The Archbishop of Canterbury said last month on Nov. 11 that the "absurd and ridiculous" pressure to have a perfect Christmas produces a strain that "spoils life." He added that, " the Christian bit of Christmas isn't the bit that's getting people into debt."
So much of what we do for Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus' birth at all. A good number of our traditions are so entrenched that we ignore their true origins and connection to the central figure of the Christmas season.
So, if you're interested in the origins of the non-Christian traditions read on. Beware, it may be a party-pooper for some. But, I am certain that we will carry on with our traditions even though Biblical scripture supports none of it.
This time of year is when millions wish one another a Merry Christmas which everybody takes for granted is referring to the birth of Jesus. We all know that the word merry means happy, joyful, light- hearted. Thusly, we assume that we are celebrating that joyous occasion of His birth. Some say the word "mass, mas" has more to do with his death than birth. But the word "mass" can also suggest a celebration. We'll take that.
Biblically speaking there is no command or proclamation to mark the birth of Jesus for all time, especially by adorning a pine tree with lights and artificial icicles. People who lived in the northern regions of Europe would notice that the sun was weakening in the sky so they chose to reclaim light and life in the declining light of the sun. Dec. 21, being the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, had their focus as a time of a green revival.
Therefore, they would bring green plants and lights into the house.
Today we drag the dead pine tree into the living room or resurrect the plastic facsimile from the basement. As we all know, 2000 years ago, Joseph did the same to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Isn't that right? Everyone knows that he and Mary had a second donkey which was hauling a pine tree to set up in the manger.
Of course, Joseph did no such thing. It had no connection to the world shaking event in Bethlehem.
Christmastime is also known as Yuletide and the yule log. Yule comes from Scandinavia and is a translation of Juul, a feast held at the dark of winter solstice. Revelers would bring a Juul log to their residence and set it ablaze. Raucous festivities would ensue around the juul log which might burn for 12 days if they got a good one. Hmm, 12 days of Christmas?
The log was burned to honor Thor, the god of thunder. It was believed that every spark that was emitted from the flames was guaranteed by Thor to bring a new born pig or calf to the family in the coming year.
Once again, Joseph didn't burn a log in the manger. And he would not have any interest in raising pigs for dinner.
Holly and mistletoe had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. The Celtic Druids believed that the mistletoe could bestow life and fertility. So, according to that, you better be careful this year who you kiss under this "sacred" plant.
Holly was sent by the Romans to their friends around the festival of their God Saturnalia which was celebrated on Dec. 17. Holly is also associated with many magical powers and legends that you can research on your own. But one of the magical powers it didn't bestow is eternal life.
There is the famous story of the Three Kings, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar following a divine star to the crib of the newborn Jesus lying in a manger. Not so.
They weren't kings, we don't know the number of magi, that traveled to the Holy Land and Matthew does not give us their names. The word magi refers to astrologers, men of science and highly educated men, not kings. The magi who were following a star arrived at King Herod's palace and asked him the whereabouts of the new born Messiah. Herod's advisors sent them off to Bethlehem. Following that star to the house they found a young boy with his mother, perhaps two years old, not a babe in the manger.
Did this all happen in December on the 25? Not many Biblical scholars believe so. Luke tells us that there were elves in cute green leotards making toys in the great outdoors at night. Whoa, that's not right. He said shepherds were tending their flocks at night. This was unlikely to have occurred in the cold month of December in Judea.
Therefore the question is begged-why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December? The powerful Roman Empire was a pagan culture that worshipped several gods on the winter solstice Dec 21. They worshipped the god of wine Bacchus, Saturn their god of time, and Mithra, the god of the unconquered sun. Mithra's birthday being on Dec. 25 was the connection.
Often these holidays resulted in raucous and obscene customs. But, rather than battle against the popular pagan holidays that held sway in Rome, the Emperor Constantine decided to join the revelry and establish Jesus' birthday as a new day of this festive season. This was some 300 years after the birth of Jesus.
The Christmas ham may have had a German pagan origin. A tribute to Freyr, a pagan god was associated with boars. Eating of ham on Christmas may have also been a sign of true conversion by Jews who refrained from pork. It certainly does not go back to a Christmas Eve pork roast in a manger.
Santa Claus obviously did not have Rudolph guide his sleigh at night to Bethlehem. There weren't many chimneys to access while carrying a bag full of toys.
Joseph and Mary didn't hang a stocking somewhere in their rugged surroundings to find it filled with goodies the next morning.
The first Christmas card was not a leftover from a birth announcement sent out by Joseph and Mary. It was created in Britain around 1840 to encourage use of the fledgling post office.
Black Friday is known today as the highly charged launch of shopping for gifts. It may have been a better name for the day Herod had all 2 year-old boys and younger killed perchance to kill the unnamed Messiah.
So with all this as a background to Christmas, what do we do with this season? Despite some of the craziness of pagan traditions, we will still look forward to this holiday of excitement and joy. There is a special charm in the warmth of a Christmas tree. Houses lit with beautiful lights to ease the darkness add to the thrill of the times. I still love Christmas songs even though I've never roasted chestnuts on an open fire. It is some of the greatest music ever written to inspire mankind to supernatural greatness. And the desserts. Oh dear, there's no equal to the Italian chocolate cookie. Sharing precious moments with family and friends is beyond a price tag. It is a time of the year when we have hope of something greater; that this mess of a world cannot be all there is.
My wish for you this Dec. 25 is a day of ease and peace, a day of smiles and laughs, and more than a bit of Christ found in all the distractions. And remember, it doesn't have to be perfect.
Nin Privitera is a Fredonia resident. His column appears the second Sunday of the month. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org