Every year after the Thanksgiving national holiday, Americans begin preparing to celebrate the Christmas national holiday. Others, who perhaps see themselves protecting the freedom of religion for those who don't practice Christianity, try to prevent the trappings of a religious holiday from intruding into the public square. That's all well and good, but in doing so they are missing the chance to celebrate the greatest non-religious holiday on the calendar.
Is Christmas about Christ, or is it about reindeer?
Christmas is when Christians celebrate of the virgin birth of Jesus the Christ, Y'shua the Messiah, in a manger in Bethlehem. It's a tale of wise men (who weren't there) and shepherds (who were). Before I continue, realize that I believe the Biblical tale to be factually true.
Despite that truth and accuracy, the celebration on December 25 is a matter of convenience:
December 25 was the birthday of Mithra, the pagan God of light. In 325 AD, Roman emperor Constantine re-assigned the meaning to the birthday of Jesus, the true God of light.
Christmas is also a celebration of the dead of Winter, a memory of joy shared even in the coldest days of the Little Ice Age in Europe -- and perhaps some dim memory carried by traditions of even colder days past in a real Ice Age. The last warmth of Summer is gone by the time of the solstice, and we have time to gather together in our little hovels and share the fruits of our year's labor with those we love.
As you celebrate the giving of gifts, try to see in each gift a connection between the giver and the gifted. Their shared experience -- a mutual hobby, a memory from the year -- will often be expressed and commemorated in a gift wrapped and laid below the tree.
But why is there a tree? Why the holly, the mistletoe, the yuletide carols being sung by a fire?
In coopting and eventually supplanting the Roman solstice festivals, Christians and those enjoying the favors of cultural Christianity learned to follow the example of one of the most generous men in history, Nicholas of Myra.
The use of evergreen boughs and trees comes to us from the pagans of European pagans, who used to decorate their homes with them to ward off spirits. The boughs began to be replaced by trees for German Christian homes in the 16th century, around the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
During the Little Ice Age, the entire globe was much cooler than it is now. Colder, longer winters chilled northern Europe and the U.S. The Little Ice Age generally is said to have begun in the 15th century and to have ended in the mid 1800's. Greenhouse gases were not responsible for cooling the planet during that time, and were obviously not responsible for the general warming trend that continues to this day.
Many of our Christmas traditions, from White Christmas to sleighs and reindeer, stem from the Little Ice Age period.
So while the origin of the holiday is Roman and northern European, all of that long ago was fused with Christian traditions. The roots of the Christmas tree are sunk deep into the Judeo-Christian, Mediterranean, and European soil of our culture.
Some see that culture as oppressive, or point out that it is not shared by those who trace their cultural origins to outside Europe and the Mediterranean. Rather than adopting or ignoring the traditions of the dominant culture, some would even deny the public celebration of Christmas to everyone. It's the same conflict as always, between the multiculturalist desire to retain separate but equal cultures versus the need to integrate, without which our republic is nothing more than a collection of squabbling tribes.
Paranoia over imagined theocracy has brought a war on Christmas, which is really only a skirmish on the religious liberty front of the culture war. What, dear atheists and secular purists, is so harmful about an exchange of gifts? What state religion is established by this admixture of seasonal and cultural icons?
And to those Christians who find a dichotomy in the dualism, who see a conflict between magical reindeer and frankincense, I say: quit being humbugs. Sing about Rudolph, enjoy your stocking stuffers, blow your wad at Wal-Mart, and give shelter to needy travelers.
Because Christmas is for everyone, not the exclusive property of those who, like me, believe the Christmas Story.