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Christmas (Part 1)

I’m not Christian. My family isn’t Christian. Nevertheless, we seem to belong to what feels to be the majority of Australians who celebrate the “Christian” holiday known as Christmas. Similarly, we’ve celebrated Easters, and Halloween, all holidays that are highly celebrated throughout the West thanks to Christianity’s pervasiveness.

It’s hilarious when you realise that these Christian holidays weren’t Christian at all to begin with, but instead so called “Pagan”. So called Pagan because that’s the term Christian’s used to categorise anyone who wasn’t Christian.

I could talk about the ridiculousness of Easter, based on Ostara, which worships a fertility Goddess, and how all the symbols we commonly think of as defining Easter, such as eggs, are actually symbols of fertility. What do eggs have to do with reincarnation? What does a bunny have to do with the son of God? Meanwhile, eggs are the unborn, waiting to be fertilised to come into the world. Rabbits, or bunnies, are creatures commonly known for their fertility, having many kittens in a litter, and breeding quite rapidly.

I could discuss Samhain, the day when the Wiccans believed the veil between this world and the next was thinnest. When the dead would walk amongst the living freely, an idea on its own which stands fundamentally against what Christians try to believe in.

But, it’s December. It’s the time of year Christians, Agnostics, and any number of other people, all celebrate Christmas.

Supposedly, according to Christians, somewhat over 2000 years ago, on the 25th of December, the son of God was born. I won’t argue the existence of Jesus. I don’t need people screaming at me for insensitivity, or anti-Christian messages. One thing I will state however, is that Jesus wasn’t born in December. I doubt anyone today knows the exact date. Or would be able to discover it. Not without some insane technology that we haven’t invented yet, at least. Or some evidence we haven’t found yet.

No one knows when Jesus was born, but we do know why Christians opted for claiming sometime in December. This is because it was this time of year when ancient Romans would celebrate the festival of Saturnalia, dedicated to the God Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, and attributed to the Titan Cronus in ancient Greek mythology. In Rome, Saturnalia was the liveliest festival of the year, the date connected with the winter sowing season.

Saturnalia isn’t the only non-Christian holiday which influenced what we now know as Christmas today. While Saturnalia was about joy, festivity, and merriment, there was also Yule, a Germanic tradition which celebrated the shortest day of the year. Traditionally, evergreens were cut and brought indoors, a symbol of life, rebirth, and renewal. Holly decorated doors, windows, and fireplaces, a protection against evil spirits. Mistletoe represented fertility, and provided protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils.

There are many other activities and symbols associated with Yule which Christians began to use for their own holiday. After all, what does a tree have to do with the birth of the son of God? What do candles, or bells, wreathes, elves, or gingerbread have to do with Christianity, and the celebration of a birthday?

It almost seems common knowledge to me now, yet I know there are still many other there who don’t know the origins of what is now called Christmas. That people believe Christianity to be the origin of these traditions and festivities, when they merely borrowed from other beliefs and cultures.

The most Christian thing belonging to Christmas is Santa Claus, who was derived from Saint Nicholas, a kind bishop in the fourth century. His story is the origin of Stockings hung by the fireplace, and of giving. It wasn’t until later, when Saint Nicholas became unpopular, that his idea was replaced with Santa Claus, and the idea of giving gifts became more pervasive.

Currently, Christmas is something often only really celebrated by children. By those who believe in the man in his bright red coat with his friendly face and rather rotund belly. It’s those children, who go to sleep on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting when they wake, to look under the tree and see all those presents addressed to them. While gift exchanging is hardly something reserved for the young, it’s the young who certainly enjoy it most. Much as it is they who enjoy decorating trees, or carolling.

I believe there are a great many reasons why people become less enthusiastic about Christmas as they grow older. Very little of it actually has to do with the disillusionment around the myth of Santa Claus. Instead, it’s more closely associated with probability, and the general disenfranchisement people my age have towards holidays, caused mostly by a combination of low employment rates, low wages, and high prices.

Let’s face it, on a holiday about giving, you can feel rather horrible when you aren’t able to afford things to give to those who mean something to you in your life. I know I for one feel rather guilty this time of year, when my friends usually have something to give to me, and I’m lucky if I have anything to be able to give them in return.

As for how probability leads to people being unhappy around this time of year, I shall continue with that conversation next week.

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