On the Origins of Holiday Traditions
I read a letter, disseminated to Michigan residents, which described (with various degrees of accuracy) the origins of various Christmas traditions. Mostly, the gist was that Christmas decorations like lights are not at all Christian and actually pagan.
First, let’s get this right out there; most of our holiday traditions did have origins in pre-Christian societies. People were decorating trees for the various festivals long before year 1. People can and will go on and on about the trivia of holiday traditions. And, like that Michigan letter, they will be right sometimes and mostly misinformed.
Second, it doesn’t matter where the traditions came from or what they used to mean. It matters what they mean to the person participating in the tradition. It people want to celebrate the birth of their god with bright lights, let them. If I were a person who cared what people believed and wanted people to believe as I do, then I’d be happy they were celebrating something like that at all, and wouldn’t really care whether thousands of years ago, people hung the heads of their fallen enemies on trees. Yes, people did that to celebrate the winter solstice among other things they celebrated, but it’s a bit sketchy whether there is actually a distinct line of tree decoration from that point to the modern Christmas Tree.
Third, there is really very little about what we know as Christmas that is actually tradition back to days of the first Christians. Honestly, for centuries the celebration of Jesus’ birth was simply a day of prayer and thanks. There is plenty of speculation as to why Christmas ended up on December 25th somewhere in the 4th century. Some believe the Catholic Church hijacked Saturnalia. Others claim that’s actually the date of Jesus’ birth or at least the date Scholars decided was most accurate. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. Religion is not about scientific accuracy, it’s about faith. Heck, the most die-hard religious people out there are starting to think of the term ‘science’ as evil. Those are probably the same idiots who would send out letters telling people not to celebrate Christmas with pagan traditions.
The point of this is that it doesn’t really matter where the traditions came from or what they used to mean. What matters is that people are celebrating. If decorating the house with lights helps people celebrate the birth of Jesus, then that’s what it is to them. For non-Christians it might just be celebrating the spirit of giving or the spirit of shopping or the excuse to gather. No one really needs to know why the neighbor has a huge bright Santa Clause on the roof. There’s no reason to believe that their Santa means they do or do not hold the same gods in the same degree of reverence.
Back to the date of Christmas. Many Christians believe that Jesus was born on Christmas. They believe this because the generation before them told them so. Likewise, most Americans believe that the hanging of lights on trees and houses are ways we celebrate the birth of Christ. Why would a devout Christian want to let people know their traditions come from somewhere else. The thing with people is that are more likely to continue their traditions and alter their beliefs than the other way around. Like I said, the person who wrote the letter is an idiot.
Next thing you know, these same idiots will be sending letters out telling us not to decorate eggs with our kids or give out candy for Easter. I mean the connections between brightly colored eggs and and execution are clear, right?
The thing is, those bright lights for Christmas, and those eggs at easter may not be from the Bible, but they serve a particularly insidious purpose. They get the children excited for the holy days. They make the children want to participate in religion. That’s right, we lie to our kids about what the holidays mean until they’re old enough to learn exactly why they are holding these particular dates in such high reverence.
The fact that these pagan traditions have been adopted by Christianity is not a win for paganism. It’s a win for Christianity. The tradition doesn’t matter, it’s faith that matters to religion–until some fool goes and reminds society that the traditions actually mean something else. Like I said: Traditions persist; beliefs change.