Let's face it, Christmas is something of a mess. I refer not just to the commercial mess that the holiday has become, but to the mess of pagan traditions from which it partly evolved. But I think I know how to clean up this mess, to make Christmas what it was intended to be.
We all know, of course, that Christmas began with Christ's birth in Bethlehem in the year--let's see, would it be around 1 A.D.? No, it wouldn't, since Herod, who was king at the time, died in 4 B.C. (The child's birth was indeed miraculous, being a number of years premature.) Anyway, Christ was born around December 25, right? Wrong. There would have been no shepherds tending flocks in the fields, even if angels were singing, on a cold winter's night. In winter they kept their sheep in folds.
The fact is, December 25, a date coinciding more or less with the winter solstice, was the birthday of the pagan god Mithras. The Mithraic religion was a chief rival of Christianity, and December 25 was adopted by the Christians as the birthday of Christ, at least partly to get people's minds off of Mithras.
Well, Mithras aside, isn't gift-giving part of Christmas because the wise men brought gifts to the Christ child? Not really. (Nowhere, incidentally, does the Bible say there were three wise men. And who, as some child asked after listening to "Silent Night," was Round John Virgin?) Exchanging gifts was part of a pre-Christian religious holiday in Rome known as the Saturnalia, and the practice was adopted by the Christians at least partly to get people's minds off of Saturn.
And if you think there was a Christmas tree in that Bethlehem stable, you've had too much egg nog to drink. The tree, mistletoe, boughs of holly, and all that other junk--I'm tempted to say "Bah! Humbug!"--come from pagan traditions.
Also, no one in Bethlehem, as far as we know, reported seeing a sleigh and reindeer. St. Nicholas was actually a 4th-century bishop in what is now Turkey (no relation to the bird that is commonly slaughtered at Christmas). St. Nicholas rode a white horse and liked to give candy and stuff to children. The name Santa Claus comes from Sinter Klaas, as St. Nicholas is known in Holland. But that's only part of the story. At some point in time, I believe, a bearded eccentric, living for no known reason at the North Pole (was he a fugitive from justice?), heard about Sinter Klaas and decided to cash in on the story. You know the rest. Indeed this bogus St. Nick--with his ubiquitous sleigh full of gifts, all of which have to be paid for, here in the real world, by you and me--is as much to blame as anyone (though we mustn't forget Clement Moore, the scoundrel who wrote "A Visit from Saint Nicholas") for the weeks-long commercial extravaganza that Christmas has become. What used to be a holiday is now a season, seemingly as long as the NBA's. And in case you haven't noticed, Santa Claus is in every mall in town. Who says human cloning hasn't started yet?
All of this leads me to a solution that I wish to propose for this completely out-of-hand holiday. Since we don't really know when Christ was born anyway, why not make every day Christmas? Let each family choose its own Christmas Day, with the family members appropriately given that day off from work and from school to celebrate. No more packed shopping malls, heavy holiday traffic on the streets and highways, and all the other hassles and stress that go with the Yuletide season as presently constituted. It would be a more relaxed and spiritual time for every family. And gifts would only need to be exchanged within each family, saving everybody mucho dinero. As for Santa Claus, anyone caught in a mall in that silly red suit would be arrested for loitering.
Merchants would still benefit commercially by having steady year-round business instead of one big peak season. Even Christmas tree venders would have business all year. Not that everyone would have to buy a tree, at least not the artificial kind. With each family in the neighborhood having a different Christmas Day, neighbors could borrow trees like they borrow cups of sugar. Or they could own a tree communally and just pass it around.
And finally, every letter or article that someone wrote, no matter the time of year, could end with . . .
Copyright 1998 by Ronald L. Ecker
For other articles, see Ecker's Little Archive.
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