Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Reason For The Season?

In recent years, we've heard about a supposed "War on Christmas", which is implicated as one facet of a war on Christianity in general. Some people are now offended by the long-standing greeting, "Happy Holidays", even though it's been around, with its cousin, "Season's Greetings", for my entire lifetime, and probably before. I can't remember anyone ever objecting to these phrases when I was growing up -- back then, people understood that it was a simple sentiment of goodwill with no ulterior, nefarious, Christian-hating motives. No one was concerned with being "politically correct" in those days, either. Rather, what some people now derisively refer to as "political correctness" was known as "good manners" then.

Similarly, back then, no one ever objected to Christmas decorations in public places, particularly those of a secular nature. This is unlike the recent incident at the Sea-Tac Airport, where a rabbi objected to the airport's Christmas decorations, demanding that a menorah be added. The airport's administrators responded by removing all Christmas decorations. While I don't see why they just couldn't have added a menorah or two and have been done with it, the rabbi's reported way of approaching the matter wasn't helping his case any. Instead of simply requesting that Jewish symbols be added, he was reported to have demanded that such symbols be added or he'd sue to have the Christmas decorations removed.

Though many of those who claim there is a full-scale, concerted war on Christmas and want to put the "Christ back in Christmas" and that "Jesus is the reason for the season", millions of non-religious people also celebrate Christmas for secular reasons, alongside of those who celebrate it as a religious holiday. As far as I'm concerned, Jesus is A reason for the season, not THE sole reason.

Indeed, the original "reason for the season" long predates Christianity. The original reason is the solstice and many of our Christmas traditions were adapted directly from Pagan celebrations. Christmas trees, holly, snow men, mistletoe, Yule logs, giving and receiving holiday gifts, huge feasts, are all Pagan in origin.

Most Christian scholars agree that Jesus Christ was not actually born on December 25, but rather some time in the summer or fall, and that December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate his birth, as it would be easier to convert Pagans to Christianity by adapting their Yuletime solstice celebrations to Christianity. Similarly, Christians also adapted many Pagan traditions to Easter, even the holiday's name, which comes from the Pagan fertility goddess Eostre.

Santa Claus (along with Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, et al), though loosely inspired by the 4th century St. Nicholas is largely a secular symbol of Christmas. Many popular Christmas carols also emphasize secular aspects of the holiday, such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Frosty the Snowman", "Silver Bells", "White Christmas", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", etc.

And though some Christians object to the secular aspects of Christmas, saying it adds to the commercialization of the holiday, many of the ideas behind such traditions promote ethical ideas everyone can agree on: goodwill toward others, generosity and giving, helping the less fortunate, family togetherness and celebration. Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on such virtues.

Many people also don't know that the original "War on Christmas" was conducted by Christians. This began in the 17th century by Puritans who objected to the Pagan origins of the holiday. During Oliver Cromwell's rule of England, the celebrating of Christmas was actually banned. In our own times, some sects do not celebrate Christmas, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses. While researching for this blog entry, I found a site where a fundamentalist Christian, Scott Ashley, listed his Top Ten reasons why he does not celebrate Christmas, along with detailed explanations for each reason:

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas
by Scott Ashley

1. Christmas is driven by commercialism.
2. Christmas is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.
3. Jesus wasn't born on or near Dec. 25.
4. The Christmas holiday is largely a recycled pagan celebration.
5. God condemns using pagan customs to worship Him.
6. Christmas is worshipping God in vain.
7. You can't put Christ back into something He was never in
8. The Bible nowhere tells us to observe a holiday celebrating Jesus Christ's birth—but it clearly does tell us to commemorate His death
9. Christmas obscures God's plan for mankind.
10. I'd rather celebrate the Holy Days Jesus Christ and the apostles observed.

To read the explanation for each of his reasons go to:

As for me, I love Christmas, though I celebrate it from a purely secular perspective. I have no problem whatsoever with those who emphasize the religious aspects or with public Christmas decorations. And it doesn't matter which greeting you give me: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa -- it's all good. Accepting heartfelt, sincere greetings of any kind are part of the goodwill toward others that Christmas is supposed to be all about.

Let's all put politics aside for the month of December and practice goodwill toward all people. That's the "reason for the season"

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