25 December 2011

Jesus Is Not the Reason for the Season

With growing smugness year in and year out, Christians love to tout that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

What a clever slogan. I mean it. From a marketing perspective, the slogan is gangbusters. This makes sense to the average Christmas observer. After all, it’s baby Jesus’ birthday.

The intent of this post is not so much to try to convince you that Christmas is a sham. On the contrary, the purpose is to pique your interest and entice you to explore the customs that most of you practice at this time of the year.

That said, this post will sting to those who cherish Christmas and who cling tight their belief about the holiday.

I’d like to start this post with the smart-ass, half-true observation that the season of winter (or summer in the Southern hemisphere) happened well before the time of Jesus. Now, for the many reasons that Jesus is actually not the reason for the season.

It’s Not Jesus’ Birthday
This is the number one reason that most do not know or refuse to recognize: Jesus was not born on December 25. Although the bible doesn’t specify an exact date for Jesus’ birth, most objective scholars agree that all the clues point to a spring birth. That’s why there was no room at the inns, because it was time for the census and that required everyone to return to their place of birth in order to be counted.

It’s Saturn’s Birthday
When the Catholic church was just forming as the dominant (and for a long stretch of history, the only) form of Christianity, they chose to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25 because they knew that the pagans they were attempting to convert would never give up their cherished tradition of Saturnalia.

Many Mid-Winter Holidays Aren't Christian
Celebration of the Winter Solstice is the oldest known celebration in the history of homo sapiens. Today in the United States of America, people celebrate all sorts of holidays that relate to either their religion, ancestry, or rejection of past traditions within the last two weeks of the year. Such major holidays include Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Yule, and the increasingly popular Festivus (Thanks, Frank Costanza!)

Most Christmas Traditions Come from Other Religions
The decoration of Christmas trees dates back to Wassailing, a pagan tradition of decorating one apple tree in mid-winter as a fertility rite for the entire orchard. Holly and mistletoe date back to Celtic mythology and Druidic rituals. Lights are an integral part of Chanukah. Santa Claus’ origins reach as far back as the Greek’s Basil of Caesarea. And gift giving goes back as far as Saturnalia.

Gifts: WWJD?
One last word that is meant more as a criticism of the hypocrisy that runs rampant throughout Christianity: Jesus would reject the unabashed consumerism that has come to mark Christmas. If more Christians rejected the consumerist version of Christmas and gave even half as much to the poor and downtrodden regardless of their religious beliefs as they do to friends and family, the world would be a much, much better place.

A Final Word
With or without Jesus, the winter holiday season would still exist and thrive because it is a down and opportune time. Nature can’t be cultivated at this time in most regions of the northern hemisphere. The crops have all been harvested. Cold weather has taken hold along with the long, dark days. What else is there to do but relax and revel with friends and family? Jesus is most definitely not the reason for the season. To insist he is, rejects the pluralism that makes this world so very beautiful.