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Christmas

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Don't touch it. You might get a nasty shock.
You know holiday shopping is offensive and wasteful. You know Christmas 'wish lists' and 'gift exchanges' degrade the concept of giving. You know Christmas marketing is a scam, benefiting manufacturers, stores, and huge corporations, while driving individuals into debt. You know this annual consumer frenzy wreaks havoc on the environment, filling landfills with useless packaging and discarded gifts. Yet, every year, you cave in and go shopping.
—Boycott Christmas[1]
Oh, would you care for a candied cane? It represents the emotional crutch of the season's empty frivolity, each gift a grim foreboding of the final box in which we will all be wrapped.
—Hans Beinholt, German Ambassador to the UN[2]
Christ died so we may
write articles about

Christianity
Icon christianity.svg
A multi-chef broth
Devil's in the details
The pearly gates
Don't bother me. I'm thinking.
—Ralphie to the Wicked Witch in A Christmas Story

Christmas is a time of goodwill to all shareholders. To celebrate the birth of Jesus, we stress ourselves out and shout at each other to buy expensive, unneeded presents that'll be forgotten/broken/lost by February, and then spend the holiday period with relatives we barely tolerate while rehashing old arguments. Just like Jesus would have wanted.

Retailers love Christmas. Not only does it give them an end-of-year revenue surge, it also allows them to clear their shelves of old inventory.[notes 1]

Christian elements[edit]

Non-Christian elements[edit]

  • The story of a jolly fat man dressed in red, driving a flying sled and bringing presents created in a workshop full of elves to children through their chimneys.
  • Christmas trees and "silver and gold" decorations which are both explicitly forbidden in the Bible - but who's counting?[3] Incidentally, one Christmas tradition holds that you risk death if you leave your decorations up past Candlemas (Groundhog Day).[4] But the BBC reports that if you didn't get them taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th or 6th) you should leave them up until Candlemas.[5]
  • The date on which Christmas is celebrated.
  • Christmas feasting, drinking and having fun.
  • Mistletoe, holly, Christmas stockings, candy canes, etc.
  • Epic consumerism, shopping and gift exchanging.

"Of the House of David"[edit]

According to several Old Testament prophecies, the messiah is to be a direct, traceable, patrilineal descendent of King David. For instance, in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God tells King David:

12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'" (New International Version)

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the writer attempts to establish this patrilineal link. (This is one of two chapters in the Bible that lists all the "begats.") The writer goes down the list, starting with "Abraham begat Isaac" in verse 2, and ending with "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary" in verse 16. But, the full verse[notes 2] reads "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."[notes 3] (King James Version)

If taken literally, Jesus cannot be the messiah because he is not a blood descendent of King David. Still, a few Jews ignored this stipulation and were converted to Christianity. But the bulk of early Christian converts were Romans.

Pagan elements[edit]

Since the earliest days of Christianity, the customs that Christians use to celebrate Christmas (and Easter) have been altered to attract non-Christians to the religion. Many pagan rituals were incorporated into Christmas festivities as a way to appease ancient converts who were reluctant to discard their old traditions, or perhaps to appease the old gods who might get angry if their customs are abandoned. It is also possible that after the pagans converted to Christianity, they wanted to keep their old traditions alive and incorporated them into the Christian holidays.

Pagan festivals[edit]

A number of late December pagan festivals contributed to Christmas.

Saturnalia[edit]

The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, at which time they exchanged gifts and had huge feasts. This celebration of the god Saturn occurred from 17 December to 23 December. As early as the end of the 1st century, Christians were celebrating Christmas on 25 December,[notes 4] most likely with the intent of attracting Roman converts.

Sol Invictus[edit]

A Roman festival held - somewhat coincidentally - on the 25th of December which celebrated the re-birth of the sun. (As opposed to the son.)

Yule[edit]

Ancient Germanic winter festival which gave us the Yule log.

Winter solstice[edit]

Shortest day of the year. Celebrated everywhere usually with the idea of birth or rebirth.

Virgin Birth[edit]

One of the central themes of Christmas is that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth. Many other mythologies of the time had stories of virgin births:

  • Egyptian mythology:
    • The story of Horus, son of the virgin Isis, most well known. He too was visited by three kings.
      • If Isis was a virgin, she definitely wasn't by the time of Horus's birth, considering she reanimated Osiris, her brother and husband, specifically to conceive with him.
    • The story of the birth of Amenkept III, a similar story that predates Christianity by 2000 years, seems to be even closer to the Christmas story. In the story, Mut-em-ua, a virgin queen of Egypt, experienced the following events:[6]
      • Annunciation: The god Taht appeared to the queen and told her that she would soon give birth to a son (Pharaoh Amenkept III);

Other older virgin birth myths include:

  • Greek/Roman:
    • Perseus: The son of Danaë, whose father kept her a virgin because Oracle of Delphi told him that her son would kill him. Zeus impregnated her and, well, you know . . .
  • Hindu:
    • The avatars of Vishnu were produced by virgin births;
    • Prior to her marriage to King Pandu, Queen Kunti was impregnated by Surya, god of the Sun. She delivered a son, Karna. At Kunti's request, Surya restored her virginity to her;
    • Afterward, Brahmin ordered King Pandu never to have sex with Kunti or his other wife again. The two queens asked the gods for children and they were impregnated with the Pandavas.
  • Zoroastrianism
    • Zoroaster, who lived about 1100 years before the Christian era, was believed to have been the product of a virgin birth. However, some Christians will tell you that the virgin birth aspect of the story was added at least 100 years after Christ as a way to compete with Christianity. (It's sad that they won't even consider applying the same logic to their own Christmas story.)
    • The Shaosyant, the Zoroastrian savior who will usher in the apocalypse, will be born to a virgin who bathes in a lake containing Zoroaster's magically preserved semen.

