Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

There has been a political fight going on in America over the custody of Christmas. Because of the insistence of liberals that the First Amendment to the Constitution should be enforced, courts have been ordering that Nativity scenes be removed from the front of public buildings, and that the religion-specific greeting "Merry Christmas" should be replace with the generic and inclusive "Happy Holidays."

Conservatives, on the other hand, argue that the holiday belongs to Christians and that the efforts to secularize the holiday are assaults not just on religion but on American cultural heritage.

But does December 25th really belong to Christians? Or is "Christmas" just the latest name for a much older, pre-Christian festival? It was the Roman Emperor Constantine who established December 25th for the celebration of Christ's birth, because it was his favorite holiday in honor of the sun god. But there is also the tradition of "Yuletide," which was a festival among Germanic people that took place, according to their lunar calendar, in late December or early January.

Like so many pagan traditions, gods, and myths, the early Christian church appropriated them in order to attract followers who would otherwise have remained happily pagan. Pagan holy sites were consecrated as Christian sanctuaries, some pagan gods became Christian saints, and certain pagan festivals were incorporated into the Christian calendar as "holy days."

A pagan feast of life and light that was celebrated on the darkest day of the year - the Winter Solstice - as a momentary relief from the cold and gloom was the likeliest origin of what we celebrate on December 25th.

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