Revelations: A proud Christmas Pagan
Dec. 24, 2010 at 6:24 a.m.
BY JENNIFER PREYSS
Are you excited about Christmas? You should be. It's today!
So, in the spirit of this majestic holiday, allow me to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. The only thing that would make today more enjoyable is snow on the ground, and a bottle of Michael Kors perfume under my beautifully-adorned Christmas tree. That's my must-have gift this year. Well, every year. I'm obsessed with Michael. If you speak with Santa, put in a good word.
Even without snow on the ground, I plan on snuggling up on the sofa with a warm cup of coffee and the Christmas-edition newspaper, and watching 24-hours of "A Christmas Story."
And as I peruse the pages of the Advocate, noticing the seasonal articles and advertisements on each page, I'll be reminded once again, what a special day of the year this is. Forgive my sentimentality, but one has to acknowledge the beauty of a holiday observed in 160 of 192 countries worldwide.
There's a human element to that idea that makes me smile, and a oneness to our humanity that I never desire to disregard. We are one, really large, body, of people.
Yet as a Christian, who legitimately believes in the divine birth of Jesus, Christmas goes beyond the illuminated Christmas trees, fancy-wrapped presents and turkey dinners.
Observing the weeks of Advent - a four-week season around Christmas observed in the Christian faith to commemorate the coming of the divine Lord - and using this time of year to think of others' needs beyond my own, is indescribably rewarding for me. And I know it sounds very "Miracle on 31st Street-ish," but there's is a magic, an emotional gayness, a priority of giving, and a selflessness that occurs during Christmastime that somehow comes alive this time of year.
The magnitude of the Christmas season touches my heart in such a way, that each New Year, my personal, spiritual and relational objectives are renewed and refined for the better.
For that reason, I'm not especially bothered that Dec. 25 isn't the true birthday of Jesus. And I'm not especially bothered that "the reason for our season" isn't necessarily because of the Christ, but because a formerly Pagan Roman emperor (Constantine) decided to impose Christianity on his people about 300 AD, and fuse the existing traditions of Sun-worship with the monotheistic religion of Christianity.
If you didn't already know, this why we celebrate Christmas around the Winter Solstice. It was an ancient festival of feasting, and street celebrations. It was a time for decking the halls, gift exchanges, and extreme self-indulgence - all to worship the Roman God Saturn's birthday on Dec. 17. The festival ended with a feast for Sol Invictus, the Sun God, on Dec. 25.
So, apparently it was easier for Constantine to converge his new-founded worship of the Christ, with the cultural (and pagan) traditions of the day. From there, we've slowly evolved Christmas into what we know of it today. Only instead of Sol Invictus, and Saturn, we celebrate Jesus' birthday.
There are many Christians who get so bent out of shape when these details are brought up around the holiday because they think it somehow threatens the divinity of Jesus.
But, I disagree.
Historically, there is no evidence Jesus was born in December, and it's unreasonable to think there would have been a birth record for a poor Jewish kid born to a poor family in a cave-like dwelling in Bethlehem in the first century AD, or before. We do know he was born in the reign of Herod, and historians and theologians can estimate the time based on that detail and Biblical record. Some historians believe he was born sometime in September, and even earlier in the spring.
While it's true that Christmas may stem from Pagan origins, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't designate a time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ, even if it's on the wrong day. We should absolutely worship the Lord's birth. And we should absolutely have open conversations about the historical origins of any religion we claim as true. It is that truth, that security in knowing, that makes Jesus' birth and the celebration of it, that makes me want to have a relationship with him. It isn't because I attempt to denounce historical truths, as if I'm a participant in some religious government conspiracy.
But let's remember, that while there are joyful and culturally-relevant traditions of Christmas that we enjoy participating in each year, the true meaning of Christmas is that God sent his son to us. There is your Christmas. Wrap it up, and stick it under the tree.
Jennifer Preyss is the Advocate's faith reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.