What About Christmas?

What could be more fraught with anxiety for a non-believer that Christmas? Frenetic activity—spending money like it’s water (we’ll put it on credit and pay for it “later”), you HAVE to be with your loved ones. No wonder so many people dread the holiday season. Just read what Consumer Reports published in 2011 about the most popular things that people dread about the holidays:

Americans’ top holiday dreads—being nice makes the list

Just as EVERYTHING ON THIS EARTH evolves, so too, has Christmas.

Well known in history is the evolution of Christmas from pagan Roman holidays, such as Saturnium and Juvenalia, as well as the birthday of the ancient god Mithra on December 25. Eventually, the pagan holiday was supplanted by Christmas, the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, not mark his actual birthdate.

Throughout the last 2000 years, Christmas took on many different shapes and levels of debauchery. By the time the Pilgrims sailed to the New World they wanted nothing to do with Roman Catholic holidays that were not specifically mentioned in the Bible. That’s right, the Pilgrims did not have a first Christmas in the New World because they did not recognize Christmas.

(Explore the reasons why the Pilgrims rejected Christmas in this well-written and correct post by CBN reporter Paul Strand: Why The Pilgrims Declared War On Christmas)

The modern version of Christmas comes right from the Victorians and the advertisers of Madison Avenue.

The Victorians of the late 19th Century England shaped our modern world in so many different ways. They gave us the Industrial Revolution, along with its ever-increasing emission of CO2.

One of the greatest authors to ever live, Charles Dickens, gave us A Christmas Carol, influencing the British at the time, and all of us since, to be more generous and giving for the holiday season.

Victorian Christmas

Courtesy, A Victorian Christmas: 

http://www.avictorian.com/christmas_victoria.html

It also gave us the Christmas tree. Before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the German tradition of the tree to England, thus cementing our affinity for the grandly decorated tree that crosses our thresholds every year. I remember heated emails a few years ago, insisting that the tree in your house was a Christmas Tree, not a holiday tree!!! The debate still rages, along with the War on Christmas and the War on Christianity—I’ll comment on those in a later post. So why did people bring trees into their homes before Victoria and Albert began the boom in Christmas trees? Because it was a pagan ritual, ushering in the winter solstice so that the community could look forward to spring and the planting of crops. Without the spring, or the promise of spring, many human beings starved to death. So the tree came to symbolize the renewal of life. Pagan—nothing more and nothing less. And now our communities grapple with inclusion by calling the tree brought onto the town hall square as a holiday tree, while the Christians cry “foul,” it’s a Christmas tree and it’s another example about the War on Christmas and you’re ruining Christmas for us by calling it anything else. Sigh.

Santa Clause

Courtesy, The Saint Nicholas Center:

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/

Santa Clause is derived from the 4th Century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, a town now on the Turkish coast. Associated with gift-giving through the ages to children, these traditions flourished throughout Europe for centuries. But it took Madison Avenue artists, including N. C. Wyeth, introduced us to the roly-poly, jolly old man whom we all see in the malls with screaming children on their laps. That visual honor goes to Coca-Cola and the artist Haddon Sunblom in the 1930s. The United States is in depression and what could be more uplifting that a happy man in red who brought you your heart’s desires?

1622Gerard_van_Honthorst

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds 1622, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Courtesy Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_van_Honthorst

Want to gripe about another Christmas staple on the lawns of churches and–now, controversial on United States government property (from Washington D.C. federal buildings to the municipal community center), the Nativity scene. How did this tradition get started? If you remember, the Nativity scene or the Creche involves animals, as well as the family of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and the Three Wise Men, thrown in the mix. History’s own Saint Francis created the manger scene in the charming town of Greccio, in the Lazio region of Italy in the year 1223. St. Bonaventure describes the creation of the manger in this post by The Catholic Education Resource Center:

Saint Francis and the Christmas Creche

So Christmas itself is a combination/mishmash of various and sundry traditions that span the last, roughly, 1700 years. And keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew; if he existed, he would not have celebrated Christmas–at all.

(Looking for a quick and dirty history of Christmas? Try this link from The History Channel: History of Christmas.)

 

 

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