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The Christmas War? December 20, 2005

Posted by Tim in Religion, Thoughts, World.

It was with bemusement that I followed the brief but intense controversy over the so-called “Christmas War”. While this is not the first time secularists and Christians have gone at each other over how they should celebrate Christmas things seem to have been brought to a head with some parties replacing the words “Christmas” with “Holiday”.

That’s right – “Holiday tree”, “Holiday season”, “Holiday spirit”. God forbid this politically-correct paranoia spreads to give us clumsy phrases like “I’m dreaming of a White Holiday”, or “My Grown-up Holiday Wish”!

The point is that Christmas isn’t just any other holiday, even if you aren’t a Christian. I’ll digress to explain the origins of Christmas.

Christ’s exact birth date has been long lost in obscurity. “Christ-mass” resulted from a tendency of the Catholic Church to absorb pagan traditions, in this case the celebration of the winter solstice (Yule), which was held on – yes, 25th December. Yule commemorated the birth of Mithra, the Persian god of light. As Roman domination spread, they absorbed Mithra into their culture. After the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity, Pope Julius I decreed that the birth of Christ would be celebrated on the same date, to make it easier for pagans to embrace Christianity.

Many familiar Christmas symbols have their roots in paganism: kissing under the mistletoe was part of a fertility ritual; burning Yule logs a tribute to Mithra; Holly and ivy represent the male and female form. The ubiquitous Christmas tree is a hybrid of medieval legend and evergreen trees, symbolizing the rebirth of life.

For many years Christmas was a blur of pagan festivity and religious ritual. The “modern” version of Christmas we all know today was born in 1843, with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The short novel centered on the redemption of the cynical Scrooge, and emphasized charity, family, and hope. The heartwarming story changed the perception of Christmas in England and America. Carols, cards, pudding, and the family dinner are all elements from Dicken’s story that became tradition.

Today critics point out that Christmas has become too commercialized. Secularists complain of the Christian elements being forced on them, while Christian fundamentalists say the meaning of Christmas has been lost. I just hope they don’t waste too much time arguing about it.

I believe that Christmas is for everyone. I find it a wonder that in a world filled with cynicism and suspicion, people can still universally celebrate a day where they take time to be together, to hope for the future. David Foster and Linda Jenner put the sentiments of Christmas into beautiful words in their song, My Grown-up Christmas List:

No more lives torn apart,
and wars would never start,
and time would heal all hearts.
Ev’ry one would have a friend,
that right would always win,
and love would never end:
This is my grown-up christmas list.

Merry Christmas, everyone!



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