Yes folks, it’s time for that post again because …
We’ve had the cartoon, so like all good Christmas dinners, let’s have a Christmas joke:
Q: "What's the difference between God and Santa Claus?"
A: "There is no God."
Ha ha ha. The fact is, dear readers, at least Santa—well, Saint Nicholas at least—was a real figure, if not a real bloke, even if the many other inspirations for the Santa Claus character were not.
But God, or Christ, is suspiciously hard to find. (Which makes you sort of wonder what kind of message he’s allegedly trying to send by being so, well, non-omnipresent and all, and by only sending notes via obscure Bronze- and Roman-era texts.) And the harsh fact about him and Christmas, whatever else you may have heard, is that Christ himself was never even in Christmas --except in fiction and by order of the first few Popes.
Not even in the Roman-era texts:
[The New Testament itself gives two different and incompatible stories of the birth of Jesus, explains Christopher Hitchens.] None of the four gospels gives any notion of what time of year (let alone in what year) the supposed Nativity occurred. Only two gospels mention the virginity of Mary and only one has any mention of a "manger" [which is nothing more than a fancy name for trough – but try singing “Away in a trough” and see where that gets you!].
Nowhere is there any record of a "stable." Wise men and shepherds are likewise very unevenly distributed throughout the discrepant accounts. So that the placement of a crèche surrounded by a motley crew of humans and animals has no more Scriptural warrant than does The Life of Brian [and many fewer laughs].
Moreover, the erection of this exhibit near the turn of the year is actually a placation of the old Norse gods of the winter solstice - or "Yule" as the pre-Christians sometimes called it.
I myself [says Hitchens] repose no faith in any man-made text or made-man redeemer, so when it's Christmas I say "Merry Christmas" with a clear conscience, as I respect Ramadan and Passover, and also because "Happy Holidays" is so thin and insipid.
I don't mind if Christians honour the moment by displaying, and singing about, reindeer (a hard species to find in the greater Jerusalem/Bethlehem area). Same for the pine and fir trees that also don't grow in Palestine. I wish everybody joy of it.
And so do I. I just wish the Christians would leave off bashing us over the head with their myth—and their values.
So many facts that appear in your nativities don’t even come from those texts. We celebrate Christmas in December, yet the best we can tell from those Christmas stories is that the character of Jesus wasn't even born in December, let alone at Christmas time: he was born in July.1 Which makes him a cancer.2 Just like religion itself.
And God doesn’t even like Christmas trees, for Chrissake!
So the reason for the season, and how the season is celebrated, have very little originally to do with what you might have thought it did.
Historians themselves however do know the "reason for the season," and it's not because of anything that happened away in a stable at a time of a non-existent census. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury knows the truth, conceding a few Christmasses ago that the Christmas story and the Three Wise Men -- the whole Nativity thing itself -- is all just "a legend." Legends in fact that borrowed in whole cloth from other times and other places, and thereafter usurpedand occupied by the Christian church.
Speaking for myself, I really like myths and legends.
I’m even happier when we remember they’re stories, not historical accounts. (Q: What’s the definition of mythology? A: Somebody else’s religion.)
So the simple fact to remember at this seasons is that 'Christmas' itself was originally not even a Christian festival at all. The origins of what we now all enjoy was most likely the lusty pagan festival to celebrate the winter solstice, the festival that eventually became the Roman Saturnalia (right).
In the pre-modern northern hemisphere, (from whence these traditions started) this time of year was especially important; the time of year when days stopped getting darker and darker, and started once again to lengthen.
A halfway point in winter, that bleak season of hibernation before planting could begin again and you knew by now that the crops being stored to keep the wolves at bay would see you through. Or not. And if they would, you had something to celebrate: that another year on earth was maybe possible!
So this was a time of the year for great optimism. The end of the hardest part of the year was in sight (particularly important up in Lapland, the pagan home of the Norsemen where all-day darkness was the winter rule), and those all-important food stocks would soon be replenished.
All this was something worth celebrating with enthusiasm, with gusto and with plenty of food and drink and pleasures of the flesh -- and if those Norse sagas tell us anything, they tell us those pagans knew a thing or two about that sort of celebration! They celebrated a truly Salacious Saturnalia.
Thus was born the now-celebrated tradition of being blathered for most of what has become the Christmas month.
One other popular celebration (and stop me if you’ve heard this before) involved having a chap put on the horns and skin of the dead animal being roasted in the fire (worn with the fur side inside and the blood-red side outside ), and giving out gifts of food to revellers. This guy represented Satan, or at least some species of evil-doer, and the revellers celebrated beating him back for another year by making him a figure of fun (I swear, I'm not making this up).
Observant readers will spot that the gift-giving and the red outfit lined with red fur (and even the name itself, almost) are still with us in the form of Santa. So Happy Satanmas, Santa!
SUCH WERE THE celebrations of the past. But the Dark Age Christian do-gooders didn’t like the pagan revels. Too little sackcloth and ashes for their liking. Instead of bacchanalia, these ghouls of the graveyard wanted instead to talk about suffering and their sores, and to spread the misery of their religion worldwide; instead of throwing themselves into such lewd and lusty revels, they thought everyone should be sitting at home mortifying their flesh – and very soon they hit upon a solution: first they stole the festivals, and then they sanitised them.
And instead of lusty revels with Satan and mistletoe, they gave us insipid nonsense around a trough along with Magi, stars, and shepherds – with only an angel or two to excite a bit of lust. (Just think, the first 'Grinch' who stole Christmas was really a Pope!)
BECAUSE THE VERY BEST OF Christmas is still very much pagan, for which you should really thank Odin, not the baby bloody Jesus.
The mistletoe, the trees, and the presents; the drinking and eating and all the red-blooded celebrations; the gift-giving, the trees and the decorations; the eating and the singing; the whole full-blooded, rip-roaring, free-wheeling, overwhelming, benevolent materialism of the holiday -- all of it all fun, and all of it fully, one-hundred percent pagan.
And commercial! (Spoiler alert, the modern Christmas was born that way: it was invented by capitalism.) Says Leonard Peikoff in 'Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial' (s), the festival is "an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life." I'll drink to all that, and then I'll come back right back up again for seconds.
Ayn Rand sums it up for mine, rather more benevolently than my brief introduction might have led you to expect:
“The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.
The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ‘Merry Christmas’—not ‘Weep and Repent.’ And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance....
“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying is good for business and good for the country’s economy; but, more importantly in this context, it stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decoration put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.
And so say all of us. I wish you all, wherever you are a Cool Yule, a Salacious Saturnalia, and a very Happy Christmas.
PS: Here’s some related Hot Facts from the Hot Facts Girl. Concentrate as well as you can…
2. "A cancer. Like religion." Think that's harsh? You should try Landover Baptist's Bible Quizzes. Or Sam Harris's 'Atheist Manifesto.' Ouch! [Hat tip for both, good old Stephen Hicks] And, I confess, I pinched the quip from Australian comedy team The Doug Anthony All Stars.