Seasons Greetings! – from EpikFAILs.com
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or you just can’t freakin wait till New Years’ to drink away all the corporate-fueled frenzy of materialistic holiday shopping madness (that’s been permeating every facet of your life since early October)… Happy Holidays!!
Now Christmas itself is an odd sort of holiday: A typical American holiday tradition consists of watching Tim Allen in a fat suit while singing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, hanging candy canes on a pine tree, spending way too much on useless trinkets out of familial obligation, and stuffing one’s face full of pecan pie. But what does it really all mean? What’s the real reason behind the season? Like Jack Skellington I decided to analyze the holiday and what I’ve discovered may surprise you.
Christmas is labeled as a Christian tradition, to celebrate the birth of the Messiah: Jesus Christ of Nazareth (even though mountains of evidence suggest that Christ was not actually born in the middle of winter), but many forget (or don’t care) that the holiday actually incorporates Pagan traditions and motifs like the Yule tree, carols, mistletoe, holly wreaths, and Santa Claus, whose original incarnation is literally based off of a trippy combination of Saint Nicholas and… Odin… yes the father of Thor, Norse God of Thunder (and kicking ass).
The Secret Origin of Santa
There was also a Roman Catholic Saint, St. Nicholas, (in the 4th Century) who had a penchant for top-secret gift-giving operations in which he covertly deposited gold coins in the shoes and stockings of the less-fortunate. The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch word ‘Sinterklaas’, and embodies numerous elements of various cultures all wrapped into one jolly old icon. Many folklore tales from around Europe, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, involved a reindeer/goat-riding fat man who gave presents to well-behaved children. The trademark red and white suit however are courtesy of the Coca Cola company… no joke.
Back in the day before Santa started dishing out coal, apparently there was a demonic spirit native to the Alpine mountains? According to Germanic folklore, Father Christmas / Odin / Saint Nicholas was accompanied by a terrifying beast-like creature who kidnapped children: Krampus!
Now unlike the physical embodiment of the joyful holiday spirit who brought many a present to the village children, Krampus was a terrifying horned goblin-monster whom was typically decked out in rusted bells, and chains roaming the night in search of those who ended up on the naughty list. This Rumpelstiltskin wannabee would sneak in and snatch sack fulls of bratty kids, and drag them back to his mountainous lair. Krampus has since been retired due to sheer sketchyness…
History of the Holidays
The reason behind this bizarre fusion of religious symbolism dates way back during the reign of the “Holy” Roman Empire in the city of Constantinople where Emperor Constantine declared (his edited version of) Christianity as the official religion in order to unify the conflicted people, and figured merging traditions between the various pagan and christian sects would ease the transition.
Both early followers of Jesus’s teachings (whose beliefs differed from the Council of Nicaea‘s official creed), and the so-called ‘heathen infidels’ who didn’t convert, were slaughtered without mercy following the decree in 380 CE outlawing all other forms of worship… these minor details have been largely forgotten by the general public, whose too preoccupied fighting their way through crowded retail stores attempting to retrieve the last Turbo-Man action figure for Timmy at 11 pm on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas holiday takes place during the Winter Solstice. December 25th was in fact the date of Saturnalia, the celebration of Saturn, the Roman god of the Sun. Modern-day Pagans typically observe Yule, which according to Celtic tradition is the time in which the Oak King triumphs over the darkness. It is a period of reflection bringing tidings of comfort and joy.
It is worth noting that Christmas is a holiday that many people around the world celebrate, including those who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves Christians. Many Muslims revere the holiday, but not necessarily as an Islamic holiday, seeing as Jesus is considered to be a prophet of Allah, like Muhammad, according to the Qua’ran. On the other hand, Christians today celebrate Christ’s mortal birthday during this time, and then later celebrate his death / resurrection during Easter. This is not unlike the death and rebirth metaphors inherent in ancient Pagan rituals, so it was a natural transition for many converts.
The Nativity Story
The story commiserating the birth of ‘our savior’ comes from two of the four canonical Gospels: Luke and Matthew. The story goes that there was this chill dude named Joseph who had a smoking hot wife Mary. Mary was a proud v-card-carrying virgin who was waiting for the right moment, presumably because birth control was a lot harder to come by back then. Well, one day God, himself, decided to surprise Mary with a random pregnancy, and announced that she had just won the miracle lottery, and would give birth to the Son of God. I imagine Mary and Joseph felt a little bit like Martha and Jonathon Kent when they found baby Kal-El’s Kryptonian escape pod in Smallville, which goes to show you that sometimes a huge load of legendary-level responsibility falls from the heavens and lays waste to your life’s plans in a spectacular smoldering ruin, but as the back cover to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says: ‘Don’t Panic’, because it’s moments like these that lead to the adventure of a lifetime.
Nine months after the big news, Mary and Jo take a camel to Bethlehem where the only vacancy is a mangy old manger, but I’m guessing they weren’t too picky, seeing as Mary’s water broke en route, and they didn’t have the luxury of a maternity ward within their vicinity. As soon as Jesus made his appearance light shined down from space during the dead of night like a series of spotlights for the opening event of a lifetime. This bright star in the sky attracted shepherds like moths to a flame. It even caught the attention of Three Wise Men, presumably Arabian astronomers who were flabbergasted by the unprecedented phenomenon, and were instantly convinced this kid was something special, so they brought with them the most badass gifts for the newly anointed savior of the human race: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Not a bad first birthday if you ask me! I can only assume that lil Jesus was the cutest, most adorable baby to ever crawl the Earth.
