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The True Meaning of Christmas
Sunday, 2004 December 12 - 7:38 pm
For me, this holiday is not about the birth of Christ.

Among evangelical Christians, there's long been a push to make sure we remember the "true meaning of Christmas". It's the celebration of Christ's birth, as evidenced by the millions of nativity scenes all around us. But it has always bothered me to associate the Christmas holiday with Christianity.

I did not grow up as a Christian. As a child, the concept of Christianity was always alien to me. When people tried to explain it, it seemed only about as real as Santa Claus, and infinitely more confusing. Some bearded guy died two thousand years ago but didn't really die, and billions of people worship him, and you have to get dunked in water after you're born, and you can't drink beer or look at dirty magazines, and then you go to heaven. Oh, wait, sometimes it's okay to drink beer, and you can look at dirty magazines if you only read the articles.

When I learned more about Christianity later, it only became more confusing. Salvation lies in faith, not works, but faith without works is dead. Thou shalt not kill, except in some cases where killing is right, particularly if it involves killing Muslims or other brown people. Love thy neighbor, except when that neighbor is a homosexual, in which case it's okay to hate him. Hate the sin but love the sinner, by stripping the sinner of all dignity and telling him he will burn in flames for eternity. Stuff like that.

I couldn't figure out what that had to do with Christmas.

Christmas was a pagan holiday long before Christ's birth. Yule was the winter solstice celebration in northern Europe for the sun god Mithras, marking the time that the days would start getting longer again. Many of our Christmas traditions stem from this: burning the Yule log in honor of the sun; kissing under mistletoe as a fertility ritual; decorating with evergreens to remind us that crops would grow again after the winter; decorating with hollyberries, the food of the gods. Many historians believe Jesus was actually born sometime in September. It wasn't until A.D. 350 that Pope Julius I decreed that Christ's birth would be celebrated on December 25th, apparently to help ease the pagans' transition to Christianity.

Nowadays, in the United States, Christmas has turned into a celebration of consumerism. It's when we all shop for toys that we don't really need and clothes that we wouldn't normally wear. And then there's the once-a-year opportunity to acknowledge people that we otherwise never talk to, by way of Hallmark cards. (A note to my friends, by the way: I appreciate the Christmas cards that you send me, but I would appreciate them a lot more if you actually wrote something in them. Being on your mailing list and getting a card with just your signature doesn't give me a "I'm Very Special" feeling.) When people say that this isn't the true meaning of Christmas, I'm inclined to agree.

But to me, Christmas is about giving. Behind the crass consumerism, there's a spirit of generosity.

I like the fact that we take some time off work, spend time with people we love, and say, "Here, I got this for you because you mean a lot to me." I like watching joy appear on people's faces when they open presents. I like that everyone is a little nicer and more charitable this time of year. I like that we put up pretty sparkly lights.

What I don't like is when Christians seem to say, "this is our holiday, and you can't share in it". That makes Christmas seem like a selfish thing, and that's exactly the opposite of what I want to feel.

So put up your nativity scene if you must, but allow me to celebrate Christmas in my own way...

By drinking beer.
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Posted by Ken in: life


Comment #1 from Crouching Hamster (Guest)
2004 Dec 12 - 7:20 pm : #
Christmas in New York is about ... lights and parties! (So you would fit right in.)

That's about all I can figure out so far. When finished with finals, I'll venture out into the city and do a further investigation.
Comment #2 from Javi (Guest)
2004 Dec 14 - 5:15 pm : #
as a practicing cool-groovy reason-driven episcopalian hep cat, i gotta tell you, you've been hangin' out with the WRONG christians... know the kind who take an obscure passage in leviticus as an inarguable, literal, from the mouth of god mandate against homosexuality but never really get around to addressing the part where jesus - in the gospel -tells them, point blank and with no room for error to give up their worldy goods to the poor...

...aka, dubya and his minions.
Comment #3 from Javi (Guest)
2004 Dec 14 - 5:17 pm : #
and what's up with the yule log anyway? i come from a tropical country... the idea of burning anything unless there's a pig on a spit on top of it is pretty scary to me.

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