On page D2 of the Waterloo Courier, in the Opinion section (The Courier is our local newsp
On page D2 of the Waterloo Courier, in the Opinion section (The Courier is our
local newspaper), Professor Scott Cawelti, who has written several articles in
the past being rather critical of Christianity, wrote an article that really
seemed like a slap in the face ... Well, since I have it with me, I'll just to
some excerpts, starting from the beginning...
THREE TRUE MEANINGS OF CHRISTMAS
Every December without fail comes the chorus of complaints about Christmas: Too
commercialized, too glitzy, too removed from "the" true meaning. It's a
tradition, almost as predictable as the post-Thanksgiving dat shopping frenzy.
Christians in particular seem to complain about their holiday. Some grow quite
emotional about losing the small babe in the manger among the baubles and
bangles of store-bought Christmas.
In their letters, sermons, and even church advertising, they labor to remind us
that Christmas exists solely because of that babe in the manger. He's the
reason for the season, they proclaim. The true meaning of Christmas.
Well, they're wrong. The pagan celebration of the winter solstice occurred
long before Christians settled on December 25 for their holiday. In fact,
according to at least two authorities -- Barbara Walker ("Women's Encyclopedia
of Myths and Secrets") and Vergilius Ferm ("Encyclopedia of Religion") -- for
several hundred years, Christians had no idea when to celebrate Christmas.
"According to authentic records," says Ferm, "no church festival was held in
celebration of Christ's birth until the first half of the fourth century."
And why did early churchmen choose Dec. 25? Because that's when most people
*already* celebrated the winter solstice, a time-honored pagan festival.
That's the longest night, and when the sun begins returning. The "son"
returns, get it?
"Norsemen celebrated the birthday of their lord, Frey, at the nadir of the sun
in the darkest days of winter, known to them as Yule," says Walker.
So the origins of Christmas aren't really Christian. None of the solstice
celebrations were connected to the Christian church. "Yule logs, gifts,
lights, mistletoe, holly, carols, feasts and processions were altogether
pagan," notes Walker. "Christmas trees evolved from *pinea silva*, pine groves
attached to temples of the Great Mother."
But what better day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, since there was already a
huge holiday then? Christians, after much debate and foot-dragging,
appropriated the old pagan holiday as their own.
So those lawn decorators who combine the babe in the manger with candy-cane
lights and Santa Claus actually combine a couple of the true meanings of
Christmas. More power to them, I say.
To be accurate, there are at least three meanings to Christmas. None are more
"true" than the others, in spite of all Christian protestations.
First, there's the Christian Christmas. Let's be fair, after all. A babe born
in a lowly manger destined to become a savior makes a great story. It's worth
celebrating, even if it isn't the only true meaning. Any holiday that inspires
people to think about the lowly becoming the mighty deserves serious attention.
But just as true, and just as important, is the winter solstice. We do live in
a climate that needs sun. Right about now we have the least sun possible for
We get crabby from lack of light, the ground seems closer to granite than
earth, winds howl nightly. It's a fairly miserable time, and beginning this
week, the sun literally begins its return. If that's not worth celebrating,
Finally, and equally true, there's the spirit of giving that pervades the
holiday, and always has among Christians and non-Christians alike. People tend
to think of other people more at Christmas, thanks to the pagan tradition of
As so many Christmas stories remind us (Scrooge, George Bailey, the Grinch) a
happy, meaningful life hinges more on giving than receiving. 'Tis the season
to be larger, both in mind and in spirit.
So, I for one don't mind all the commercialization, since that's one of the
true meanings of Christmas. I do mind one group trying to claim that they have
a lock on "the" true meaning of Christmas.
As Christians who know history must know (whether they deny it or not), jingle
bells were around long before silent night.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank