Monday, December 14, 2009

The History of Christmas: The Case of the Missing Jesus

I know, you all are probably sick of reading Christmas related posts by now. It seems like nearly half of the posts from atheist blogs I read are about Christmas in some way or another, and it's starting to get old. But I just read this great summary of the history of Christmas, and I wanted to pass it along. I think the author does an excellent job documenting Christmas's pagan history, how various traditions came about, and how only recently it became a holiday about Jesus's birth. Hearing "put the Christ back in Christmas" is driving me crazy, and this is a nice post to forward to anyone who needs a history lesson. Just a snippet:
Christmas spent the best part of 800 years as a holiday of misrule. It was the time of year to subvert natural order. Servants were crowned and lords played fools. You were allowed to kiss and cavort and roll in the hay. Drunkenness, promiscuity, and gambling weren't just permitted, they were encouraged. You went wassailing -- what we would call caroling -- where the objective was to get someone to give you ale and bread in exchange for your song. If you got ale at every house, I imagine this tradition looking something like a medieval pub crawl.
Hmmm...I think we need to preserve Christmas's true roots!


  1. About time I had something to blog about today. Thanks! (Heehee) That really is a pretty smashing post. Definitely worth spreading around, especially in the faces of all those “Christmas is Christian!” twits. They bug me.

  2. My only complaint is the lack of sources for any of her claims.

  3. It's pretty much exactly right.

  4. I really don't understand atheist's obsession of "enlightening" us about the true roots of Christmas every single holiday season. I have probably seen 30 different versions of the story from various atheists this season alone. You can rest assured that we have all pretty much heard it by now.

  5. I'm reminded of HP Lovecraft's heart-warming Christmas poem:

    Yule Horror

    There is snow on the ground,
    And the valleys are cold,
    And a midnight profound
    Blackly squats o'er the wold;
    But a light on the hilltops half-seen hints of feastings un- hallowed and old.

    There is death in the clouds,
    There is fear in the night,
    For the dead in their shrouds
    Hail the sin's turning flight.
    And chant wild in the woods as they dance round a Yule- altar fungous and white.

    To no gale of Earth's kind
    Sways the forest of oak,
    Where the sick boughs entwined
    By mad mistletoes choke,
    For these pow'rs are the pow'rs of the dark, from the graves of the lost Druid-folk.

  6. Jake -

    If certain evangelicals would shut up about their "War on Christmas" nonsense, most of the atheists would stop trying to correct their misapprehension that Christmas is some kind of Christian-exclusive holiday instead of a collection of traditions stolen from pagans to make the forced conversions of northern Europeans a little more palatable. Or instead of a minor holiday that was turned into a major secular celebration in the US by certain giant east-coast department stores at the turn of the 19th century who were trying to find a way to improve their bottom lines during a typically lackluster winter shopping season.

    I doubt you'll see any atheists shut up about this until Christians can get their act together and tell their big-mouthed cheerleaders for agitating against non-Christians during the Christmas season to shut up. Seriously - most atheists wouldn't bother with these reminders every year if we weren't getting our heads bit off by overly insecure devout check-out clerks at Target when we smile and wish them a heartfelt "Happy Holidays" wishes. And THEY wouldn't be so Grod-damn insecure about it if freaking Bill O'Reilly and the other slack-jawed loudmouths would direct their attention elsewhere.

    Seriously - I love Christmas. I love everything ABOUT Christmas. I even love the "Secret Origin of Jesus" aspects of Christmas, which make for a rollicking good origin myth[*]. The only things that I don't like about Christmas are all of the self-righteous Christians who seem bound and determined to try to make sure that I'm miserable at Christmas. I wish they'd be Raptured or something so I could enjoy my holiday season a bit more.

    [*] All of it but that whole "Herod puts all the babies under age two to the sword to fulfill prophecy" bit, where I think Matthew was trying to hard. He really needed an editor to point out just how improbable this would be to carry out, as well as how big of a chump it makes God the Father look if he can't even stop one stupid Jewish king from slaughtering hundreds of babies. For some reason this seems worse to me than having an entire planet explode so that the savior could be rocketed to earth and gain powers under our yellow sun, or that the savior's parents needed to be gunned down in cold blood to give him the need to save mankind from itself. They all work as origins, but still - hundreds of dead babies just seems to be in bad taste, you know? Especially at Christmas.

  7. Jer - it's not necessarily the "War on Christmas" complaints that bother me, it is the "Jesus is the reason for the season" shit. Come on, Jake, tell me you haven't heard about "the TRUE meaning of Christmas" blather, referring, of course, to "Jesus's Birthday." As long as the arrogant clueless keep shoving the "true meaning of christmas" as Jesus down our throats, you are going to continue to hear the pagan stories.

  8. - I like this one too.