Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Urrr ahhh....SEASONS GREETINGS?....

For the life of me, I just can't understand why some people in this country are so offended by the words "Happy Holidays.

The whole thing seems ridicules in the extreme. One second they tout the sanctity of Christmas, but then, in the same breath, they use their supposedly sacred holiday as a cheap, run of the mill political weapon against their many opponents--which, when you think about it, reduces Christmas to a mere mockery. For the life of me, I just can't figure out what went wrong with this crowd. Are they over sensitive? Are they anal retentive? Are they disrespectful or even hateful of non-Christians? Do they enjoy beating others over the head with their religious beliefs? Do they want to monopolize the Christmas holiday for themselves?

Or could it be that they don't realize that they are placing their eternal souls in danger when they celebreate this supposedly Christian holiday?

Christmas, afterall, has a rather long and complicated history, and the great irony in all of it is the fact that what we think of as Christmas isn't even Christian at all.

Contrary to what they have been told, Christ probably wasn't born in December. In fact he was probably born in the spring or fall, more probably the former. The only reason we have a December Holiday called Christmas at all is because the ancient church, in its feverish attempt to eradicate competing faiths, decided it would be a neat idea to move Christmas to coincide with the Winter Solstice or Roman Saturnalia. Indeed, Christmas wasn't even a high Christian Holiday until the Fourth Century. Prior to that time the primary Christian Holiday had been Easter.

And those lovely little customs and decorations over which we obsess at this time every year--little things like pine wreaths, Christmas trees, the holly and the ivy, kissing under the mistletoe--they all hark back to European Paganism (with the exception of the poinsettia which harks back to pre-Christian North American roots).

The holiday we celebrate every winter has less to do with a baby in a manger than it does with ancient, pre-Christian beliefs. In fact, if you embrace a literal translation of the Old Testament, you might actually be sinning when you put up and decorate a pine tree. Consider the following example from "All About the Christmas Tree: Pagan Origins, Christian Adaption, and Secular Status."

"The Prophet Jeremiah condemned as Pagan the practice of cutting down trees, bringing them into the home and decorating them. Of course, these were not really Christmas trees, because Jesus was not born until centuries later, and the use of Christmas trees was not introduced for many centuries after his birth. Apparently, in Jeremiah's time the "heathen" would cut down trees, carve or decorate them in the form of a god or goddess, and overlay it with precious metals. Some Christians feel that this Pagan practice was similar enough to our present use of Christmas trees that this passage from Jeremiah can be used to condemn both:

Jeremiah 10:2-4: "This saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, that it move not." (From the King James version.)

All right. If Christmas trees are symbols of heathen Paganism, then we can certainly take some comfort in all the other symbolism. Take, for example, the holly tree. Truly this Holiday Tradition can be traced to Christian roots.


Welllllll......Not exactly.

"For centuries, holly has been the subject of myths, legends, and traditional observances. The ancient Chinese used Ilex chinensis extensively for decorating during their February New Year festivals. The Romans used the plant to decorate their houses, temples, and deities for Saturnalia, the mid-winter feast. They exchanged holly boughs as symbols of goodwill and friendship. This practice is considered the forerunner of holly's use in Christmas celebrations.

"Ancient history says that the Druids used holly in their religious rites long before the custom came to the European continent. The Druids of ancient Britain and Gaul held the English holly tree sacred. The "holy" connotation continued in later days in Europe, where the plant was widely believed to repel evil spirits. People planted trees and used their branches as protection against witchcraft, mad dogs, and other evils.

"Sometime in the past, the pagans of Europe took sprays of holly into their homes so that the tiny, imaginary peoples of the woodland would be safe from the cold of winter in the evergreen boughs. Later, holly was used as holiday decor that gave the good fairies and elves ."

It might have been co opted, but its origins are clearly Pagan. So, what about the proverbial ivy? How does that clinging vine rate?

