Tuesday, December 13, 2011
To XMAS And Beyond!
A short history about Pagan roots of Christmas and Christianity by The Thinking Atheist.
Also watch: Christmas Unwrapped
UPDATE! I made a transcription for the video by the request of antifuffa83. However, I'm not a native English speaker, so sorry for any mistakes.
People often ask me as a skeptic if celebrate the Christmas and I say "sure" Well, not because of the baby Jesus but then again most Christmas traditions have nothing to do with the baby Jesus. Take the Christmas tree for example. Centuries before the Christ child was supposedly born, many cultures brought evergreen trees into their home for decoration in the month of December to celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice and do ask their various pagan gods ... harvest the following season. The practice continued in various forms throughout the ages. The ancient Egyptians honored their sun god Ra with palm leaves and evergreens trees.
The early Romans decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs as part of pagan festival called Saturnalia: the festival of Saturn, the god of agriculture.
The Vikings of Scandinavia believed that evergreens were the special plant of their god, Baldur and they were burned Yule logs in feast until the last amber burned out. The actual Christian tradition of Christmas tree began as late as the 16th century in Germany and Christmas trees were still seen as pagan symbols throughout the US until the 1840's. The Winter Solstice, not the baby Jesus, most likely account for the selection of the December 25th as the Christmas day. Late December was when the day started to become noticeably longer and the Sun seized its movement to the south. So the Winter Solstice was celebrated for the birth of the Sun. It just wasn't the Sun most religious people have in mind. And you might be surprised that America didn't even declared Christmas day as a national holiday until June 26th, 1870.
The exchanging of gifts? Pagan in origin. Standing back to the festival of Saturnalia and originally banned for that reason by the Catholic Church in the middle ages.
Christmas carols? They traced back to the middle ages as well. Not as religious songs but as common folk songs sung during harvest festivals and they were only later integrated into worship by religious figures like Martin Luther. Mistletoe was a happy Christmas tradition but few realised that mistletoe was once considered as mysterious magical plant by the Druids and Greeks, a Pagan symbol of life and fertility. In Scandinavia mistletoe was considered "the plant of peace" under which enemies could declare a truce and arguing spouses could kiss and make up.
Many decried the use of word "Xmas" to mark the holiday often clamouring that we should put Christ back in the Christmas. Well, actually Xmas is Christmas. The "X" comes from the first letter of the Greek word for Christ and those who declaring Xmas a war on Christ are appereantly confused. Of course confusion would be understandable, if you follow the Biblical acount of the Christ child. For example, the book of Luke has Mary and Joseph living in Galilee. But Matthew has them living in Bethlehem, in Judea. Matthew: Chapter 1 says angel appeared to Joseph but Luke: Chapter 1 says the angel appeared before Mary.
And what about the three kings we hear so often about? In the book of Matthew they were magi, astronomers, not kings! There is no mention of three anywhere. And the entire account contradicts to one in the book of Luke which has been Jesus visited by local shepherds, not astronomers!
And miraculous virgin birth? Not so much. Matthew apparently misread the original translation from Hebrew to Greek. The Hebrew word "almah" doesn't mean virgin, it translates "young woman of marriageable age" or "young maiden."
What about the lineage of Jesus? The book of Matthew has 28 generations between David and the birth of Christ. But Luke lists 41 generations. According to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born on or before 4 BCE during the reign of Herod the Great. But Luke said that Joseph and pregnant Mary had to go to Bethlehem for a census by Quirinius. That census took place in 6 AD, years later and after the death of Herod. And even if there was a census it would taken place in their local tax district requiring no travel and Roman tradition was to register only the men meaning that Mary wouldn't have had to make the journey at all.
Matthew says the Jesus' birth took place in a house but the book of Luke says Jesus' birth took place in a manger because there was no room in the inn. After Jesus was born Matthew says the family immediately fled to Egypt for several years to escape of Herod's wrath. But the book of Luke has them returning immediately Nazareth. And by the way no ancient historian or geographer, no other source other than the Bible confirm that the city of Nazareth even existed in the 1st century AD. In fact, the expression Jesus of Nazareth is most likely a bad translation which means the one of the truth and city of Nazareth was likely named much later by the faithful or the opportunistic. The list goes on and on.
Ultimately, many of the traditions of Christ's supposed birthday have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ and instead came from other earlier Pagan traditions. And even if there had been a Jesus Christ as much as hate to break into you unlike the depiction on yearly Christmas card, because he was born in the Middle East, Jesus Christ was most certainly not white!
Still, I'm a fan of Christmas. I enjoy family, friends, Christmas light displays, the Christmas trees, stockings, gifts, the classic Christmas songs, hot chocolate and pumpkin pie. But like many other skeptics I also celebrate the season knowing that those plastic Nativity "Jesus"es are actually more real than the Jesus they represent and his millions of Christians erect pagan symbols and practice pagan traditions while defending Christian saviour story, it is a chance for the rest of us, to simply smile warmly, offer them a cup of hot cider and wish them a "Merry, Merry Xmas!"