Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… But is it Christmas?

Do you love the season, starting in mid December and culminating on the 25th (with some celebrations continuing on to New Year’s Day and some others even through January 6th)? As these days approach, perhaps your thoughts turn to family, friends, feasts and drinks (hopefully even alcoholic ones)! You may enjoy setting up a tree and decorating it (and everything else) in glorious red, green and white. Do you place a lovely wreath upon the entrance to your abode? Colorful lights are everywhere. Friends tack up mistletoe above a doorway. Carolers are out and about, singing songs while wishing all good cheer and peace. The Yule logs on fire warm the night. Gifts, both humble and extravagant, are exchanged with relatives, friends and even casual acquaintances. Have you told late night tales to toddlers about a jolly old elf who delivers toys and goodies around the world? Is that your idea of a wonderful Christmas?

It is wonderful. But it’s no more of a “Christian holiday” than Halloween is. Every single one of the above “Christian” traditions is ages old. In fact, they were with us many eons prior to the putative birth of Christ. All of these pagan traditions, drawing from a number of European and Middle Eastern societies, were shamelessly co-opted by the Catholic Church in the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire. The nativity scene and some new songs featuring the baby Jesus were worked directly in to the old celebrations. Even the suppositional date of his birth was mysteriously stipulated to be right at the same time as the pagan merrymaking.

Personally, I’m not selfish. The festivities of the season are lovely and even my fellows who are Christian are invited to participate. Just as long as they refrain from claiming they invented it. When they (inevitably) do, they should be politely informed of the facts. This should be done totally within the spirit of the season, of course.

Why, you may ask, would the church do anything like that? Christians represented the “one true god” and could just as easily have said his birth was in mid-March and came up with unique ways of celebrating it, without stealing pagan traditions. Well… no, they couldn’t have done that.

The problem is that the celebrations of Saturnalia and Winter Solstice were so incredibly popular that there was absolutely no way for Christian leadership to attenuate them. And you know the best thing to do when ya can’t beat ‘em. The Catholics determined to slap the unknown date of Christ’s birth right on top of the old pagan holidays and “order” everyone to keep the party rollin’. And roll on it has done, just as one might expect of such a great holiday. Even the “reformed” Christian churches, of more recent centuries, hasn’t put an end to the revelry.

And you have to give it to those pagans – they didn’t stop right after the first of the year and recommence liquidating “non-believers”. In large, they didn’t care much about other people’s gods. In fact, if the deities were any good, they’d include them with their own gods.

I don’t believe any more in the gods of the pagans than I do the god of the Christians, Jews, Muslims or anyone else. On the other hand, a good party is a good party. And one that is based on love, peace and brotherhood is as good as it gets. We just need to know that it all started long before Christ was born.

So when you see me on the streets and twitter “Merry Christmas!” you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give you a beaming smile, grab your hand and shake it. Then I’ll bellow, “and a wonderful Winter Solstice to you”! And now, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. And when fretting that Christmas just doesn’t seem to mean what it once did, you’ll know – it never really meant what you assumed it did.


The Exterminator said...

Hey, Evo, here's another pre-Christ Christmas fact (stolen from Wikipedia) to add to this post:

Mithra, legend says, was incarnated into human form (as prophesized by Zarathustra) in 272 bc. He was born of a virgin, who was called the Mother of God. Mithra's birthday was celebrated December 25 and he was called “the light of the world.” After teaching for 36 years, he ascended into heaven in 208 bc.

Now, isn't it odd that Mithra's birthday was around the same time as the Winter Solstice? You'd almost think it was made up.

Anonymous said...

Here's another. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. It's also the bleakest, coldest time of year. Everyone craved the return of the sun. So that was the celebration - the return (rebirth) of the sun (son).

By the way, I happen to be born of a virgin. My mom is a saint. She would never fuck anyone. (Are you proud of me again)?

The Exterminator said...

Evo, I've always been proud of you. But now that I know you're the son of god, I'm prouder than ever.

Jesus would have never had the cojones to keep up an atheist blog.

John Evo said...

I didn't claim anything miraculous like being the son of god. I'm just born of a virgin. No big deal.

AIGBusted said...

Excellent Post! I wonder just how many Christians know the pagan roots of Christmas? It's funny, my father and mother actually found out the roots of christmas when I was about 8, and we have not celebrated Christmas since... Why didn't they ever look into the roots of their religion I wonder? Anyway, check out my blog sometime, I debunk creationism and intelligent design,



Anonymous said...

Ryan, as one who knows and is related to a plethora of fundies, I'd say not a lot.

Most of them have some vague thought that their religion 'always was', and anything else is 'of the devil' and thus not to be examined or even thought of at all. They "keep their eyes on Jesus" and not a lot else...unless it's the sins of others.

PhillyChief said...

Oh hell, the christians think that "under god" bit always was, and that was less than 60 years ago. Of course they're going to think their christmas always was.

I've always thought how funny to whine about this "war on christmas" crap. Hey, we're all just taking it back from the usurpers. Countless years of usurping and trespassing have to be undone. It's no small task. They've unjustly held the ground so long there's a laundry list of things they feel have always been and are their rights, from the nativity scenes at the courthouse to the "in god we trust" printed on the money that we use to buy the gifts and things to celebrate their god's birth. Luckily we don't have to subscribe to that "we forgive those who trespass against us" crap. Nope, get off our money, get out of our Pledge and get the fuck off the front lawn of the government buildings.

We can of course share the season with them. I mean, that's the true spirit of this holiday season, isn't it? Peace and love and sharing, not stealing, trespassing and imposing.

The Exterminator said...

Great comment, Philly.

Maybe atheists ought to accuse Christians of waging a War on the Solstice.

DaVinci said...

Aside from my wifes party at work, I have yet to do one christmassy thing this year. I dont want to disappoint my wife though, so we'll have to talk about what we are going to do this year eventually. We work different shifts so we dont see each other all week long, I cant see making a fuss about decorating this year. I would like to just sit on the love seat with a good bottle of Bordeaux and a couple of crystal wine glasses. Chateau Bonnet, cheers.

John Evo said...

@ Philly - well said!

@ DaVinci - I get into it (usually). It's just that MY celebration has nothing to do with THEIR celebration - other than coinciding in time!

The Exterminator said...

I get into it (usually). It's just that MY celebration has nothing to do with THEIR celebration - other than coinciding in time!

Yeah, that's what happens in the Exterminator household, too. We usually get together with close friends on "Christmas," exchange gifts, and have a food-and-wine blowout. For the past few years, a somewhat larger group of friends have also been having a Winter Solstice party, which is pretty much what used to be known as a Christmas party. Except without the Christ but with mucho mas vino y cerveza.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Christmas for me (that's what this post is about right? If not, I'm hijacking it) is about getting together with family that you're not usually together with, whether you like it or not. My daughter lives in Florida, so she gets to come home for a week. That's the good part, because I love to see her.

The outlaws are spread around the state, so we all get together that day to give gifts (which we complain about buying for 30 days prior thereto) and consume large quantities of food and alcohol, all in the name of the season. Of course, we all get on each other's nerves, and thank god, or dog, or Mithras that we only have to do this once a year, hence the complaining 30 days out.

It's such a Joyous Season!

Anonymous said...

Well, the chaplain's household is celebrating Christmas quietly. We've put the tree and the lights up, because it's nice to decorate the place once in awhile. The nativity scenes are all snuggled safely in their boxes in a closet.

Funny thing: my husband and I talked some more last night, and he's a lot closer to settling on atheism than he initially let on. It's only a matter of time before he gets here. He's been reading my blog and he gets it. At one point, he looked around the house and said, "What are you going to want to do with any religious items we have?" We don't have too many things around, so I suggested that we just quietly pack them when we put away the Christmas stuff in a few weeks.

John Evo said...

Tell Mr. Chaplain to stop by sometime! I want to tell him what a great wife he has, and what a great husband he is being to you. In most families, this would have been a lot more difficult. Thus, the understandable insecurities a lot of you feel when talking about what's on your minds.

Alejandro said...

Ah, atheism... the "reason" for the season.

Anonymous said...

I just wrote a letter to the local editor on more or less the same subject. Lots of hicks around here think majority rules and Santa should say "God bless you every one."

I still enjoy all the festivities.

John Evo said...

Slut said: I just wrote a letter to the local editor on more or less the same subject.

You should post your letter, Slut. Or, if you prefer, feel free to add it here to the comments!

I still enjoy all the festivities

Me too.

Lifeguard: It is for me!

Anonymous said...

I think Baldur, Tamuz, Dimuzi Apsu and a couple of others fit in with the virgin birth/winter solstice festival, and I think that the last two died for mankind and came back to life after three days.

My birthday is 25 December (I'll be 61)and my father's was "Old Christmas" 7 January. Orthodox still celebrate 6-7 January.

I'll be playing at my wife's church on xmas eve, and I'm leaning toward steak for dinner, a la Rachel. Wife wants the turkey, though. Plus, we already have the turkey, I just have to go out and slaughter and dress it. I horrified some of the young folks I know, they think meat comes from the display case. We'll be inviting someone in if we have the turkey (looks like we will, wife has Spoken)because it's too much for just the two of us.

The Exterminator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Exterminator said...

Sarge, you said: We'll be inviting someone in if we have the turkey ... because it's too much for just the two of us.

What time shall we arrive?

PhillyChief said...

I have to admit I wouldn't enjoy having to kill the turkey I eat, although I do get that someone did before I could buy it. I've never been hunting, but at least if there was some challenge to it I wouldn't have a problem. It's things like that "hunting" Cheney did, or I should say tried to do, or going out to a pen and killing a captive animal I'd probably get all girly about. But of course hey, if times were different and I was hungry, I don't think I'd have any problems.

You've made me rethink a phrase for the holiday season, Lifeguard. Happy Reason Throughout the Season? Have a Happy Season of Reason? Season's Reasons? I don't know.

So will your husband be blowing the doors off the atheosphere will meaty posts in a week or so like you, Chaplain? ;)

Alejandro said...

