Saturday, December 11, 2004

Happy Solstice

Everyone's favorite phone caller, Bill O'Reilly, has an article called Take Your Christmas and Stuff It. Basically, evil secularists are taking over Christmas, banning the religious aspects, and turning us all into secular humanists.

Bunk. The secular aspects of Christmas predate the religious ones by centuries, if not millenia.

3-400 years ago, or so, what we'd now call the leading Conservatives (based on Church of England and Lutheran norms they were raving radicals, but what the heck), aka the Puritans (and some Presbyterians and other Calvinists), didn't celebrate Christmas. Why? BECAUSE THEY KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!!! Christmas is, and always has been, an invitation to party. And I don't mean just sitting around over a week glass of wine and a stuffed turkey.

The Church (Orthodox and Catholic) didn't pick December 25 as the day to celebrate Christ's birth because of any evidence that He was born then. They picked the day because that was during the time of Saturnalia, the Roman pagan festival. And what did people do during this festival, which lasted a week or so, you may ask? The generally debauched. There were some minor religious celebrations, but mostly they did the Party Hardy bit. There was even one day when slaves were allowed to boss their masters. (Sort of like a day when the Republicans let the Democrats win something in Congress, but this actually happened once a year.) I suppose you could put a statue of Zeus in the local parade, but I'm also sure that most people didn't care one way or another.

Oh, and outside of Rome, up in Germany and further north, trees that stayed green all year were special. Especially during the Winter Solstice. I.e., "Holiday Trees" predate "Christmas Trees" by centuries.

The Church took all this over, toned down the celebrations, and put Epiphany 12 days after Christmas, giving rise to a two-week celebratory season (take that, pagans), as well as millions of partridges in pear trees over the centuries (but that started much later). Germans began to regard the tree as a symbol of Christianity. (Mistletoe and Holly are still popular, though.)

So Christmas started out as a secular holiday. It's celebrated at a time when most pagans, European ones at least, celebrated a wild secular holiday. Why do we expect it to be anything else? Of the "90% of Americans [who] celebrate the Federal holiday of Christmas," how many actually go to church that day? On Christmas Eve? What's the percentage of them for which this is the only day of church in the year?

The most important day on the Christian calendar isn't Christmas, by the way. It's Easter. Tied to a time of year mentioned in the Bible. Celebrated since the 2nd century AD. Where people don't go wassailing, give big gifts (mostly), or try to score with the secretary in accounting during the office party. I'm pretty sure that 90% of Americans DON'T celebrate Easter, but I'm certain that 100% of Christians do.

Even the Puritans.