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November 7, 2011

Hey AFA: You don't know shit about your own holiday

Personally I think it's a little early to be talking about Christmas, but the American Family Association has already started sending out action alerts about the so-called "War on Christmas", naming companies that allegedly don't "recognize Christmas" on their websites and in their advertising. (Of course, this is extra of ridiculous because they started in October when most stores hadn't even started advertising their holiday sales in the first place.)

The AFA's favorite argument for why stores must mention Christmas (and only Christmas) is because it is such a special and important holiday and way better than any other holiday ever. Saying "happy holidays" or - gasp - acknowledging Christmas alongside "lesser" holidays like Chanukah, Kwanza or Yule/Solstice is blasphemous because it doesn't pay recognition to Jesus. And what better way to honor our savior than by shopping? (But only in stores that decorate in red and green and use the "C" word!)

Since the AFA won't stand for anything at Christmas time that isn't CHRISTMAS (and gets especially pissy if you dare acknowledge anything pagan-based), we thought we'd would just remind everyone what their so-called "Christmas" is really about. They're right - it's about Jesus Christ. Only it's not. But yet it is.

I don't know if these geniuses over at the AFA think that Santa and the reindeer and evergreen trees covered in lights were actually in the Bible, but the truth is, Christmas as we know it today has very little to do with the birth of Christ. Much of it was "borrowed" from pagan celebrations and some of it is just commercialized made-up stuff. So what's the big deal if a retailer doesn't go Christmas-crazy?

So we thought we'd remind the AFA exactly what they're complaining about by listing some of the "Christmas traditions" that likely came from earlier pagan traditions.

  • December 25
The date of Jesus's Nativity is never actually mentioned in the Bible. What did always take place during that time of the year was the Winter Solstice. There were a lot of ancient holidays associated with the Solstice that paid homage to various "sun" deities, including Sol Invictus and Saturnalia. Sol Invictus ("Invincible Sun") was the official sun god of the Roman empire and was the focus of a festival on December 25 to celebrate the "birthday" of the Sun. Saturnalia was a major holiday for the ancient Romans and paid homage to the god Saturn. Celebrations involved feasting, drinking, gift-giving and the lighting of candles. (December 25 was also the date of the birth of Mithras, the Iranian sun god. There are a lot of similarities between Mitras and Jesus.)

In the 4th century CE, in an attempt to convert the pagan masses to Christianity, Christian leaders adopted many of the traditions of Saturnalia for Christmas and named the last day as Jesus's birthday. Yule was a Germanic pagan winter festival that was also equated with Christmas once the Christian calendar was adopted. Various scholars have suggested that Jesus' actual birth date may have been closer to September or April, but no one knows for sure. One thing we can be sure of, is that it likely wasn't December 25th at all.
  • Exchange of Gifts 
The main focus of the AFA's campaign is about retailers honoring Christmas because gift-giving is what Christmas is all about. The claim is that it represents the gifts that the three wise men gave in honor of Jesus's birth but the truth is, exchanging gifts wasn't a tradition associated with Jesus until at least the 4th century. In pre-Christian Rome, it was a Saturnalia tradition to give gifts and it didn't become a Christmas tradition until Jesus's birthday was moved to December. The Catholic Church later associated this with the gift-giving of Saint Nicholas.
  • Candlelight Services
Candlelight services for Christmas Eve also originated from paganism. Pagans often lit candles to celebrate the holidays associated with the Winter Solstice (the shortest and darkest day of the year).
  • The Evergreen Tree
For a long time, many pagan cults worshiped trees and sometimes decorated them. Often clippings of evergreen trees were used to decorate the home during the Solstice in ancient Greece, Rome and Eastern Europe. (In Egypt palm trees were used.) Because the trees stayed green throughout the winter, they represented eternal life. These pagan cults were recruited to Christianity when the Church co-opted the tradition of decorating trees for Christmas.
  • Mistletoe and Holly
Years before Jesus was born, mistletoe was used by the Druids to decorate their homes in the Winter. They believed that it had special powers of healing and fertility. Scandinavians associated the plant with their goddess of love which may have inspired the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The early Christian church replaced mistletoe with holly, but it is still a custom today to kiss under the mistletoe.
  • Yule Log 
 This is one tradition that they didn't even bother renaming... It is obviously derived from Yule solstice celebrations. The Yule log was burned in the hearth as part of the traditional Yule celebrations in several European cultures.
  • Christmas Ham
The tradition of cooking a Christmas Ham was derived from the tradition of the Yule boar. The "sonargoltr" was a boar sacrificed as a tribute to the god associated with boars, harvest and fertility, as part of the Yule celebration in Germanic paganism. This eventually evolved into the tradition of eating a Yule ham or Christmas ham. Often the Catholic Church used the ham as a test of those who converted from Judaism. Authentic converts would enjoy the ham without issue, while non-truthful converts would decline to eat the non-kosher meal.
  • Caroling and Wassailing
The practice of singing Christmas carols from door to door was likely derived from Winter Solstice celebrations as well. The Anglo-Saxon tradition of "wassailing" predates the celebration of Christmas in old England and in ancient Rome there were groups of costume singers and dancers called Mummers who traveled from house to house entertaining the neighbors. These were likely the precurser to Christmas carols. 
  • "X-mas"

    The AFA really hate the abbreviation "X-mas" but it might actually be the only Christmas tradition that actually does have to do with Christ. Yep, that's right. All that "Keep the Christ in Christmas" complaining about X-mas is totally misguided.

    It is a common misconception that "X-mas" is a modern attempt at taking away the religious aspect of Christmas, but the truth is that "X" stands for Christ. The Greek word for Christ is Χριστός (Xristos) meaning "savior". Legend has it that Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity because he had a vision of the Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho (P) intertwined - the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ - so the letters "XP" or just "X" was often used to stand in for "Christ". It became popular to use "X-mas" as shorthand back in the 16th century.

    So there AFA! If you're going to tell other people how to celebrate Christmas, then maybe you should take a look at the way you celebrate first. Because you're basically celebrating a pagan holiday and pretending that it has anything to do with Jesus, even though it doesn't. (Note: We're not saying there's anything wrong with the way that people celebrate Christmas. Just that it's completely ridiculous for the AFA to boycott businesses for not acknowledging Christmas in the ways that they see fit without having any knowledge of where their holiday traditions actually came from.)


    Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

    Awesome Post! The 'Keep Christ in Christmas' bullshit bugs me to no end.

    P.S. Not sure what happened with blogger, but for some reason your posts haven't shown up in my feed for months, even though I'm still subscribed.


    Yandie - thanks for letting us know about the feed issue! We think we've got it fixed, so hopefully you won't have any more problems.

    Lauren said...

    YES YES YES. I have a coworker who is Christian and any time she starts talking about such-and-such being part of a Christian holiday (easter eggs? really?) I want to jump in an correct her but 'they' are quite sensitive about being wrong when it comes to their faith. I guess it's better to be happy than knowledgeable!

    (and then I killed myself because OMG I'm the only atheist in my office)

    (kidding, clearly I'm far too smart to kill myself. besides, I'd go to hell, right?)

    (HAHHAAA there is no hell. Got you again!)

    (okay, I'll stop. Keep up the good work, ladies)

    A said...

    I love you!

    Christina said...

    Minor nitpick, christos actually means "anointed one", and was a direct translation of the Hebrew word messiah with the same meaning.

    Anonymous said...

    I love this conspiracy. Although, I believe Jesus was real and his message was most important.