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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happy Holidays

I am writing a book about the history of Christmas. I've been working on this book for the past five years. Last year I wrote this article that I shared with a few people using information from the research for my book.

It's long and I'm sure most people won't read this article, much less my book, for two reasons... it's long, and because too many people don't have enough faith in their own beliefs to be open minded not only to other ideas but also the history of their own religion. I hope I'm wrong about both.

Merry Christmas, Happy Yule and Blessings of Light, Peace and Joy!

I'm hoping my holiday greeting covers all of my friends and family, all of whom follow a variety of religious beliefs. I keep seeing online and on Facebook that this time of year the only "acceptable" greeting is Merry Christmas. This attitude makes me very sad. Shouldn't the very fact that someone is wishing you well and hoping you have a good Christmas more important than the words that are used? Shouldn't it be the spirit of the season? Isn't this the season of "peace and good will"?

I had a "friend" who told me that if I sent a Christmas card that said anything other than Merry Christmas, she would tear it up and destroy it. I was very hurt by that. Obviously, the words "Merry Christmas" were more important to her than my feelings and our friendship.

Christianity is not a religion for everyone around the world, and it never will be, no matter how much some people push it. Religion should always be a choice and having it forced on others takes away that choice.

Acceptance, or the very least, tolerance, for other belief systems shouldn't not too much to ask. If other people's beliefs are such a threat to them, they must not have very much "faith" in their own beliefs...

This time of year I get so frustrated with the messages that many Christians insist are, or should be true, for everyone...

Like "Jesus is the reason for the season".. I tell my Christian friends.. "well, he is for you, and I'm happy that is the case for you, but it's not true for everyone. Please respect other people's choices, too."

Or "Wise men still seek him".. meaning that if you are a non-Christian you are not wise and are lost. Tolkien wrote.. "not all who wander are lost" and one thing I learned in church that I still carry with me is that all humans have a "god-given" right to free will. That means the free will to decide what is true for themselves.

I just read on person's comment to a "discussion" that historians have determined "without a doubt" that Jesus was born on Dec 25th. Now I'm a historian and a theologist and I've never found any such proof of that anywhere. There is no mention of "Christmas" in the bible, none. And people who insist that there is, obviously haven't read the bible. I have. Cover to cover more than a dozen times. I started studying Biblical history in 1980 when I was introduced to it by a Catholic priest. Because I've been fascinated by history of all kinds since I was nine and have researched family history since I was 15, this was a natural progression for me. I started studying comparative religion and world religions in 1998, and had planned to become an interfaith minister.

There people who are trying to put "Christ back into Christmas" because there is a war on Christmas against Christians (but only in the small minds of Fox news) so they write Christmas as CHRISTmas and insist that you only can say Merry Christmas. Anything else is a direct attack on Christians, at least in their eyes.

Christmas was "adopted" as the birthday of Jesus because no one really knows when he was born. Scholars have suggested that it could be anywhere from September to March. The bible doesn't say and even the books that mention the Nativity contradict one another.

Christmas was originally "Christ's Mass", as festivals in general were considered too Pagan and against church doctrines. Christ's Mass was in recognition for Jesus' DEATH, not his birth. It was a celebration of the Eucharist, basically communion, and it was only celebrated by the clergy. Between the peasantry wanting to be thought of as worldly and the church wanting to get more people to convert to Christianity, Christ's Mass was slowly offered to the congregation, but those Masses took place anywhere from September to January, depending on the Parish.

And for those who also believe that writing Christmas as "Xmas" is a direct attack on Christians and Christmas.... this is why you need to study history. This was told to me by the Catholic Priest. Most peasants were not able to read or write. But they understood that X was a letter that symbolized Christ; X is the first letter of the Greek word Christos. (The early church used the first two letters of Christos in the Greek alphabet 'chi' and 'rho' to create a monogram to represent Jesus.)  When the peasants saw signs that said X-mass (Christ's Mass), they knew they were welcome to attend this special mass.

