Happy Pagan Holiday

Christmas Tree at Macy's Department Store

This seems like an opportune moment to write about “The War on Christmas™” and to present a perspective from a non-Christian point of view. The War on Christmas has been an ongoing rebellion of Christian indignation at the overly political correctness of rebranding Christmas as the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” This was most recently in the news for Sen. Inhofe’s boycott of the Oklahoma Holiday Parade. Republican Congressional members also used it (unsuccessfully) as political cover in a last ditch attempt to block any legislation from passing in the lame duck session of the 111th Congress.

What people fail to understand is that Madison Avenue won the rebranding war a while back. Retailers realized that it was economically efficient to adopt a more inclusive base in order to lock their death grip on the concept of November 23rd to December 25th (and beyond if you count the after Christmas holiday sales) as national blow-your-savings month. Madison Avenue is quite adept at guilting the public into showing your love by promoting pointless holiday spending. They’ve managed to monetize Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day; the list keeps growing.

Christians have every right to dread the loss of meaning in their holiest celebration. Christianity is becoming a shrinking ideology in the face of dwindling numbers and the growth of Islam. It is little wonder that Christians are feeling the need to take a principled stand in order to preserve the foundations of their religion.

But why the resistance to including others into the holiday season? I mean, after all, doesn’t the holiday have the meaning we imbue it with? I grew up being told that Christmas was Jesus’s birthday; December 25th, year zero. But that isn’t actually true.

Saturnalia; one of the most popular Roman festivals, was marked by drunken orgies, tomfoolery, and reversal of social roles in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places. The festival took place from December 17th through the 23rd (courtesy Wikipedia).

Christmas was somewhat arbitrarily moved to that date to quash competition with several pagan holidays (which were often fraught with debauchery, drinking, and other sinful pursuits). There is some question as to when the person/deity known as Jesus of Nazareth actually lived. All of the accounts of the person we now know as Jesus Christ were written several decades after his death. We’re not even sure how old he was (speculation says he was 33 at time of crucifixion).

Other mythology has also been explained. Scientists believe the Star of Bethlehem described in the book of Matthew was a comet or a supernova that created what we now know as the Crab Nebula. We imported St. Nicholas and Christmas trees from other cultures and changed their original meaning. We do this with Easter as well; somehow we wound up equating Christ’s ascension with bunnies and painted eggs, three things that ordinarily have little in common.

So what’s wrong with making Christmas an all inclusive holiday? I would argue that many of the world’s religions have the same tenets. And isn’t Christianity supposed to be a welcoming religion?

In actuality, American culture has often been careful not to push the Christian element upon the public in its storytelling. In an excellent article, Jeffrey Weiss points out that it is usually the Christians who are the aggressors in the War on Christmas. Think about all the Christmas shows you have seen in your life. How many of them explicitly pointed out the connection with the birth of Jesus? How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Nope, no Jesus. A Christmas Carol? Plenty of spirits but no son of God. It’s a Wonderful Life? An angel, yes, but no JC. Miracle on 34th Street? Magical jolly off-shoot of a German myth, still no Virgin Mary. A Christmas Story? A really cool lamp and BB gun but no King of Kings. The list is fairly comprehensive. No, the ones who fear the War on Christmas the most are the Christians; particularly the evangelicals. In fact, I daresay they are the only ones with a problem. And it belies a deep insecurity.

In a non-Christmas article from last year, Valerie Tarico gives several reasons why this might be the case. Her article dealt with an Albuquerque Church that sent 600 solar powered bibles to post earthquake Haiti instead of desperately needed survival supplies. Many people (myself among them) found this to be deeply offensive. While I’m sure these folks were well meaning, it speaks less about a selfless act of compassion to Haitians and more towards a selfish need to increase the flock and justify their own religious beliefs.

It is these same motivations that drive evangelicals to constantly remind us that they are fighting an imaginary War on X-mas™. They need for the rest of the world to accept that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus Christ when in fact that this is a relatively recent religious construct.

As a non-Christian (but not an atheist) I actually have no problems with anyone associating Christmas with a particular religious ideal. It’s a big tent and I’m happy to share the holiday with Christians. What I have a problem with is being told that any other interpretation is wrong. Just as when my babysitter told me and my sister we were going to hell because we didn’t attend church regularly, I resent the intolerance of evangelicals trying to shoehorn their beliefs onto a holiday that should celebrate the things that we share in common; peace, goodwill, philanthropy, and family to name a few.

So to the evangelical Christians and Senator Inhofe, lighten up. And Merry Christmas. The war, like visions of sugar plums, is all in your heads. Oh, and Happy Holidays, too.

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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10 Responses to Happy Pagan Holiday

  1. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    According to my witch of a 2nd ex-wife (no, really, she was Wiccan) it was the Christians that stole Yule from THEM! Something to do with rebirth and the winter solstice.

  2. Mainer says:

    Max, too funny. I have several Wican friends and they must all get bent out of shape by those danged Christians and their borrowing of of their big gig.

  3. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    I know. But when you throw in Ostara (Spring equinox, although Beltane is close in there as well)) and Easter, and, even though it’s not a “Christian” holiday, Samhain and Halloween, they DO go on. Although Samhain and Halloween they are more likely to cheer than not.

    Yep, we were even Handfasted, including the tying of the knot. My dear Southern Baptist mother was a bit confused to say the least, although the Priestess that conducted the ceremony used non-gender references instead of “the Goddess” so as not to offend her sensibilities TOO badly.

    My understanding is that her coven untied the knot and burned the cords after the divorce. Nothing lasts forever!

  4. dcpetterson says:

    As a follower of the ancient religions from which the Christians took most of the customs by which they celebrate this particular holiday — including the date — I have to say the whole “War on Christmas” is pretty amusing.

    As an American who likes the Constitution, this FOX “News” “War on Christmas” ad campaign is deeply offensive. That the right wing feels they have a right to ram their religion down everyone else’s throat angers me to my bones. Particularly since they’re using it as nothing more than part of their cynical and hypocritical, arrogant totalitarian attack on American liberty.

    If anyone is desecrating Christmas, it is FOX “News” and Rush Limbaugh and all those other mean-spirited entertainers, who care far more about making money than they do about religious faith. That they would use deeply and fervently-held beliefs in such a cynical fashion is inexcusable.

    If I believed in a Devil, I’d be convinced he was behind FOX and Co.

  5. drfunguy says:

    Eight words the wiccan reed fulfill:
    An it harm none
    do as ye will

  6. Monotreme says:

    Seems pretty clear to me. To wit:

    Matthew 6:

    1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    Luke 11:

    42But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 43Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. 44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.

    45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 47Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

  7. Number Seven says:

    I had not know that the Star of Bethlaham has been speculated to be the supernova that has become the Crab Nebula. The reason this strikes a chord in me is the recent lunar eclispe of a few days ago was right next to the Crab Nebula and also on the day of the Winter Solstice.

  8. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    About a thousand years too early for the Crab. It was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054.

  9. Mr. Universe says:

    Whoops, Max is right about the Crab Nebula. I was recalling something else from my undergrad astronomy class. I think there was speculation about Haley’s comet. I’ll be more diligent in my research next time.

  10. Number Seven says:

    Maybe it was a different supernova. It would make more since due to the fact a comet can be seen for weeks rather then a one day event.

    Still though, it was cool to see the eclipse so close to the Crab Nebula 🙂

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