Letter to the editor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Each December there is more and more talk of the “War on Christmas.”

If we listen to Bill O’Reilly or the American Family Radio, we are led to believe there is a cabal of government, media and corporate entities conspiring to remove Christ from Christmas and secularize the holiday. Recently a friend informed me that the White House has put on display a “Holiday Tree.” My friend insisted that to call it anything other than a “Christmas Tree” was nothing less than a federally sponsored attack on Christianity itself.

I found this comment so absurd, the logic of it so perverse, I hardly knew what to say. I believe my friend’s frustration, and the popular perception of an war on Christmas, stems from a much more basic problem, which is that many of us seem to be dangerously ignorant of even the most elementary facts about Christmas. Any literate person capable of a Google search could and should research a few things for themselves, but I would here like to offer a few pertinent points. Be warned: I certainly mean no disrespect, but apparently some people may be shocked by this readily available information.

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To begin: Jesus was not born on December 25th, or any other day in December. The original reason for the season is the winter solstice, an annual celestial event we barely notice today, but was to ancient agrarian cultures of supreme importance. Many of those ancient peoples marked the birth of their own solar deities on this date, and were holding seasonal festivals at least 2,000 years before Jesus walked the earth. These celebrations, their traditions and customs, are still with us today. The decorated evergreen tree, the giving of gifts to children and the poor, even Santa with his deer. All these were evident in ancient Babylon.

Between 300 and 500 years after Jesus’ death, the newly converted Roman Empire and, finally, the early Christian church itself, chose to incorporate the celebration of the birth of Jesus into the existing pagan holidays of the solstice. They did this because, frankly, it was politically convenient. So, Christmas was inserted into the previously established holiday, not the other way around.
In America, Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870. Prior to that, Massachusetts had forbidden the celebration for nearly 200 years. It was required that employees work and students attend school each December 25th, to insure that no one took part in the blasphemous pagan holiday. Now that was the war on Christmas.

As for the “Holiday Tree,” I would inform my friend that there is actually a mention of that subject in the Old Testament. You may refer to Jeremiah, 10:2-5 to read what the God of Israel has to say, and I leave you to draw from that your own conclusion.

Look folks, history is a muddled business. It’s like gumbo — everything goes into the pot, gets mixed around and cooked up together. The days of the week are named for Nordic gods, your wedding ring is a pagan symbol. The Christmas tree, the Easter bunny and eggs and lilies all predate Christianity and even Judaism. You can’t now separate those ingredients and turn the Holiday Gumbo into a Christmas Pudding, and that’s okay.

If you want to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, I say it’s as good a day as any. If we chance to meet, I may greet you with “Merry Christmas!” I may also say “Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa, Solstice and New Year.

We should celebrate what is meaningful to us at Christmas and during the holiday season. The birth of Christ is certainly an event worthy of celebration. So, to me, is the elegant genius of the winter solstice. Both bring hope and salvation and the promise of new life. I pray we all may enjoy the holidays in a spirit of love, gratitude, humility and tolerance.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Roll Tide!

James D. Johnson