NOTE: The Immaculate Conception is not the conception of Christ. Rather, it is the belief that Mary was conceived by her parents at a moment when they were not horny in a state of complete sinlessness.

Saint Nicholas of Myra[edit]

According to legend, the Bishop of Myra (in present day Turkey) was a Christ-like miracle worker. He also gave secret gifts to children and the downtrodden. Christians adopted him as the gift-giver in order to erase the final vestiges of Saturnalia from the holiday.

Nicholas died in 346 at the age of 77. The day of his death—6 December—is now his feast day. Many countries that are predominantly Roman Catholic still celebrate 6 December as the main gift-giving day, while predominantly Protestant countries—even those that still celebrate St. Nick's Day—tend to wait until Christmas to exchange gifts. (In a few countries people exchange gifts on both days.)

The Christmas tree[edit]

The Christmas tree is believed to date back to 16th century Germany. Evergreen trees were used by the Druids and other northern European pagans to celebrate the winter solstice. In the 1840s, Christmas trees became popular in English-speaking countries when German-born Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) began displaying Christmas trees in Windsor Palace.

The decorated tree is one of the more controversial symbols of Christmas because most Christians are aware that the tree is a co-opted pagan symbol. Some versions of the Bible even forbid the bringing of a tree into one's house. When Christmas trees became popular in America in the 1850s, many churchgoers condemned the new practice.

Mistletoe[edit]

A Norse myth claims that the goddess Frigg—their equivalent of the Greek goddess Hera—ordered all plants and animals to do no harm to her son. But she overlooked the mistletoe. Another god killed her son with a sprig of mistletoe, thrusting the earth into a deep winter. When her son was brought back to life, Frigg ordered that henceforth mistletoe would be a symbol of love. When two people meet under mistletoe, they must kiss to honor the gods for restoring spring and summer. However, according to the myth, Frigg still brings winter as a reminder of her displeasure with her son's death.[notes 5]

Holly[edit]

Holly is especially blessed as it gets into Christmas via two routes. The Druids thought that it would bring good luck and protection in their winter festival and the Romans associated holly with Saturn - the god of agriculture and harvest - and decked their halls with it during the winter festival of Saturnalia.[7]

FSM & IPU[edit]

Pastafarians also hold an informal celebration on the 25th of December, see Pastafarian holidays with many traditional Christmas symbols. [8] Those who worship the Invisible Pink Unicorn supply Christmas cards and Christmas decorations in Her Most Holy Name. [9]

Atheists and Christmas[edit]

Some atheists celebrate Christmas and some don't. In Santa Monica, California, atheist groups objected to the public Palisades Park being given over to a nativity scene, and successfully applied to the city for their own spaces. The city allocated the spaces via a lottery, allowing the atheist groups to win 18 of the 21 plots, and leaving the nativity play with just 2. A Jewish group got 1. The Atheists utilised their plots to display messages such as, "37 Million Americans Know MYTHS When They See Them. What do you see?".[10]

Science dates Christmas[edit]

Scientists reason that Jesus would have most likely been born during the summer; as the brightest object in the night sky that decade would have been a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on June 17th 2 BCE; visible over Bethlehem and easily mistaken for a star. [11] (Of course this assumes that this three wise men following the star story has some validity, and given the somewhat dubious historical accuracy of the rest of the story this might be a risky assumption.)

Another interpretation[edit]

The film Zeitgeist correctly points out that the stars that form Orion's belt have been called The Three Kings and they form a line that points to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.[12] Hmmm.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Christmas.

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Whatever inventory remains is documented after the store closes on New Year's Eve. Retailers are then subject to an inventory tax on New Year's Day. (HAPPY NEW YEAR!)
  2. Which makes every observant Jew with an active brain cell yell, "Now, just wait a fucking minute!!!"
  3. Emphasis added.
  4. According to chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke, the shepherds were watching their flocks by night. This would indicate that Christ -- if he was real -- was born in the spring, not at the beginning of winter.
  5. Much like the rainbow is supposedly a post-Great Flood reminder to do no evil.

References[edit]

  1. The Christmas Resistance Movement
  2. Full interview
  3. Jer 10:1-25 Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations ["heathen" in the King James version, "gentile" in the New King James version], nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations [ditto] are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”
  4. www.churchyear.net
  5. Candlemas on BBC Religion
  6. "Virgin Births in History": From a 1922 article about the parallels between the nativity story and earlier myths.
  7. Roman holly
  8. Putting Spaghetti back in the Holidays
  9. I believe in the invisible pink unicorn
  10. In Santa Monica, battle over Christmas displays takes a new twist
  11. "Cancel Christmas - Jesus was born June 17, say scientists", Daily Mail, 9 December 2008
  12. http://earthsky.org/brightest-stars/sirius-the-brightest-star