You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

the Story of Christmas

Long, long, ago, when the world was young and humans were just getting themselves together as a species, people paid a lot of attention to changes in the natural world. It was necessary for survival. So they noticed that the days grew shorter each day. They watched the point at which the sun rose on the horizon, and noticed that it was a little further along each day. Then came a time when the night was terribly long and cold, and when the sun rose in the morning, it did so at the same point on the horizon as yesterday. Some people probably even worried that it was never going to come back. Maybe this was the end of the sun's life? There was no way of knowing back then. So they watched, and maybe they prayed and chanted, and on the third day, the point of sunrise was a little further out again, and the day was a little longer. The sun was on its way back, and the people rejoiced. There was no way of reckoning such back then, but by today's calendar, that day would have been December 25th.

This went on for many thousands of years. Civilisations and cultures grew, and the people found stories that told the mystery of the cycle of the seasons. Most cultures around the world developed some concept of a Sun God. Peoples of northern and western Europe developed customs and rituals such as bringing an evergreen tree indoors throught the period of solstice, and having a feast to celebrate the returning of the light. The ancient Egyptians had Osiris, who was born on December 25th, of a virgin mother. When he died, he stayed dead for three days, before being resurrected. Sound familiar? Remember, these stories go back many thousands of years earlier than the story of Christ.

The Phrygo-Romans had Attis, also born of a virgin mother on the 25th of December. The Persian god Mithras is also a Sun God, and was also born on December 25th, also of a virgin mother. He became very popular among the higher classes of Roman society around two thousand years ago. The Emperor Constantine was a member of the cult of Mithras, and celebrated Natalis Sol Invictus - the Birthday of the Invincible Sun - on December 25th. He was already well into his forties when he decided to convert to Christianity. Despite the fact that Christians were regularly persecuted and fed to hungry lions at this stage in history, the boss converting meant that all of Rome became a Christian Empire, and the Catholic Church was born.

It wasn't easy converting a whole empire of decadent, pagan Romans into Christians. They would persist in practising celebrations of pagan festivals, such as Saturnalia, in honour of the god Saturn, and of course the impressively named Natalis Sol Invictus. You can't blame them, it sounds like heaps of fun. Then, in the 4th century CE, Pope Julius I came up with a brilliant idea of assigning Decemeber 25th as the Feast of Nativity, or a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

We don't know the date on which Jesus was born. But we can be absolutely certain that it wasn't December 25th. Think of the story - room in the manger, shepherds in the field - definitely not the middle of winter. Clearly, Jesus was born sometime in the spring or summer, but that was not at all relvant to Pope Julius I, who was just looking for a way to bring the pagan hordes into line with the company policy.

But the people still kept up the pagan practises like bringing green trees indoors, or going around town singing carols. And that didn't hurt the church any, as long as those people paid their tithes and shut up about Mithras. Life went on. The Empire as a political entity collapsed, but the religious arm went out around the world with the colonisers, force-fed to native peoples at the point of a sword, or a gun.

Now, this is a very sucky story - but I would have been able to accept the mishmash we have now for what it is, a reflection of the intricacies and shifting politics of human society. But then something else happened to throw another seasonal spanner in the works. People discovered that the world was round, and that there was something on the other side. Eventually, they found that something, and lots of white European people moved to the Antipodes. Once they got there, they celebrated Christmas in the middle of summer, and just about all was lost.

I think I would be able to deal with Christmas if I lived in the northern hemisphere, and it was actually winter. I would be able to appreciate the tree, the fire, the feast and the carols, and not quibble too much over whether we mark the actual Solstice or the return of the light a few days later. But I live in Australia. It's the middle of summer, the sun is blazing at the height of His powers, and people still pretend that it's midwinter, and bring in trees, and cook big chunks of roast meat, and dress up in woolly velvet suits. This situation is just too ridiculous for words.

I think I would even be able to get into Christmas if it actually were Jesus' birthday. While I'm not at all impressed by the cults that have taken over the world in His name, I don't have a problem with Jesus. In fact, I love and adore Him, and I accept Him into my heart and soul as my spiritual Lord and Master. It would be cool to celebrate his birthday. Even if the date December 25th had just been chosen randomly, just so that we could celebrate His birth every year even though we don't know the actual date, I could have gone along with it. But it wasn't like that. The adoption of December 25th as a Christian feast was another tactic in the vicious and violent suppression of the pagan peoples throughout Europe,  a deliberate corruption of our true heritage. There's no fucking way I'm going to celebrate that.

It's been, oh, more than fifteen years now, I think, since I worked all this out and decided to reject Christmas. A lot of people think that this is sad somehow, that I am missing out on something. I don't see what I'm missing out on. I do have Yule, which happens on 21-22 June in my southern world. I have friends, and family, and I celebrate having them in my lives and spending time with them. I often give people gifts, and often receive beautiful gifts. I still have all these things in my life. They didn't disappear when I rejected Christmas. I wonder about people who think they need a socially-approved season in which to celebrate these wonderful aspects of human society. It seems to me that they don't believe these positive qualities of humanity actually exist within their own right, but require a specific season, and specific rituals to be performed, to be brought into actuality. It looks to me like a sad life where Chirstmas is only allowed to happen once a year. I have the joy of that spirit any day, any time I think about all my loved ones and all the precious strings of love that hold us all together. All I'm missing out on is a huge dose of bullshit that's been fed down to us through the centuries.

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