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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ah, yer all a buncha pagans...
Posted by Jill | 5:56 PM
I've long found it fascinating how a celebration of someone born in the warm, dry Middle East became so associated with cold and winter. They didn't have spruce or pine trees in the Holy Land, nor did they have mistletoe. The Three Wise Men weren't an old fat guy with white hair and a beard dressed in a red suit bringing toys to children. And no one brought a turkey so that Mary wouldn't have to try to cook in a place filled with flammable materials. As someone once asked me, "How did Christmas become German?"

It's sort of like trying to determine what the relationship is between the resurrection and fluffy bunnies and eggs. And why "Easter" sounds so much like "estrogen".

The answer, of course, is that just as Oasis ripped off the Beatles, so did the early Christians rip off the pagans. Add to that some good old fashioned commerce, and you have the Christmas celebration that people like Bill O'Reilly regard as being somehow mandated by God himself.

The Independent (UK) has the straight poop on the trappings of Christmas:
Why is Christmas Day on 25 December?

The Bible offers no date for the birth of Jesus, which probably was not in the year 1AD, but a few years earlier, and may or may not have been in December. The celebration of the birth of Christ on 25 December dates back to the fifth century, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The date was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice and the Roman festivals associated with the shortest day of the year, which falls between 22 December and 25 December. This was seen as the day when the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – "the birthday of the unconquered sun". It was also Jupiter's birthday and, further back, the birthday of his Greek equivalent, Zeus. In Eastern Europe, the various Orthodox churches – the Russian, Greek, Armenian, Serbian et al, follow the old Gregorian calendar, and in which Christmas Day is 7 January There is no Santa Claus in the Gospels.

Where did he come from?

Nearly 1,700 years ago there was a bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor, who was imprisoned under the last pagan Roman Emperor, Diocletian, but reinstated under Constantine. A cult grew up around him in Greece and spread outwards, and he became the patron saint of children, among others. An old legend about him is that there was a poor man who could not afford dowries for his three daughters, until bags of gold were tossed through an open window by St Nicholas, landing in the stockings drying in front of the fire. In Holland and Germany, there was a custom that St Nicholas was the secret bringer of presents for children on 6 December, his feast day.

When did he start sliding down chimneys?

After the American revolution, New Yorkers tried to rediscover their Dutch roots, and revived the feast of St Nicholas, and his legend. The writer Washington Irving took the mickey out of this revived cult in a satire published in 1809, called Knickerbocker's History of New York. In it, St Nicholas appears as a fat, jolly figure, dressed in fur, with a clay pipe and beard, who slides down chimneys.


There's more here. Of course if your name is "Bill O'Reilly", you might want to pass it by. After all, why would you read something that deprives you of a weapon?

And for those of you not inclined to snark today, you may want to revisit my post from Christmas Eve last year, when for one brief shining moment, I was able to give my cynicism a rest.

Joyous Yule, everyone.

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3 Comments:
Anonymous Comrade PhysioProf said...
O'Reilly understands all this extremely well. He doesn't believe a single word of the horseshit he peddles. He's a propagandist paid handsomely by the far-right-wing to fire up the lizard brains of deranged hopelessly addled authoritarian followers.

Blogger Distributorcap said...
a major joyous holiday to you and yours - and thanks for making me a better informed and better educated person --- often times with a smile

ek (dcap)

Blogger Bob said...
Not even O'Biley believes Jesus was born on Dec. 25. He does however believe it's Christianized paganism rather than paganized Christianity.

Astrologers usually figure Jesus as a Pisces, which accords with many guesses based on historical clues, which are no more than clues. Because there's no record of a general tax census or the killing of male Jewish infants by King Herod, both part of the Christmas story. Probably nothing in the Christmas story is accurate, as it seems to be an assemblage of preexisting god-man birth tales. But the tales it assembles are choice, easy to remember, & so it is one of the great religious stories that is preserved, in several versions, for us from an oral literary tradition. Christians have so embellished the story over the centuries that some people are surprised to learn what isn't in the Bible. No Three Kings, only unnamed Magi, no number given, & three symbolic gifts.