Take this little Christmas quiz:
Santa Claus first appeared as the Elf-master icon of Christmas we all recognize today in what year?
If you guessed A. 1931, you’re right: Santa Claus as we know him was first drawn by illustrator Haddon Sundblom as an advertising image for The Coca-Cola Company in that year, believe or not. Far earlier than that, Santa has his true origins in German paganism in the form of the god Odin, among other things the leader of the Wild Hunt, a supernatural procession of ghosts in the sky occurring each year during the winter celebration of Yule. According to the Dictionary of Northern Mythology, “With the Christianization of Germanic Europe, numerous traditions were absorbed from Yuletide celebrations into modern Christmas.”
Which begs the question: What other traditions of men do we observe in the guise of celebrating Jesus’ birthday on December 25th each year? We should probably keep in mind as we go through these the instruction in Revelation 22 verse 18 (easy to find: it’s the last page of the Bible): “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book…” Caveat emptor.
Was Jesus even born on December 25th? As the British would say, not bloody likely. An easy estimate can be made of his approximate birth date by reading the account of the timing of his birth: “And she (Mary) brought forth her firstborn son…And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” No shepherd in his right mind would be tending his flock in the open in the middle of December in the Middle East, which is the same latitude as the United States. Simply put, Jesus probably was born no later than September or October.
So, whose birthday is historically associated with 25th of December? Not the Son of God, it turns out, but the Sun God. The Romans celebrated Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun” on December 25.
This holiday followed the Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of the god, Saturn. The Saturnalia anticipated the winter solstice when daylight began to lengthen, and was celebrated with abundant candles, gift-giving, continual partying and a carnival atmosphere. An early Roman poet called it “the best of times.”
“Learn not the way of the heathen… 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 an axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, that it move not.”
We can once again thank the Germans for bringing us the symbol of the Christmas tree, which until the 19th century was strictly a symbol of German culture. Its origins, again, are much earlier:
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for feeding and sheltering birds in the winter.
The use of mistletoe also has its origins in the misty mystical myths and superstitions of the ancient pagan past. In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality). Hm. It is thought that this association with virility may have led to the practice of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe when the Roman state religion adopted the ancient symbolism after the third century AD.
Besides, its great fun at the office Christmas party.
(I have pledged to myself and my friend, Boosie Vox (her radio-personality pseudonym), I will attempt to reduce the number of words contained in my sometimes necessarily wordy blog posts. Hence, I will wrap it up, believing I have made the point…)
…that virtually no part of the Christmas holiday tradition has any remote association with the Bible, Jesus’ teachings or example, or any thing other than an assembly of practices which long predate the advent of Christianity, and therefore can’t have any real significance in following the Way, as Jesus referred to himself.
Except giving, perhaps, with no thought of return.