Meanwhile a total d-bag named King Herod somehow hears a rumor that the Jewish messiah is destined to be born, which would foil his evil schemes I’m presuming, so he figures he’ll just massacre all the male toddlers that match the description of baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary get wind of Herod’s infantile genocide, and flee for Egypt, where Jesus grows up. Even though there isn’t much in the Bible about Jesus’s teenage years, there’s evidence to suggest that he was one extremely intelligent guy who discussed theology and philosophy with the greatest minds of the time, and often proved them wrong. There’s also tales that he traveled to the far corners of the world: India, Persia, and Tibet, before finally settling down in Nazareth, where he would go onto live an awesome full-time career of caring for the poor and sick, being an inspirational motivational speaker, reforming the church from within, righting wrongs, performing miracles, and going head to head with Satan himself, and the rest is history.
Other Winter Holiday Traditions
The beef I have, other than people acting their worst at this time of year, is with certain Christian denominations claiming they’re taking ‘Christmas’ back, when in fact Christ originally had nothing to do with the original version of the holiday… kinda like Easter (technically a Pagan holiday honoring the fertility goddess Eastre during the Spring Equinox). The thing is if you’re really a Christian, it’s a year-round thing, not just a once a year commitment. Today, to most Americans, X-mas is more of an artificial retail-oriented commercial tradition rather than a sacred day of peace and spiritual reverence. But when it really comes down to it, holidays are what you make them.
But it is important to note that Christmas, in all it’s various incarnations, is not the only holiday of the season. For instance: the Hindu alternative is called ‘Pancha Ganapati’, a five-day festival in honor of Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and the Guardian of Culture, a time to focus on mending past mistakes, and the importance of new beginnings, which is a theme common to many civilizations like the ancient Egyptians, Druids, and many of the Native American tribes.
Speaking of jolly fat guys like Santa reminds me of another jolly fat guy of spiritual significance: Buddha. Now it’s worth noting that the Buddha wasn’t fat at all, in fact Prince Siddhartha was said to be so skinny he was borderline anorexic. The fat Buddha statues are symbolic of his inner happiness in reaching nirvana. Buddhist monks believe that by renouncing one’s worldly material goods one is able to appreciate the infinite spirit of life that surrounds us. Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day to commemorate the historical Buddha’s achievement of nirvana/enlightenment (sort of the anti-Christmas in the materialism department). Bodhi Day is essentially about a (spiritually) jolly fat guy celebrated by decorating trees with shiny jewels and eating milk and cookies. Hmm that sounds familiar… Coincidence?
Since we’re on the subject of holiday traditions, and their historical significance It’d be remiss to forget Hanukkah!
Hanukkah (or Chanukkah), also known as ‘The Festival of Lights’, is a Jewish tradition which like Christmas, also entails gift-giving, but lasts eight days (lucky!). Hanukkah originated in Jerusalem during the 2nd Century B.C.E. when the Maccabees (Jewish rebel forces) overthrew the tyrannical rule of the Seleucid Empire. Following their victory, the Jews only had enough oil to light the temple for one night, but somehow it lasted eight, causing many a Rabbi to scratch his yamaka-covered head. The lighting of the Menorah is symbolic of this somewhat trivial miracle, but it’s a pretty kick-ass spiritual practice all and all. Jesus, being Jewish and all, actually observed it too, so you know don’t dis it.
Another prominent, yet not overly marketed, candle-lighting holiday tradition is Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is an African holiday that has seen a resurgence in many African-American families in the past few decades. This heritage-centered tradition is based on the ancient first-fruit harvest celebrations of their forefathers, and is focused on reverence for both the human race and the living Earth.
Moral of the Story: Don’t be a Scrooge Mc Grinch
Whether you’re spinning a dreidel, lighting the Kinara, burning a Yule log, or celebrating the birth of baby Jesus, it’s all a good reason as any to spend time with the family, sing carols, drink Egg Nog, and exchange presents. The true meaning of Christmas is Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all, when’s not a good excuse for that?
Still, working in retail, it seems that every year, as the Holidays approach, people’s attitudes get worse and worse. Somewhere along the way X-mas was hijacked by corporate conglomerates, but the essence of the holiday spirit isn’t found in gift-wrapped trinkets, it’s in the magic of giving of yourself, your time and love. As Charles Dickens himself (author of “A Christmas Carole” and Unitarian) once said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Basically don’t be a Scrooge Mc Dick in general, like those lonely fat cat tycoons counting mountains of money in their palatial penthouse suites, prior to drinking themselves into a coma to start off the New Year with an epic hangover in which they’ll be visited by three time-traveling spirits of self-evaluation…
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Over this holiday season, I myself am planning to hibernate / Veg-out until next semester, but don’t worry I have plenty of new and hilarious articles of the biggest Fails of History coming in the New Year!