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Austin Cline

Book of the Week: Encyclopedia of Christmas

By December 16, 2013

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Encyclopedia of Christmas
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How much do you really know about Christmas? Why is holly traditionally used? What is "first footing"? What does the ancient Roman festival of Kalends have to do with Christmas and what influence has it had on what we do today? Many Christians treat Christmas as if it were solely a holiday about their religion and their god, but the truth is that there is far more involved in our Christmas holiday season - much of it from other religions.


Book of the Week: Encyclopedia of Christmas

November 19, 2007 at 9:26 am
(1) tracieh says:

There is actually a debate in Xianity about the observance of, not only Xmas, but all holidays with pagan origins. I don’t want to puff it up too much; certainly most Xians celebrate Xmas. But there are some sects that don’t.

Generally the reason given is that it’s wrong to celebrate holidays that were created and intended to promote pagan religions.

But there is a scripture as well. In Galatians 4, Paul wrote to the church there:

(8)Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. (9)But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (10)You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! (11)I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Of course, since the New Testament is basically pieces of correspondences, we can’t know what Paul actually meant here. But some churches interpret this to mean that Paul is warning against the newly converted Xians at Galatia going back to involving themselves in the rites and celebrations of their former pagan religions.

I don’t think that’s a unreasonable assumption–although who knows what Paul meant? Without having the full set of letters, any assumptions about his meaning are nothing more than guesses.

Still, not all Xians are on the “Let’s make Xmas Christian–and make everyone celebrate it that way!”

Some Xians actually think celebrating the holiday at all is sinful.

And others feel it’s OK to celebrate it in a secular fashion only. Their logic is that the holiday is not endorsed, described, or sanctioned anywhere in the Bible. So, it is a man-made holiday attributed to god. These groups are generally very fundamental, and view the Bible as the total authority. Since Xmas is not addressed in the Bible, it is wrong to incorporate it into relgious worship in any way.

So, there are some really (in my opinion) valid Xian arguments to be made against celebrating Xmas at all, and also against celebrating it as a religious holiday.

But people like to celebrate–so these Xians who stick to their Bibles are far outnumbered by the ones who want to have a good time–whether it conflicts with their doctrines or not.

I just find it interesting that the vast majority of Xians have no leg to stand on in support of celebrating Xmas (nothing at all about it in the Bible, and a vague passage that seems to condemn celebrating any holidays that are pagan in origin), but they seem to promote the holiday and claim it as correct to celebrate it _as a Xian_.

My personal take, as an atheist, is that anyone should be able to celebrate it with whatever “meaning” they want to attach to it. Xians can think of baby Jesus, Secularists can think of Santa, others can have solstice parties. I really don’t care. I enjoy it. I celebrate it. I don’t go around telling Xians how to think of it or celebrate it. And I resent when Xians try to tell me how I have to think of the holiday.

I remember once reading a letter to the editor (just as a humorous aside) that said the Xians should give back the holiday of Xmas, that they stole from the pagans. The writer added that while they were giving things back, they might want to consider giving back their religion–which they “stole from the Jews.”

I just think with all this borrowing and swapping going on, it seems sort of hypocritical to hijack X-pagan’s religious holiday and repackage it as Y-Xian’s holiday–and then freak out because someone then repacked it again, for themselves as Z-secularist’s holiday.

I won’t complain about the Xians hijackinng it–if they will let other people use _their_ own meanings for the day as well. Fair is fair.

November 19, 2007 at 4:51 pm
(2) Contrarian says:

So, Tracieh, you think people should be allowed to attach whatever meaning they want to attach to it.


And I attach to “atheism” whatever meaning I want to attack to it.

Fair is Fair.

November 19, 2007 at 5:36 pm
(3) 411314 says:

Contrarian, you seem to be confusing the different definitions of the word “meaning”.

November 19, 2007 at 5:56 pm
(4) tracieh says:

Yes, I think there is a fairly obvious difference between word definitions and personal perspectives applied to holidays or events. It’s a failure of an analogy.

November 20, 2007 at 9:03 am
(5) tracieh says:

I thought of this further last night. Just to clarify: If someone were to say “Christmas–as a U.S. citizen, to me, Xmas is that holiday in July when we all do fireworks,” that would simply be incorrect–definitionally.

But if the person says, “Christmas–to me, Xmas is Egg Nog and Mistletoe…” I can’t take issue with it, because it’s what the event _means_ to them, personally. However, they have no valid argument for then claiming that Xmas means Egg Nog and Mistletoe to EVERYONE else. Their meaning cannot be imposed upon others. It wouldn’t even be possible to do such a thing. I can’t “make” Xmas mean Egg Nog and Mistletoe to someone else.

However, as a society, we can place the holiday on 12/25–and that is a definitional date, not a “meaning” to the holiday. A person could still celebrate it on a different day–but they would have to understand that they are outside the general norm on that.

Just as you suggest using the term “atheist” to mean whatever you like. You could, for example, begin referring to “apples” as atheists, and say, “to me, atheist means that red fruit that everyone else calls an apple.” But you’d have to qualify the term every time you used it. If you went to the supermarket to buy “atheists”–you’d have to explain what you mean to the clerk, for example.

With Xmas, there is so much diversity of meaning that it seems odd to take one particular meaning and apply it based on no particular reason. The season was celebrated long before Xianity, and I’m sure that even beyond the pagan roots we are aware of, there are likely unrecorded roots going back even further. There is a certain logic in saying we should adhere to the “original” meaning–and go back as far as we can define it; however, I see no reason to impose any meaning on anyone else. The oddity with the Xian push is that they use terms like “take back” Xmas–as though the holiday started with Xianity. So there’s this odd element of _them_ making an argument that we need to get back to the holiday’s roots–but then only taking it back to a particular point on the line/continuum which is NOT, at all, the origin. I think that’s what make most people find it funny.

Outside of Xianity, there are still those who celebrate older models; I’m invited to a Solstice Party every year, as an example. But they aren’t promoting–so far as I’ve seen–that others stick with the holiday’s “origins.” That argument is only put forward by nonXians in situations where they are responding to the ironic Xian push to go back to the origins (but not really ALL the way back–just back as far as Xianity).

It makes them look either ridiculously illogical/hypocritical or ignorant (if they really are unaware of the holiday’s origins).

November 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm
(6) harri says:

in sweden we have the old pagan name for christmas

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