Tears and laughter often go together. Certain kinds of smiles go with frowns that are caused by bits of irony. The aggressive discussion about saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas brought that ironic smile to my Santa-face. It brought a frown with it.
I smile when I think that a mere few centuries ago it was illegal to even celebrate Christmas in these New England states, with their religiously-pure Puritan influence. Christmas, they knew, was clearly a pagan holiday. It came from the Roman festival celebrating the winter solstice, the day on which this little missive of mine is being composed. (See above date.)
The ancient pagan festival celebrated the return of the sun, Natalus Invictus: the return of the Invincible Sun. After all, the sun is reborn at the time of the winter solstice—the days grow longer. In the Julian calendar the winter solstice was on December 25, thus the Christmas date.
Constantine, who had such a huge influence on the development of Christianity, worshiped the sun; that’s why the new Sabbath was called Sunday.
The Puritans knew that Christmas was a pagan festival in spite of the thin Christian covering. It was celebrated not only with excessive eating and drinking, but rowdy public behavior that mocked established authority, turning things upside down for at least one day of the year. Begging was often accompanied by threats of doing harm, similar to the now innocuous phrase the children use at Halloween: trick or treat. It was more like, “Your money or your life.”
So I smile when I hear the conservative Christian folks demanding that Christ be ‘put back into Christmas,’ and that good Christians should boycott any store that says ‘happy holidays,’ which might include Jews who celebrate Channukah, instead of the Christian-exclusive Merry Christmas on which they insist. Ah, that’s the spirit!
That hullabaloo says nothing about the very idea of Christ, the Latin word for Messiah, the one foretold by Hebrew prophets. The Greek word Khristos is from the verb khriein, to anoint. Is the Christ an individual person, born into this world at a place and time? I prefer to think of the Christ as that part of every person that feels sympathy for the suffering of others, and responds with compassion. But who thinks about Christology these days?
My favorite definition of the Messiah (or the Christ) says, “When you understand the concept of the Messiah you’ll know that it’s the person next to you.” Isn’t that what Rabbi Jesus taught?
But Christianity is more divided now than it’s ever been. I’m convinced that most Christians believe that a ‘good Christian’ is a person who tries to live according to the spirit of Jesus; one who tries to be a good person.
I know what the pollsters say, about the vast majority of people believing in the virgin birth and a literal hell, and so forth. Nonsense. I don’t believe it. People respond to pollsters in a funny way, especially when it comes to politics and religion. So I hope you’re having a happy holiday, in whatever form, by whatever name. Be good.