"Aside from the familiar carol, 'The Holly and the Ivy,' the ivy vine doesn't have quite the Christmas tradition as mistletoe and holly. It was associated with Bacchus the Roman god and thought to bring good luck, fun and ecstatic happiness. Growing the plant on the outside walls of a house was believed to be a deterrent against misfortune. However, if it died, it was thought that financial trouble was approaching. Like evergreens, ivy was also seen as a symbol of eternal life.

"Because ivy symbolized prosperity and charity, it became associated with Christmas, a time to celebrate the rich rewards of life yet remember the less fortunate. Christian symbolists also consider the ivy's need to cling to a support emblematic of man's need for divine support." (See Holistic Living, a Place to Relax: Christmas Plants Rooted in Centuries Old Histories and traditions.)

Speaking of mistletoe, if you go back to the above-mentioned site you will learn that this interesting parasite is actually an old Norse symbol.

" Legend explains that the tears of Scandinavian goddess Frigga saved her son after he was shot with an arrow made of mistletoe. When she ordered mistletoe never again be used to harm others, she made it a symbol of peace and love. It was also hung over doorways to ward off evil and bring happiness, health and good luck, and kissing under the mistletoe was thought to increase the possibility of marriage in the upcoming year. "

Then there's that little matter of the Yule Log.

"The word yule means wheel, a symbol representing the sun and the yuletide was a festivity celebrating the fact that the days would now start to get longer and warmer again. The yule log was a huge log (sometimes an entire tree) that was burned slowly throughout these days to herald the birth of this new sun. One end of the log would be placed in the fireplace with the rest sticking out into the room. The log was slowly fed into the fire over the course of several days until it was completely consumed."

Poinsettia History and Lore are equally touchy issues. The poinsettia is a uniquely North American Symbol, not handed down from our Pagan, European Ancestors. Rather, it was handed down from our Aztec ancestors who called it the "Cuetlaxochitle," and who used the semi-toxic sap for medicinal purposes.

But, enough already with the trees and vines.

Maybe you were thinking about going broke at your local Sprawl-Mart? Gift-giving, after all, is a respectable Christmas tradition. Or is it? Again, this is another habit that was lifted from the Roman Pagans; as if generosity and gift-giving were/are uniquely Judeo-Christian customs. Gift-giving, after all, was an important aspect of the Roman Saturnalia , and the last I knew Saturn wasn't the Judeo-Christian god.

The upshot to all of this is that the Christmas monopolists really shouldn't be offended when they hear the term "Happy Holidays." In fact, the church-state separatists are actually doing them a favor. That's right, a favor.

In the first place, it isn't as if Christmas were even a Christian holiday. Anyone who saw the stampedes in Wal-Mart over the Thanksgiving weekend understands that much. For all intents and purposes it has become a cheap, commercial festival devoid of any spritual meaning. And, in the second place, the seasonal customs and pre-Christian symbolism have transformed it into a Neo-Pagan Holiday, replete with ancient superstitions and sops to the old gods and goddesses. By shielding them from the crass consumerism, the anti-christian pageantry, and a wide variety of heathen practices the church-state separatists are actually saving the souls of Christian Monopolists.

That's right.

Not only are we preventing them from celebrating a Pagan festival which was never intended as a Christian celebration (observance for those of you who aren't into merrymaking) we are also preventing them from engaging in strange, anti-christian rituals which might delegate them to eternal damnation.

I know, I know, it's an endless, and thankless task but someone has to do it. And from where I stand it's the least I can do for the radical Christian Right during their favorite time of the year. The poor dears are already in enough trouble with the Deity as it is. Their outrageous, often inhumane, stands on everything from war and peace to the death penalty and economic issues already have them in hot coals and hell fire up to their proverbial asses.

The least we can do is spare them the degradation of engaging in primitive, barbaric rituals which will only confirm and secure their eternal damnation.

So before we go back to human sacrifices and telling fortunes by the spilled entrails of barnyard animals, we might want to rethink this Merry Christmas ritual.

And, as a gesture towards the Christmas Monopolists, who are so determined to co-opt this Pagan Festival, we might want to avoid the term "Happy Holidays."

What else can I say, besides.....

Seasons Greetings.


For additional information and for a slightly different take on all of this, please see "The History Of Christmas" by Ben Best.

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