name of a mild-mannered mystic who taught folks to love their neighbors.
It was perhaps inevitable that Christians should adopt December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of their prophet king. It was a date that already had been used for such purposes by other religions/ mythologies, and for very good reason. December 25 is the approximate date when the sun, having reached its greatest distance from the earth (at least so it appears) at the Winter Solstice and then having spent three days in relative limbo, begins it “resurrection”, its journey back toward us. (This is, of course, expressed from the ancient geocentric viewpoint; in reality, it’s the movement of the earth rather than the sun that causes the change.) In other words, it’s the true beginning of the new year.
The annual event was commemorated among the ancients under a variety of names, including Saturnalia and Yule, with customs that included lighting a log, decorating a tree, gathering mistletoe, singing songs and giving gifts. When early Christians took it upon themselves to convert the rest of the world to their beliefs, they shrewdly decided that it would help to blend their holidays and customs with those of the pagans. The strategy was so successful that for many centuries, much of the world simply called the date Christmas, with Yuletide becoming a mere synonym, and the origins of the festival were more or less forgotten. It’s only in fairly recent times that Western civilization has begun to remember that this time of year is a special occasion for everyone, and not just followers of one religion.
And now some Christians are insistent upon reclaiming what they stole fair and square. They’re pissed about all this PC “happy holiday” and “season’s greetings” crap, which they regard as a personal affront, and want everyone to say “Merry Christmas” the way God intended. And when places of business are so arrogant and intolerant as to wish the public good cheer in some manner except that prescribed by The One True Religion, they just might face boycotting until they acquire some godliness.
Compounding the irony is the fact that nobody has a clue when the real Jesus (if there was a real Jesus) was born. Not even what year, much less what date. But if there really was a real person to whom these legends and teachings are attached, and if he really was anywhere near as enlightened as what the Bible indicates, then he would not be such a petty megalomaniac as to approve of his followers stealing someone else’s holiday to mark his birthday, and certainly he wouldn’t approve of condemning people who don’t go along.
If you choose to believe that the biblical story of Jesus is literally true, you certainly have that right. And if you choose to follow the principles he allegedly laid out, power to you. But if you do, you should be aware that holiday chauvinism is not consistent with those values. There’s certainly nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”. And if you want to display Jesus, Joseph and Mary on your lawn (all light-skinned and blue-eyed, of course, despite their Middle Eastern origin), no one’s gonna stop you. Put the faces of the Three Stooges on the wise men if it floats your boat. (On second thought, better not; they were Jewish.) But if you’re going to pass judgment on people who choose to observe this season in a more inclusive and/or more traditional fashion, you’re definitely not honoring the spiritual teacher whose birthday is probably not tomorrow.
And on that note, we wish everyone a very Happy Reconciliation Day.