Keep Your God-Damned Monotheistic Prophet Out of My Mid-Winter Solstice Festival
~an essay on Christmas by Gregory C. Eaves~
Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021
Jesus is not the “reason for the season” as your bumper sticker so cutely quips, so keep your god-damned monotheistic prophet out of my mid-winter solstice festival.
There are six straight-forward reasons why Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas: the winter festival was here well beforehand, we don’t know Jesus’s birthday, Christians originally didn’t celebrate Jesus’s birth, Christians have actually banned the celebration, Christmastime is a great party that was brought into the family hearth by Victorians, and it’s now a global agnostic family celebration focused on food, gifts, charity and love. I will outline these all below in further detail, so, please, go get yourself a steaming hot mug of mulled wine before you begin.
Let’s start at the very beginning, deep in the snow-covered evergreen forests of northern Europe. The dense Brothers Grimm forests had not yet been felled & tilled, winters were dark & cold, and wolves & witches roamed the woods. Here, mid-winter solstice festivals with evergreen trees, feasts, gifts, and lights existed for thousands of years before Mediterranean missionaries came north of the Alps with their so-called “Christianity” and tried to subsume the winter festivals into their new faith.
Winters in Europe north of the Pyrenees, Alps or Dolomites are dark and cold, with little food, and the deciduous trees all lose their leaves. It makes sense that a holiday would develop right around when the days start to get longer, i.e., around Dec. 21-22 or so, one that would celebrate evergreen trees, lights, and food. Indeed, in the olden days it might have been cheaper to slaughter your food and eat it now, than to pay for feed to support it until spring. That’s a good reason for a feast. By the A.D. 300s, Mediterranean missionaries had been slowly creeping northward into central and northern Europe for a few decades. To help shore up support and to strengthen any zeal for conversion, they decided to start a birthday celebration for their Son of God. They set it in the middle of all the pre-existing mid-winter festivals that they found across central and northern Europe.
They didn’t do a very good job, though, because…
Second, Jesus wasn’t even born on Dec. 25; or, at least, we don’t know when his birthday was. Maybe he was. We don’t know. Also, we have no documents telling us why early Christians placed Jesus’s birth on Dec. 25. That was done sometime in the A.D. 300s when they realized they wanted some sort of Nativity Infancy Narrative to – as mentioned above – shore up support.
The choice of Dec. 25 was near the mark. They were only off from the solstice by two or three days, which is pretty good for ancient calendars, to be honest. The decision was made by some unknown missionary monk shivering in northern Europe in the A.D. 300-400s who wanted to co-opt the locals’ solstice festival to better sell his own snake oil.
Which brings us to…
Third, Christians didn’t even celebrate Jesus’s birth; not at first, at any rate. It took 300 years or so before there was an annual Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. Mark had written about Jesus’s baptism, not his birth.* He wrote about the recognition of Jesus as the Son of God AFTER his baptism. This was divisive, given the rivalry with the John the Baptist cult, so 50 some-odd years after the fact two guys in the Jesus cult, Matthew and Luke, came along, just as Christianity was growing in popularity, and crafted the Nativity Infancy Narrative to shore up their new faith, clarifying that Jesus had actually been the Son of God SINCE BIRTH, not just since his baptism. These sorts of things mattered to religious marketing managers in those days. That’s why the Nativity was written by Matthew and Luke. (Note: Matthew and Luke themselves never actually had any direct contact with anyone who knew Jesus or about his birth. Their writings were based on oral traditions, kind of like Homer.) In short, they had to make up a lot of things; retro-fit it. They threw in all sorts of cool things, though, like Gabriel, a star, the magi/ three kings, camels, gold, frankincense, myrrh, Bethlehem, a manger, a carpenter, and even a virgin giving birth(!).
Nonetheless, even with the Nativity Infancy Narrative, by the time the Reformation cracked Europe in the 1500s, many Christians felt that Christmastime was too un-Christian.
Indeed, fourth, the only people to have ever banned a celebration of Jesus’s birth (except for the Saudis or the Chinese, I guess) were English Christians, specifically Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They thought the celebration of Jesus’s birth took away from the importance of Him being God’s son: Christmastime was too festive, too much fun. With the English Civil War (1642-1651), i.e., the Puritan Revolution, they tried to outlaw celebration of the Nativity Infancy Narrative, but they were only partly successful. In England during the 150 years after the Puritan Revolution, Jesus’s birth was really de-emphasized by the various Christian churches there, and it was once outright banned in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
However, fifth, because of (or adjacent to) all this, the winter festival was still popular. Christmas became a party. Up until the 1800s, Christmastime was a riotous carnival. The winter festival party was wild. You had roving mobs, riots, drunkards, Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751), and so on: all across England, New England, and New York. As the 1800s developed, though, the uptight Victorians tried to bring Christmas into the home, turn it into a family event, de-emphasize the heavy drinking and the riotous partying, bring it into the hearth.
