--and Happy Hannukah, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa.
An exploration of our Deep Winter Commemoration
As a nation with short-term memory, eager for the "next thing," it is no wonder we have no sense of history or a sense of the context in which our current traditions were established. The current Christmas tradition is a good example where we seem to have lost our sense of tradition, history, and the concept of "majority rules."
First off, let’s go back to the beginning. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, did not establish the "Christmas season." It had already been in full-swing for a millennia or more before his time, in the form of the Winter Solstice commemorations of the "old Religion" of Mythraism (et al). Once Saint Paul proactively altered the basic Jewish dietary practices, and made things a bit easier for "new converts," Christianity took root as a distinct sect, apart from its Jewish roots. Whereas Jews called everyone else heathen (those who lived on the heath, or common) or goy, the New Religion of Christianity called everyone else "pagans."
Let’s stop a minute and examine that now-derogatory term. The Pagani were originally country folk, those who lived outside the grasp of Roman power. The term had no religious overtones. But gradually, those who chose to cling to their old traditions were then called "the pagans," meaning anyone else but us. It was no different than Muslims looking down their noses at non-Muslims, the so-called "infidels."
By the time the Fourth Century rolled around, the new Christian Church was also the dominant political power. Church and State were one and the same. And a savvy leader – Constantine – realized that while it was easy to declare Christianity the "official religion," it was less simple to change the hearts and minds of the people. So what did he do? He stole Christmas fair and square from the pagans. He "Christianized" all of the Old Religion Holy Days, and declared that they were now Christian, with new names in some cases. This is why the Druid Feast of Samhain became All Hallows Eve, and the ancient Ishtar became Easter, and why we have the odd St. Valentines day traditions, a throwback to Roman time. And the ancient Winter Solstice commemorations morphed into The Mass of Christ (Christ-Mass).
Most of the basic symbols of the modern Christmas season pre-date Jesus: the wreath, the mistletoe, the evergreens, gift exchanges, cards, the decorated tree.
Astronomers and historians know with certainty that Jesus was NOT born on or near the Winter Solstice due to the clues given in the New Testament. For example, animals are not in the fields in late December, and there was no comet or conjunction of planets that coincided with that time of the year, and the census that caused Mary and Joseph to travel did not occur in late December, etc.
Santa Claus is a latter-day addition, from an actual bishop in the church, Nicholas of Asia Minor who gave gifts to needy families around the already-established Christmas season. Known as Saint Nicholas, his name is rendered into something that sounds like "Santa Claus" when translated into other languages.
So, all this said, why are we afraid to say "Merry Christmas"? We stole the Holy Day fair and square from the Pagans, who are still free to commemorate Winter Solstice. There is no conflict, and there is no real issue in terms of State-sponsored religion.
Atheists and sue-happy litigants should attend to their own matters, and keep their long noses out of the business of others that does not in any imaginable way "hurt" them. How do the "stolen from pagans Christmas commemorations" in ANY way hurt or harm atheists, or others of different religions? If Christianity, in whatever form, is the will of the majority of the people, how is that harmful?
No one in the broader society, after all, objects if Japanese celebrate Obon widely in their own communities, or when Muslims commemorate Ramadan as they see fit, or when Jews commemorate Hannukah, Yom Kippur, or any of the other well-established Holy Days. Nor is there any objection as those of African descent celebrate the "new" secular holiday of Kwanzaa.
The Christmas holiday is unique and special for millions of people. It is the time of least light, when our minds and bodies and emotions yearn for "the light." It does not really matter that Jesus was not born on Christmas day if that is the day millions of Christians choose to commemorate it. What matters is that we use the symbols of these days to remind ourselves of our spiritual heritage – something ALL people share. We are ALL, after all, descendants from the same Spiritual Father and Spiritual Mother.
This should be an uplifting time for all, when we joyously and sincerely embrace others, and wish them a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, a wonderful Winter Solstice, the best Kwanzaa, and a happy New Year!