Thanks, Philly, because that's EXACTLY where I was going with the "reason for the season" thing. I saw some bumper sticker that said "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," and I thought a play on words would work nicely.

"Science: Reason for the the Season" or something like that.

Or how about "Reason's Greetings!"

PhillyChief said...

Reason's Greetings, and have a Rational New Year!

Spanish Inquisitor said...


I don't have a problem putting out the religious stuff as decorations. It's inclusive for the people who visit, it's actually a part of my past and I feel some sentimentality towards it, and there's no way I feel embarrassed by it. They are only little images and icons, that mean very little to me. They meant little when I believed, why should they mean anything now?

It's what's inside your head that counts, not what's on your credenza. So don't feel like you have to hide the religious stuff.

Alejandro said...

You always have some surprising unexpected sense of perspective on that kind of stuff. In some ways you're "cranky cantankerous atheist curmudgeon man," but, in other ways you're downright wise.

You call me Lifeguard and I'm Lifeguard now. You call Chaplain "Chappy," and now that sticks too! What gives?

Anonymous said...

I just consulted Mr. Chaplain, and he says that he won't be posting in the near future.

As far as religious figurines and such, we've only got a handful that have been around the living room and front room. I don't notice them most of the time. Just keep them off the piano - I need that space for my music!

There's one pair of figurines that my mother-in-law gave us years ago that I've never been wild about, but they've been out to please her. I'll just stuff them in a box somewhere. She only visits once a year anyway. She'll probably never notice that they've disappeared.

The Exterminator said...

Lifeguard, you asked: You call me Lifeguard and I'm Lifeguard now. You call Chaplain "Chappy," and now that sticks too! What gives?

I guess I just have a knack for mystically digging into people's souls and finding their essences. By the way, if you'll buy that one, I have a piece of the true cross I could be persuaded to part with.

PhillyChief said...

My wife has all these Precious Moments figurines her mom gave her. Neither her mom nor her knew they were religious. I don't think her mom knows even today. If she did, I think she'd be upset actually. Christianity, although rare in Japan, has had terrible effects on her family splitting them up. Usually it's the Koreans who are all "churchie" or all "god, god, god" as my wife says.

John Evo said...

Living with a bunch of theists, we have some religious artifacts around. Nothing bothers me. They all know what I think and, like the Wise Exterminator says, it's what's in your mind, not what's on your credenza... if I had one. Or even knew what it was. I have a coffee table. And a mantle. Is it something like that?

Reasons Greetings and a Rational New Year. I like that.

John Evo said...

I'm sorry...

"Wise Inquisitor".

I was thinking about that wise-guy, Exterminator.

Alejandro said...

It's alright, John, I confused you and Ex over at Philly's.

If anyone wants to get rid of their religious relics, Babs is trying to create a Baby Jesus mobile.

I still have some stuff lying around. A cross. This tiny virgin mary statue. It's a little weird, but I kind fo treat them like Wilson in that TOm Hanks flick "Cast Away." They can be great company if you talk to them irreverently.

Hey, St. Jude, how's it hanging?

Spanish Inquisitor said...

LG called me:

cranky cantankerous atheist curmudgeon man

CCACM? I can't even turn that into a good acronym. Try again.

Evo said
...it's what's in your mind, not what's on your credenza... if I had one.

One what? The former or the latter?

Evo said (again)

Wise Inquisitor

Did you mean Wide? I swear, I'm cutting back on the cookies...right after Christmas.

Unknown said...

I think Christmas is just part of our culture. You don't have to be Christian to celebrate it, just as you don't have to believe in Santa Claus.

I enjoy the family, friends, food, and time to relax.

I don't even mind calling it Christmas because I view it as a myth, not a religion.

PhillyChief said...

Oh of course you don't have to be christian to celebrate on christmas. You don't have to be catholic to celebrate Mardi Gras, you don't have to be Irish or catholic to celebrate St. Patty's day, and you don't have to be Mexican to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Also let's not forget it's also the birthday of two distinguished men, Newton and Sarge. Newtonmas, Sargemas, whatever. Who cares? It's all an excuse to go have a good time.

Lynet said...

Reasons Greetings and a Rational New Year. I like that.

I don't. Oh, it's a cute phrase, I'll give you that, but I had far too much reason growing up. If you can't be irrational on New Year's Eve, when can you be irrational? I say, let's keep the irrationality for a few long dark nights of the year (they're not long for me, but what the heck), in celebration of how rational we're going to be once they're over, honest.

John Evo said...

Lynet said: I don't. Oh, it's a cute phrase, I'll give you that

Oh, I wasn't trying to take that away from you. I know you are a wild young lady and I'm a stuffy old fart. But I'm not so old as to have completely forgotten the liberating feel of just be a little irrational now and then!

It's more that I like it as a reminder to those who take their irrationality as a serious aspect of their daily lives. You know...

Carry on, have fun.

PhillyChief said...

I think you're confusing a wild night of revelry with being an alcoholic. Sure, the occasional night partying is cool, especially at holiday time, but if you did that every day and every night you'd have a problem. The same with irrationality. Have some debauched, irrational times this season but no need to go off the deep end permanently.