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"War on Christmas"

Every year, The Usual Suspects get their underwear in a wad over the "war on Christmas." This "war" seems to consist of saying "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I have to say, this whole brouhaha is (as typical with The Usual Suspects) historically illiterate.

First, Christmas is at least somewhat a pagan holiday. There is no date given in the Bible for Jesus's birth, and the contextual evidence points to March or April, not December. (Shepherds aren't in the fields in winter because the sheep are in barns. They are out in spring because the sheep are out having baby sheep.) Christmas was set on December 25 because that was around the date of a Roman holiday, Saturnalia, a celebration of the Roman god Saturn. (Also a bit of a drunk-fest.)

Second, I knew that at least some Christians, most notably the Puritans of Massachusetts, had outlawed the celebration of Christmas. (Now, that's a real war!) Then today I read this fascinating article about the history of Christmas in America.

Now, I've mentioned before that 19th century holidays tended to be rowdy drunk-fests. I learned that the tradition of caroling was really "thuggish extortion with threat of violence." I also learned that Washington Irving was the first guy put on the job of civilizing Christmas. (He failed.)

In short, (from the article) Christmas in America isn’t a religious holiday that got hijacked by secularists and merchants; it was a manufactured secular holiday, made by merchants, whose followers adapted it for religious purposes.

So anybody complaining about a "war on Christmas" gets short sympathy from me.


Dec. 20th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
As a counterpoint to the shepherds, according to Alfred Edersheim, Levitical shepherds did keep sacrificial lambs in the fields year round for monthly sacrifices. So it is conceivably possible shepherds would have been outside in December.

Early Christians also worked out December as one of two possibilities by starting with what was known about Zacharias(father of John the Baptist) and when he would have been working in the Temple which would happen twice a year. From there you can get a rough conception date for John and Jesus was born roughly six months after John. But the Jewish Calendar was 360 days so you get even more uncertainty.

So of course there is no way to be sure and that doesn't change the history of the holiday as you lay it out. It didn't start as a Christian holiday but Christianity transformed it when it became dominant.

I am glad the tradition of caroling has mellowed over time.

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