What Is Christmas?

      You probably know that Christmas is celebrated on December 25.

In the United States, families distribute gifts that Santa Claus left under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.  And the Shopping Malls spend days counting all the money.

Also for months after many commit suicide from over spending. Few attend church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and later gather for Christmas dinner with extended family.

      The Christians say Christmas is the observance of Jesus’ humble birth to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem.  Although the Church doesn’t consider it the most important Christian holiday, Christmas is certainly the most popular, at least in terms of cultural and social significance.

     The early Church, believing that events later in Jesus’ life should be the focus, didn’t even consider it all that significant.  What’s more, when Church leaders first discussed observing the birthday of Jesus, some argued against celebrating it like you would another great person in history. Nonetheless, the Church had enough pro-observance support to mark the calendar. Neither the New Testament nor any historical record marks the exact date of Jesus’ birth.  As a result, the Church initially considered many different dates, including  January 2, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17, and November 20. The Western Church first observed December 25 in the fourth century, and eventually Eastern Churches followed suit.

     Why December 25th? The Bible doesn't give a lot of clues as to what time of the year the birth of Jesus happened:  Even if Jesus was here today he probably wouldn’t know and I don’t believe he ever celebrated it. As a matter of fact I can only find 3 times in the Bible where birthday were mentioned and both of the People who celebrated their Birthdays were pagan.

In the King James Bible

Genesis {40:20} And it came to pass the third day, [which was] Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.

Mathew 14:16 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. {14:7} Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. {14:8} And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger

Mark {6:21} And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief [estates] of Galilee; So, why December 25th?

No one knows for sure.

     Christmas has its origins as a pagan holiday.  One likely explanation is that early church leaders needed a holiday to distract Christians from the many pagan revelries occurring in late December.  One of the celebrations was The Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the Romans' favorite agricultural god, Saturn.  From December 17 until December 23, tomfoolery and pagan hijinks ensued, and by hijinks we mean gluttonous feasting, drunkenness, gambling and public nudity.

     December 25 was selected to line up with several pagan Roman holidays that celebrated the winter solstice and worship of the sun. Most of the traditional customs of Christmas, such as gift giving, tree decorating, light hanging, and feasting, come from sources other than the Church. One other pagan celebration that might have given Christmas its date was Natalis Solis Invincti, which roughly translates to "Birthday of the Invincible Sun God," giving it officially the most awesome holiday name ever.

     By the 12th century, the Christian Church had incorporated a few of the less-sinful pagan traditions into the 12 days of Christmas. A lot of people wish the public nudity could have been left in ... maybe on the 10th or 11th day. Along with the gambling. And the drinking. Then again, Saturnalia appears every day in Las Vegas so maybe they should just go there instead.

     The historical roots of Santa Claus came from many sources.  The earliest known inspiration for the legend comes from the fourth century in the form of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Greek Christian figure known for his generosity to the poor. Mentions of Santa Claus types of figures appear in Germanic lore and various northern European religions that thrived before Christianity took hold.

     The American version of Santa Claus seems to have originated from a Dutch legend about Sinter Klaas, which settlers brought to America in the seventeenth century.

Americans embraced the idea of Santa Claus, who was said to deliver gifts to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. To many Americans, Santa Claus embodies the spirit of giving. To celebrate the nature of Santa Claus during the Christmas holidays, many people not only give gifts to loved ones, but they also donate time and money to charities.

Our favorite morbidly obese, undiagnosed diabetic trespasser is actually a bastardization of the Dutch Sinter Klaas, which was actually a bastardization of Saint Nikolas, the holier-than-thou Turkish bishop for whom the icon was named.

     The actual saint was not, in fact, famous for making dispirited public appearances at shopping malls. Rather, he was known for throwing purses of gold into a man's home in the cover of night so that the man wouldn't have to sell his daughters into prostitution.

While it could be argued that this basically makes Nicholas the anti-pimp. Later, Martin Luther invented his own Christmas symbol, Kristkindl, as part of his rejection of all things Catholic.

     What he came up with is by far the gayest of all Christmas symbols, as Kristkindl is portrayed as a "blond, radiant veiled child figure with golden wings, wearing a flowing white robe and a sparkling jeweled crown, and carrying a small Christmas tree or wand."

This is why you sometimes hear Santa referred to as "Kris Cringle."

     By the 19th century American writers were describing Santa as wearing a red sash with a skin-tight red suit with white spotted fur at the fringes. He was basically all those other figures. Writers at the time were still calling Santa an "elf," including Clement Clark Moore in his famous poem “The Night before Christmas”.  Perhaps the image of a dwarf-sized intruder seemed less threatening than gigantic sized version, but we're pretty sure we'd be more likely to pass out if an overly jolly costumed dwarf magically appeared and started hopping around our living room floor.  The little person might just end up with a bullet in the head.  Not that there's anything wrong with frolicking little people with a propensity for wearing elf garb, of course. Except that there totally is.

     The modern image of him today was invented for a Coca-Cola advertisement.

“Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”. This signature character in Christmas folklore, with his song, movies and a mountain of yearly merchandise, was slapped together by the Montgomery Ward marketing team for a coloring book they were giving out.

Europe brought their real-life saints, Norse gods and rich cultural traditions to the table, and America slapped on a promotion from a department store.  Who knows, maybe 300 years from now Santa's sleigh will be towed by Energizer Bunnies, long after society has forgotten what an "Energizer" is. And, maybe Santa will sport a cheap cardboard crown and a creepy frozen grin.

     Where did Christmas Trees come from? Back in the pagan day, all inanimate objects were fair game for worship. Trees, rocks, mountains, funny shaped sticks that look like phalluses, whatever.  So supposedly some of the Norsemen got it in their heads to worship a thunder god named Thor by ritualistically sacrificing humans and animals at the tree they designated "Thor's Oak." So, one missionary of the Christian persuasion, Winfred (aka Saint Boniface), came upon an imminent sacrifice and sternly disapproved.

He took an ax and chopped down Thor's oak, which in itself should make him some sort of god by default.

      Of course, because of his boring monotheistic beliefs, instead of declaring himself the god of thunder, Winfred focused on a tiny little fir tree that grew from the hacked trunk.

And as all readers likely know, the fir trees' triangular shape represents the Trinity, and voila, a Christian tradition was born.

     However the tree did not, according to legend, spring out of the ground with little blinking lights and tin foil on its branches.  The thing with decorating the tree goes as far back as the 16th century, when people in Germany used to decorate their trees with apples. Other decorations included nuts and cheeses.

     A guy brought the tradition to America in the 1800s, and when we say "a guy" we literally know who it was: a German immigrant named August Imgard. He was the first to stick little candy canes on it, and to put a star at the top. Whatever German strand of mental imbalance caused him to do that, this guy's spur-of-the-moment decoration idea now utterly pervades the imagery of the holiday.

So what do you think does anyone still want to imitate the Christmas worshippers?

Does anyone want to join in with their celebration?

I certainly don’t!