With the new converts, former Pagans from Rome, Greece, Germania, North countries and Celtic regions, came a whole slew of established traditions which the church absorbed to keep the Pagans happy. December 25th was finally settled on as the official date of Christmas for three main reasons; Celtic Pagans celebrated Winter Solstice on Dec 21st. Roman Pagans celebrated Saturnalia around December 15th, and December 25th was the feast day, or birthday, of a Roman God named Mithra, which was popular about the same time that Christianity started to flourish.

The church decided that this would make everyone happy and they would get their converts. The Pagans didn't care one way or another (for the most part) as long as they were not forced to give up their holiday traditions. Of course, not everyone agreed with this. The Orthodox faction of the church used this as one of many reasons to break away from the what is now the Catholic church and the Orthodox churches continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th, which was the original date of Christmas, not December 25th.

They set a precedence that anyone who didn't agree with established church teachings were free to go and start their own church. Well, maybe not free, but they did it anyway. Which is why, according to the site Religious Tolerance, there are over 34,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. So when you say something is "Christian" which denomination are you referring to?

When Christmas was first recognized in the 4th century, it was meant to be a time of reflection and prayer, never a fun time, and certainly not a birthday, since to early Christians and Hebrews, birthdays were a Pagan concept and didn't fit with church doctrines. Which is why some Christian denominations do not acknowledge birthdays or Christmas even today.

Christmas as a joyous, festive holiday came later as the different traditions blended with one another and each group adopted the new ideas, including the church.

But even then and since then, not everyone saw Christmas as a "Christian" holiday. In the 1500's, Luther and Calvin banned all ideas concerning Christmas. If it wasn't mentioned in the Bible, it was not truly Christian.

In 1659, the Puritans outlawed Christmas in the colonies and that went in and out of favor depending on who was in charge. Christmas as we know it today was not even celebrated until the mid 1700's and then only sporadically.

In fact, Christmas was basically "illegal" in the United States until the mid 1800's, the legality of it was largely ignored, although in some communities, people were arrested for celebrating the holiday.

Christmas did not become a legal holiday in the US until 1856. And the words "Merry Christmas" being a "Christian" idea? No, in fact using the words "Merry Christmas" was at one time considered to be a very un-Christian things to do, because it brought to mind drinking and partying and not all the "sober" kind of holiday most Christians wanted to be.

So it just shows how everything, including Christmas greetings has evolved over time. In the Victorian era, the most common greeting at Christmastime was "Seasons Greetings".

I remember hearing once in church that Christmas had been celebrated every single years since that first Christmas when Jesus was born. History clearly shows that isn't true. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the Nativity story. I have several Nativity sets that put out each year. But I don't believe it's a historical event, especially since so many other cultures have similar stories. The Bible was never intended to be a history book.

In 1500 years a lot of things changed and blended to make it what it is now.. which is essentially a secular holiday. According the Pew Report, only 54% of Americans and less than 40% worldwide celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday or in any kind of religious context. And those numbers are dropping steadily. Nothing stays static, it changes constantly.

It might surprise many Christians to know that a lot of Atheists, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus and even some Jews and Muslims celebrates Christmas too, as a secular celebration, complete with Christmas trees, gifts, lights, feasts and charity. So it's clearly not just a religious or Christian holiday anymore and even history shows it really never was, it was just adopted as one.

Now I don't expect you to believe me just based on what I wrote here. But I do expect that if you are going to insist that everyone abide by your way of doing things, you at least go and study the history of what you are insisting on. Most people only know about the history of their own religion from what's on TV, on social media or what is taught in their own church.

And in my education in theology and ministry and my experience of being a member of a dozen different Christian denominations tells me that most churches only teach what they want their followers to know. In fact, one of the reason I quit theology classes was seeing fellow students laughing about why they wanted to become ministers and it had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with control. But that is a whole 'nother rant.

So....

Merry Christmas

Happy Holidays

Happy Christmas

Have a Cool Yule

Happy Hanukkah

Solstice Blessings

Saturnalia Luck

Happy Bodhi Day

Happy St. Nickolas Day

Happy St. Lucia Day

Happy Sol Invictis

Blessings for Dongzhi and Pancha Ganapati

Special blessings for Mother's Night and Winter Blot (also called Winternight).

Now, that should cover just about most of the December holidays. Now you know why many people just say simply "Happy Holidays"..... And there is nothing wrong with that, nor there shouldn't be.

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