Friday, December 25, 2009

The True Meaning of Christmas

You know, with all the commercialism of the holidays, sometimes I fear that the true meaning of Christmas gets forgotten. So it's good to take time out from our busy holiday season, and remember why we celebrate on Christmas day.

So gather around children, and I'll tell you the story of the very first Christmas.
You see kids, even after Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, people still wanted to celebrate the pagan holidays around the Winter Solstice. And can you blame them? It was just too much fun. The gift-giving, the tree decorating, the festivals of lights, and the coming together of families for the holiday season.

Since the Church wasn't successful at entirely banning these activities, they decided to co-opt them by creating a Christian holiday at the same time. And so, on December 25th each year, the Church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Even though nobody really knew the exact date that Christ was born. And even though birthday celebrations were not a part of Christian or Jewish cultures at the time.

And so, Christmas was created. And it took all the best parts of all the other winter festivals. For example, gift giving was taken from the Roman holiday Saturnalia. The green colors and lights come from the Roman New Year. The Christmas tree and Yule log both come from Druid celebrations in the Winter Solstice, and pre-date Christmas by centuries.

Centuries later, the Christians then decided to become really thin skinned about this holiday. They would complain whenever shops didn't say, "Merry Christmas" loudly enough, and they decided that this time of year it was their right to shove their religion down everyone's throats, because they thought they had created the whole idea of a winter festival.

So please, as we all become busy in the holiday hustle and bustle, take some time out of your day to remember the true meaning of Christmas, and the reason for the season. And don't worry. Although it appears that the days may be getting shorter and shorter, with enough lights and greenery I'm sure we can propitiate the sun god.


If I was ever going to write a children's book explaining the meaning of Christmas, I imagine it would go something like that.

If this sounds a bit cranky, then maybe I've been paying too much attention to the religious right commentators this month (I've been able to track them through the magic of the internet). And I saw one too many comments on Facebook asking everyone not to forget the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

Although I often blog about how much I hate Christmas, I guess I don't really hate it all that much per se. The time spent with family is something I enjoy, and something I really miss over here in Japan.

In fact, as the history indicates, perhaps every culture does need some sort of Winter festival to get us through the dark cold days. In Japan, for example, the main winter celebration is New Year's, which takes on all the significance here that Christmas does in the West.

But man, what really burns my buttons is the cultural war aspect of the holiday season (as I've blogged about before). This is the time of year when certain people feel that not quite enough attention has been paid to their particular brand of religion, and they get really whiny and touchy about it.

You know, even growing up in the church, I always thought that Christmas was kind of a cruel bait and switch. They bait you by getting you really excited about the decorations, the food, the presents, the school holidays, and cookies, et cetera. And then you get dragged into Church, where you're told you should feel guilty because you've been focusing too much on these things, and you haven't been thinking about "the true meaning of Christmas."
So, wanting to be a good little kid, you try and direct your thoughts in the appropriate direction, and meditate on the Christmas story and the little baby in the manger. But then the following Sunday, you are reminded that you haven't been focusing enough on "the true meaning of Christmas". So you try even harder to focus on the story of the baby in the manger. But then the following advent Sunday...
Well, you get the idea. How much is it possible to focus on this one story throughout the whole month? I mean, what do they expect from these little kids. We get it already, we're focusing on Jesus's birth, lay off a little bit.

Well, what would religion be without some guilt over not being quite pious enough.
But this is all within the Church. When the Church goes on the attack against secularists, that's when it really gets ugly.
And that's when it becomes part of the culture wars to even try and acknowledge in public that not everyone who celebrates Christmas is a Christian, or that other faiths have different holidays during this season.

Since I waited until Christmas day to post this, I guess I missed the entire Christmas season. But keep it in the back of your mind for next year. When someone tells you to remember the true meaning of Christmas, feel free to give them a little history lesson.

Link of the Day
Class War Driving People From Defiance to Compliance

No comments: