Christmas is just around the corner, and I of course wish you a merry one. However, it makes me shudder when someone talks about the Christian christmas. Christoper Hitchens expresses some strong argumentns in a recent article The moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas, and while I share the sentiment it is not entirely fair to condem it altogether. Not all details fall under the same category.
In the Christian tradition Jesus’ birth is of course the central event but lets look where the other traditions of a Winter-Solstice-type holiday come from. Most likely it orginates from the germanic pagan winter festival Yule (Jul in swedish) . In turn, Yule may have been influenced by the Roman winter festival Saturnalia where slaves and masters temporarily changed roles and gave each other gifts, although this is not confirmed.
The “Christmas” tree also orginates from Germanic pagan traditions and for this reason such trees are forbidden in some religious denominations. Santa Claus is a figure which has gone through many iterations, including early Christianity in Turkey and, of course, German folklore and pagan traditions. Contrast this with the Swedish tomte (losely meaning hob) which is much more sinister. A tomte is a “spirit” of the farm which helps the masters with the duties. But if you forget his rice pudding and snaps you are supposed to leave him on the yule evening, you can expect a bad year to come. Also, in Sweden christmas gifts have not always been given out of caring, but rather as crude jokes. Small logs with a note mentioning the intended receiver and the joke itself were thrown in after knocking on the door of the home in question.
The point is that Christmas is an evolved tradition which also differs slightly between cultures and countries. Christianity tries to get a free ride of instant an unquestioned respect — as it often does.
Another example is the blending of Halloween, a Celtic feltival, with All Saint’s Day, conveniently moved by Pope Boniface IV in 609 ad. So while saying Christmas is a Christian tradition is not completely wrong it is still somewhat dishonest.
I celebrate a secular christmas, one where you spend time with friends and family, eat good (and too much) food, and have a good time. Now, keep that religion away from me, thank you.