25 December 2012

War on Christmas?

Atheists are sometimes accused of waging a "war on Christmas".  My question is why any knowledgeable atheist would bother.  Nothing about Christmas has anything to do with Jesus or Christianity.

The concept of December 25 as the birthday of a god originates with the cult of Mithra (depicted above), the ancient Persian god of light and wisdom.  Mithra's cult dates back to at least 1450 BC, but became much more widespread after it was absorbed by Zoroastrianism and carried all over the Middle East by the expansion of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC.  Later Mithraism became popular in the Roman Empire, with the name being Latinized as "Mithras"; the god was also known as Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun".  For the first few centuries of Christianity, several different dates around the year were celebrated as Jesus's birthday (the Gospels do not assign a date, though they make it fairly obvious that the birth did not happen in the winter).  Eventually Mithra's established birthday was assigned to Jesus in order to Christianize the date and celebrations which were already popular throughout the Roman domain.  Some parts of the ancient Persian story of Mithra's birth, such as the three wise men, were also assimilated into Christian mythology.

The gift-giving and revelry we associate with Christmas comes from the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was celebrated from December 17 through 23.  After the triumph of Christianity, these practices became associated with Christmas simply because of the proximity of the two events on the calendar.  Another feature of Saturnalia was social role reversal in which, for example, slaves were seated in places of honor at meals, while their masters waited on them.  It's too bad this practice didn't also survive as part of Christmas; it's interesting to imagine what it might look like in our present-day society.

Other trappings of modern Christmas, such as Santa Claus, the Yule log, and Christmas trees, were derived much later from Germanic paganism.  Santa Claus may even be partly based on the Germanic god Odin.

So we're talking about an ancient Persian holiday with celebrations based on an ancient pagan Roman festival with some pagan Germanic imagery added on.  There's no connection with Christianity except an arbitrary glomming on to the date as Jesus's birthday in late Roman times, which has no basis in the Gospels or in anything else.  Christmas means nothing to me, but I see no reason why anyone would wage a "war" on it, because there is nothing Christian about it.

9 Comments:

Blogger Kay Dennison said...

As always, you have made a rational and well-constructed argument. I applaud you.

I've spent most of my life as a practicing Christian albeit a questioning and struggling one. (The nuns loved me -- NOT!)

That said, as my 65th Christmas is upon me, I'm tossing in the towel.
Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

So color me agnostic. The God I was raised to believe in doesn't exist and, if he does, he's a mean S.O.B. I quit.

25 December, 2012 10:07  
Blogger Ahab said...

I wish the war-on-Christmas humbuggers could realize that many holidays celebrate the winter solstice, and that Christians do not have a monopoly on this holiday season. Blessed Yule!

I hope you and your loved ones are having a wonderful holiday season, Infidel753.

25 December, 2012 11:38  
Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

Yeah, but it's a hell of a day to pause and thank your lucky stars for people like you. Peace.

25 December, 2012 13:42  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

"Christmas means nothing to me . . ."

I disagree. I think it means something to you or you wouldn't have gone to the trouble of writing about it. :)

In any case, I wish you peace and a happy mid-winter holiday.



25 December, 2012 14:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks everyone. And Kay, welcome aboard.

26 December, 2012 10:23  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Shepherds don't keep watch over their flocks in the winter. That alone should have tipped people off on the veracity of the gospels.

Anyway, Festivus for the rest of us!

26 December, 2012 13:17  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I think as O'Reilly and company has pounded home, the skirmishes in the supposed "war" involve removing religious-themed displays from public places... like the Baby Jesus creche on the courthouse lawn complete with three wise men, etc. Not that the same moronic minions would scream bloody hell if a Menorah were placed on the courthouse lawn.

Personally, as an Atheist myself our family enjoys the christmas tree, lights, and all that hoopla. We managed to get through this season without worshiping the Credit Card god and just shared food and family again this year.

27 December, 2012 18:06  
Blogger Tommykey said...

We managed to get through this season without worshiping the Credit Card god and just shared food and family again this year.

Robert, you mean to tell me you didn't run up a heaping pile of credit card debt to buy stuff for everyone? Think of how much you could have helped the economy! LOL!

Years from now, when my grandkids ask me what I did in the War on Christmas, I'll have to to just shrug my shoulders and tell them "I did have an atheist blog!"

30 December, 2012 07:12  
Blogger Tommykey said...

On my own blog, I did a post, which looks like it is turning into an annual event now, about what a real war on Christmas looks like.

30 December, 2012 07:13  

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