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Monday, 23 December 2013

How About a Saturnalia Display?


Huffington Post
Chris Weigant
Dc. 18, 2013

'Tis the season.
What season? Well, that depends upon your belief system, doesn't it?
For Christians, it is the season of Advent, the season of Noël -- in short, the season of Christmas. For Jews, it is the season of Hanukkah. For Muslims, it is the season of Eid.
For others, joining in the mirth has now come to mean celebrating the season of Festivus, a made-up holiday from a made-up television show. And even the Flying Spaghetti Monster adherents are getting in on the fun this year.

Historically, America has treated Christmas as the sole holiday worthy of governmental approval. After all, in the federal schedule of holidays, there is one and only one religious holiday: Christmas Day. The mail doesn't move, the courts are closed, and all non-emergency government services are shuttered. Sooner or later, someone's going to get around to suing to change this, but nobody's been that bold in the courts yet. If America is a secular nation, after all (it says so right here on the label), then why -- in any god's name -- should it recognize one religion over another in such a fashion? But since this hasn't happened yet, we only mention it in passing as a thought exercise for civil rights lawyers to contemplate -- on their day off, perhaps.

No doubt if such a lawsuit ever advanced, it would provide proof positive, for some, that a "war on Christmas" does in fact exist. What is laughable about this is that the real war on Christmas celebrations was waged by some of the first colonists. Puritans in New England rejected virtually all of what we now know as Christmas celebrations, and at times they did so with the force of law behind them. Government offices and courts were open on Christmas Day, and all holiday revelry was either severely frowned upon or banned outright. This is the real history of some of the earliest Christmases in America, and nothing these days even comes close. Part of the fight was due to the Protestant/Catholic schism. 

Christmas was largely considered a Catholic holiday (after all, the name is a shortening of "Christ's Mass"), and the celebrations of the holiday were a bone of contention in England (where the Puritans came from). Even by the time of the American Revolution, Christmas wasn't largely celebrated here, especially in New England.

As time went by, however, the popularity of Christmas grew. After all, it is a fun holiday with plenty of fine traditions reaching back into the mists of Christianity. Well, um, no. In fact, this is part of what upset the Puritans: Most Christmas traditions were stolen directly from the pagans. The Christmas tree, the Yule log, wreaths, candles, the very date itself (which used to fall on the Winter Solstice, long before the Gregorian calendar was adopted), gift giving, holiday cards in verse, wassailing (or just plain getting drunk with holiday cheer), holly, mistletoe, kissing under the mistletoe, the "12 days" of Christmas, eating a feast, even hooking up at the office party -- pretty much none of these had anything to do with Christians. All were pagan winter holiday rituals without a shred of connection to the baby Jesus whatsoever, before the church decided to file off the serial numbers and declare such traditions their own. Ironically enough, the biggest Christmas tradition that today's traditionalist religious leaders tend to decry -- Santa Claus -- is one of the few that arose directly from Christianity itself (there really was a Saint Nicholas, although all the "magic elf who gives naughty and nice children presents" trappings were added later).

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