He’s NOT the “Reason for the Season”

I have to laugh when people complain each year that Christmas has become so commercial. As if at any time in the past it has not been. And by “at any time” I mean right back to the beginning. While such complainers are just bemoaning their lost youth–an ignorant and happy time when commercialism was magic instead of an annoyance–few realize that Christmas is just one big advertisement and always has been.

You have been told that today is the birth day of Christ, that Christ is divine and died for our sins, that he performed feats of magic and is omnipresent. You have also been told that Santa Claus has a workshop staffed with elves on the North Pole and that he flies a magic sleigh powered by reindeer carrying a bag of toys, and is omniscient.

Adults who actually believe in one are thought to be certifiably insane, and people who don’t believe in the other are heathens and infidels. Such cultural declarations come from a cult that has matured into a religion. How sophisticated.

Jesus is not the reason for the season, and as far as most of the world is concerned, his divinity is about as real as Santa Claus. There exists no document that details what day Christ was born on, and certainly nothing that says it was December 25th. The church can’t even pin down the year, despite reorganizing the entire calendar to do so, and no one disputes that the date was placed, not divined from evidence. Then again, it’s supremely difficult to find even one thing about any religion that is divined from evidence.

So why December 25th? Well, it was the day of the Winter Solstice and the most important feast of the year on the Julian Calendar. In the tradition of the orgiastic Saturnalia festival, itself an outgrowth of pagan sun worship, the Roman emperors supported the worship of the Sun god as the official state religion. The Winter Solstice being the shortest day of the year is the day celebrated as the death, and rebirth of the “Undefeated Sun God.”

The followers of the pagan sun god were the most significant official cult in Rome three centuries after Christ’s death, right about the time when the Christian cult was making a play for increased membership. Early Christian depictions of Christ co-opted the pagan imagery for Sol/Apollo/Helios: the halo and the seven rays of sun [think Statue of Liberty]. He was even given the name “Sun of Righteousness.” It is no coincidence that the holy mass occurs on Sunday, the day of the sun, which Constantine decreed as the Roman day of rest in honor of the Sun god.

The image of Christ has been reinvented over the centuries to suit the times and the image-makers, and when the Christian cult wanted to entice the pagans to join, they dare not mess with the most celebrated and joyous feast of the year. So instead of fighting it, they adopted it and assured the pagans that they’d still be given license to get drunk and screw with abandon, just like they had “always” done during the Winter Solstice. Co-opting the festival was an advertising ploy to assuage fears that the new cult in town wouldn’t be as much fun as the old cult. And the complaints of the devout, noting so poignantly that the orgiastic elements of the holiday did in no way complement the reverence that should be paid to worship of the man-god, are as old as the Christian adoption of the holiday itself.

Tertullian, a second-century priest and the “Father of the Latin Church,” was a prolific scholar and author; he gave us the terms “trinity,” “old testament,” and “new testament” and is the first church scholar to declare Christianity as the one true religion. He also spoke of the sinful adoption of pagan rituals carried out by the early Christians:

The majority of Christians have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do…

By us, the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented–presents come and go–New-year’s gifts–games join their noise–banquets join their din!

Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself!…We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens!…

But “let your works shine,” saith He; but now all our shops and gates shine! You will now-a-days find more doors of heathens without lamps and laurel-wreaths than of Christians… Idolatry is condemned, not on account of the persons which are set up for worship, but on account of those its observances, which pertain to demons!

– Tertullian, On Idolatry, Chapters XI-XV

So bitching about losing the true meaning of Christmas is nothing new, at the very time the Christian church jumped on the Winter Festival bandwagon, manufacturing a holy meaning, its scholars were complaining that inducing the pagans to join the fun came at the expense of encouraging idolatry. Fifty years ago, rock and roll and television was denounced as idolatry in churches across this nation and the globe, yet today the televangelists and their Mega Churches have rock and roll bands backing them up on stage and professional audio/visual engineers beaming their message out over the airwaves.

Enticing the masses to your services with a little razzle-dazzle is nothing new.

Co-options of pagan imagery and doctrine within the Christian cult were common and fundamental in the doctrine. Jesus as Apollo, Mary as Isis, the stories are as old as time and Jesus and Mary simply a modern name for an ancient concept.

Almost everything we enjoy about Christmas is a commercial, either stolen from an older religion or an actual advertisement selling a product.

The lighting of candles and decorated wreaths are a tradition from Roman times, and the laying of garlands over doorways is particularly pagan.

The Christmas Tree is stolen from ancient pagan traditions in Germany, imported to England by Queen Victoria’s German husband.

The gingerbred men, another manifestation of the ancient Roman tradition of human sacrifice. Man-shaped cookies and breads were popular fare during the Saturnalia.

Mistletoe is a Nordic symbol of the poison that was once used to kill the sacrificial victim of the Solstice festivities, and the tradition of kissing under it is likely a synthesis of the sexual license practiced during the holiday.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the creation of an ad man for Montgomery Ward, used to attract more holiday sales.

The gift-giving aspects are older than the associations with St. Nicholas and even the gifts of the Magi, stemming again from the popular Roman custom of tribute paid to the Emperor and by slaves to their Masters. One aspect of Saturnalia turned the household upside down for a day (and later a week) requiring the masters to offer gifts up to their slaves and the slaves to send down mock punishments to their masters.

The red-suited Santa Claus is not the invention of Coca-Cola, although the company’s famous advertisements did much to popularize a singular image of the man. Santa himself is an amalgam of the Turkish St. Nicholas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, the German Christkindlein, and a host of imagery from across Europe and even modern American poets: the sleigh, the reindeer, the bag of presents, the Christmas Eve ride, coming down the chimney, and even the milk and cookies. Some of these elements are made from whole cloth while others are inherited from previous depictions of local gods, such as Woden who was known to have a long white beard and fly around the sky on a magical horse.

So the next time you hear that “Christmas is too commercial” you can laugh at the fool who doesn’t understand that it’s the sanctimonious and devout true believers that are spoiling the party for the rest of us, not the other way around. And don’t put up with their bullshit at Easter either. That’s another perfectly good Pagan ritual and orgy that’s being ruined by prudish church types trying to make us all feel bad about a little chocolate and nookie.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.