Only in the mid-1800s did Christmas as we know it today begin to form, and it had nothing to do with Jesus’s birth or Christianity more generally. It was because of i.) royalty, and ii.) mass media. As for royalty, Victoria married Albert, and he was German. Germany had never banned Christmas, as England had. He brought a Teutonic taste to royal English Christmas celebrations, and he set a Tannenbaum example that others followed. As for mass media, over in New York City, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by (we think) Clement Clarke Moore came out in 1823. It was popular, but wasn’t quite enough. We had to wait for Charles Dickens back in London. “A Christmas Carol” (1843) is a wonderful story, and it was the biggest media hit of its time. Dickens was an advocate of the past. He wanted to bring back tradition. He wanted businesses to close on Christmas Day. Dickens both re-started and re-created Christmas, and he emphasized concern for the poor and for the less fortunate among us, the Christmas Spirit. All of this caught on after the 1840s. That’s the power of media.
Finally, sixth, by this time Christmas had morphed from a “staid spiritual Christian celebration of the Nativity Infancy Narrative” holiday into a “cultural festival, drinking, being kind, having a feast, giving gifts” holiday. When it moved from a more isolated to a culture-wide celebration, it’s not because Christians pushed for it. No, no, no. Religions are quite powerless in such matters. It was because business interests had learned that holidays don’t have to wreck your sales.
Eventually, this is where Coca-Cola and Madison Avenue caught the Christmas bug. Christmastime had come to America earlier, but by the time the U.S. was leading the post-1945 world, it was New York City that birthed our modern consumerist Christmas, with Christmas catalogs & eggnog. This is the Christmas we know and love today: Jolly Ole’ Saint Nick, Rudolph with his nose so bright, Frosty, crowded department stores, the Salvation Army, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, the miracle on 34th St., and so on.
Amazingly, this Americanized Christmas has now been re-exported to the rest of the world, exported in the hulls of container ships and on air cargo pallets, on the back of U.S. globalization and free trade agreements. You can find this modernized Christmas all over the world. Christmas is a date night in Korea or Singapore, KFC Japan offers Christmas deals on its 12-piece buckets, and the town of Yiwu (1.8 million people) in Zhejiang Province, just south of Shanghai, has more than 600 factories that produce around 60% of all the Christmas kitsch decorations in the world. Ho, ho, ho.
In summation, the winter festival was here first, we don’t know Jesus’s birthday, Christians originally didn’t celebrate Jesus’s birth, Christians have actually banned the celebration, Christmastime is a great party brought into the family hearth by the Victorians, and now it’s an agnostic family celebration with food, gifts, charity and love. It’s a northern European solstice holiday, filtered through Victorian royalty & novels in the 1800s, with media pop culture added in the 1950s, and today globalized through the reach of U.S. trade and marketing power. There isn’t anything “Christian” about Christmas. There never was.
Please, in the spirit of Christmas, I beg of you: keep your god-damned monotheistic prophet out of my mid-winter solstice festival. Christmas has nothing to do with your prophet, or Son of God, or whatever He is to you. Please keep your wacky monotheism at home, thank you very much. We’re here to celebrate mid-winter, to have a party, to go shopping, to get a new iPad, to give gifts, to read books, to drink mulled wine, to give to charity, to clean house, and to go sledding with our kids.
And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords! I love Christmas – love it all – in all its mutt mixed glory. It’s a true human mash cocktail, from here and there, brought together just as each and every family wants it or cares for it, on their own terms, with their own traditions and rules. It’s about love and giving; and eating and celebrating the soon-to-be-longer days. It’s a glorious disconnected holiday that anyone, anywhere, can celebrate around the world in all its red & green glory, ugly sweaters, northern European kitsch, rock ‘n’ roll, and schmaltzy ballads.
In fact, my Christmas tent is so broad, so happy and cheer-filled… my Christmas tent is so catholic and so ecumenical… I must say, that, in the spirit of Christmas… my Christmas tent can even include the Christians. Hell, it can even ESPECIALLY include the Christians! I throw open the door to my Christmas tent, and will set a place at our festive table for the monotheists – Jew-Christian-Muslim entwined – for the polytheists – Hindu and Buddhist, alike – and for everyone in between; even for the Southern Hemisphere bogans out at the beach today. Merry Christmas, you guys, merry Christmas to you all! Kiss your kids good night, put a toy in their stocking, and then kiss your spouse twice again. It’s Christmastime! Pour another and go have a good time with your feet up. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!
Now… I’m going to go listen to some of Handel’s “Messiah” (1741).
Sources: “4000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages” (1990) by Earl W. Count, “The Battle for Christmas” (1996) by Stephen Nissenbaum, “Encyclopedia Of Christmas” (1998) by Tanya Gulevich, “The Origins of Christmas” (2003) by Joseph F. Kelly, and Wikipedia. All photos stolen from the internet.
* John and Paul also wrote nothing about Jesus’s birth. Indeed, Mark, John and Paul all only wrote about Jesus’s adult life AFTER his baptism. It was Matthew and Luke who had to swing back to the start and invent a Nativity just to make sure that everyone knew for sure, without a doubt, that Jesus was actually the Son of God SINCE BIRTH, not just since his baptism, thereby reducing competition from the John the Baptist side of things.