There, I said it. Merry Christmas, to those of you who celebrate Christmas. 97% of you felt included in that remark, because 97% of you, my fellow American citizens, celebrate Christmas.
But 3% of you don’t. 3% of you got uncomfortable and shifty eyed as I tried to relate to you by using the majority greeting. 3% of you feel left out. And that is certainly not the reason for the season—but sometimes, it is the effect.
Last year, when the Religious Right was beginning to start the “War against Christmas” rhetoric in earnest, I decided to do an experiment. I wait tables in the Pearl District, and I interact with 10-40 strangers, quite intimately, every day for an hour or two each.
During the Christmas season, I greeted every table with a “Merry Christmas,” or, “Hello. Did you have a good Christmas?” The results were quite interesting.
At least half of the people in my section were startled at being addressed in such an informal matter. This was, I believe, because they were not accustomed to strangers identifying them as Christmas-celebrators, even if they were. They did not seem particularly relieved that I had identified them as Christmas people, but instead were suspicious.
And then there was the other 3%. I would tell them, “Merry Christmas,” and they would change the subject and ask what the special was. If I asked them directly, “Did you have a good Christmas?” they would glance around and tell me, “Well…we actually don’t celebrate Christmas.”
So I would amend my approach, and ask them if they have enjoyed their Winter Holiday. By December 28, everyone has had some sort of holiday (regardless of their faith, or lack thereof) and so they could relate to that comfortably.
When I singled out Christmas, however, it made a definitive exclusion. “Are you with me, or are you something else?” my question implied.
Is this really the reason for the Season of Giving? To determine who is on your team?
The Hypocritical Right certainly thinks so.
The Hypocritical Right are those who call themselves Christians but are more interested in their own advancement than they are in the teachings of Jesus. Much different than the Religious Right, who have a conservative interpretation of Christianity, the Hypocritical Right uses the language of Christianity in order to further their own goals, even if it means contravening the purposes of Christ.
Lars Larson is undeniably a member of the Hypocritical Right. He is planning to erect a crucifix in Pioneer Courthouse Square this holiday season, next to what is officially called the "Tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square." He is upset that the tree is not called a “Christmas Tree,” so on his symbol of torture he will inscribe the words, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
He is beyond hypocritical in saying this; he is dead wrong.
The season is based around the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which is technically the reason there is a season. The Yuletide and the 12 day New Year festival originated in Mesopotamia, and not the Vatican.
The Asherah cult worshipped trees, especially those that did not die in winter. Consequently, Egyptians would decorate their homes with evergreen boughs during the wintertime. The reminder that green would return after winter was not part of the Nativity.
Jesus had a birthday, but it was definitely not on December 25. Describing the scene around the manger when Jesus was born, Luke 2:8 states: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Shepherds did not spend their days and nights in the fields in December, but they did in March, which is when Roman census records indicate the historical Jesus was born. This is corroborated by the De Pascha Computus, written in 243 CE.
The date December 25 was traditionally the date of the yearly birth of the Sun god Mithras, and heralded the lengthening of the days after the Solstice. Mithraism was one of Christianity’s greatest rivals in the third and fourth century CE, and was more popular with Roman soldiers than Christianity was.
The Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, a crazy festival to the god Saturn that included singing naked at strangers’ houses and screaming “Io, Saturnalia!” The first word was pronounced “yo,” related to the Latin interjection “ho,” ho ho. Their weeklong festival ended on December 25. In order to convert pagans, the Christ Mass was offered as a substitute holiday, and Mithraism grew smaller, while Christianity flourished.
In 1687, the Reverend Increase Mather of Boston said that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”
This follows a long tradition of the Christian church adopting its functions to pagan worship practices. For instance, the Sabbath (holy day of rest) was originally on Saturday, but was moved to Sunday by Christians so that they could more easily convert the pagans who already worshipped on that day. It was much easier to convince someone to go to a different temple on their day of worship than it was to ask them to change their day of worship altogether.
Christmas does not appear in the Bible, and I challenge Mr. Larson, or any other member of the Hypocritical Right, to identify a passage about Christmas or Santa Claus in the book that is “the reason for the religion.”
Considering that St. Nicholas of Myra, the Bishop on whom jolly old Saint Nick is based, was a presiding member of the Council of Nicaea and helped to craft the New Testament, Santa could have inserted himself into Christianity’s holy book. He did not, because he was not “the reason for the season,” and he knew it.
The appropriation of winter holiday by Christianity is acceptable. The claim of dominance over it is not. The winter is a time of seeking refuge, and a seasonal festival gives everyone something to look forward to when the snows come, and something to look back on fondly during the thaw.
Must we exclude others during this season, when we all weather the weather together, by demanding that everyone join the status quo? That’s not what America is about.
The Bible says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Lev. 19:18) This does not mean to love your neighbor as if they were you, but with the care and consideration that you would expect from others.
So, how would Jesus greet?
This year, I greet everyone with a “Happy Holidays,” so that every stranger I meet feels a kinship with me. How many Hypocritical Christians do the opposite, by excluding other faiths or atheists, who also need a moment of joy in a dreary winter?
Christmas is not going anywhere, and neither is Christianity. Christ himself, though, may well be forgotten this Christmas—and not because we do not use his name enough, but because we do not learn from what he taught.