The Traditions of Christmas
by ADRIAN MORGAN, THE EDITOR
December 24, 2010
As Christmas comes around again, it becomes hard to distinguish the Christian celebration of Christ's birth from more pagan rituals. The actual date of Christ's birth has long been a subject of dispute.Around 525 AD, Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguusplaced the date of Christ's birth at December 25. He worked on the assumption that the immaculate conception took place on March 25, which was then widely viewed as the date that God created the world. Dionysius assumed that Mary's pregnancy took exactly nine months.
Since 274 AD, following a decree by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, December 25 was also designated as the birth date of the Roman deity Mithras, the "unconquered sun" (Sol invictus). Mithras' cult had been imported from Phrygia in the East and had become popular amongst Roman soldiers. Mithras' religion was secretive, and little is known of its Roman form. A god of light and the sun, the Phrygian deity was tangentially linked to the Zoroastrian deity Mithra and the Hindu deity Mitra.
December 25 also coincided with the end of the pagan Roman festival theSaturnalia, when feasting, drinking and merriment would take place, presents would be given, slaves would be allowed privileges, party hats (the "pileus" or Phrygian cap) would be worn by all, and a "Lord of Misrule" would be elected from households. During the Christian Medieval period, European customs involving the Lord of Misrule continued alongside Christian ceremony.
In Scotland, the Lord of Misrule was called the "Abbot of Unreason." He would preside over anarchic celebrations, until officially banned in 1555. In France, this character was called the "Prince des Sots" (Prince of Fools). Oliver Cromwell, a devout Puritan Christian, took a dim view of the merrymaking associated with Christmas. For him, any joviality or festivity was heretical. Almost as soon as he became de facto dictator of Britain in 1644, he had Christmas banned. In 1647, Easter and Whitsun were also banned.
The banning of Christmas led to conflict with the populace. In London, soldiers were ordered to patrol the streets, and to seize any Christmas dinners being cooked. All stores and workplaces were ordered to stay in business on Christmas Day. Such legislation led to violent confrontations in London, Canterbury and Norwich. Cromwell's ban on Christmas lasted until 1660, two years after he had died. The following year, the flamboyant king Charles II took the throne. He ordered that the corpse of Cromwell (who had ordered the decapitation of Charles 1 in 1649) should be dug up and hanged from a gibbet. Cromwell's head was later cut off.
The Puritans who had emigrated to America were also subjected to official and unofficial bans on the celebration of Christmas. In 1659, Christmas was officially banned in Massachusetts, a prohibition that was not revoked until 1681.
The decorated Christmas tree was introduced to the United States in the early 19th century from Germany, where it had been known as the Christbaum and stemmed from pagan traditions. Shortly after its introduction to America, the Christmas tree was brought to Britain by German-born Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. In America in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge inaugurated the custom of lighting the National Christmas Tree.
Though Santa Claus has been identified with St. Nicholas, his representation has been tainted with pagan embellishments. Throughout its history, Christmas has been for many a trade-off between the sacred and the profane. Many people complain nowadays about the commercialism of Christmas, but there are other aspects that are threatening to destroy the spiritual nature of Christmas.
Churchgoing in Britain has been on the decline for decades, though a 2005 poll found that 67% of Britons still thought of themselves as "Christians" and 75% of respondents wanted Britain to retain its Christian values. The demons of political correctness and multiculturalism have been actively trying to destroy the Christian aspects of Christmas. I discussed some of these British attempts to forcibly secularize Christmas on Family Security Matters. For the most part, these attacks are instigated by Leftist councils and teaching establishments, laboring under the misplaced notion that all Muslims might be offended by mention of Christ.
There certainly are extremist Muslims of the Salafist, Deobandi and Wahhabi doctrines who do object to Christmas celebrations. Sabeel Ahmed of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) has written that "showing happiness and joy on Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Good Friday is like shaking hands with Satan and telling him to carry on the good work."
Ahmed explains: "Islam came to tear down the pillars of kufr (non-Muslims) and replace them with the pillars of Islam. Armed with facts on Christmas and eloquent words of Islam, the door of Dawah (conversion) to the Christians should be wisely open. When the Christians see us restraining from observing Christmas, they will curiously ask us for the reason. This opportunity should be used by each single Muslim to discuss Islam and invite non-Muslims to Islam."
The website IslamOnline, whose spiritual adviser is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, advises that a Muslim can wish Christians a happy holiday at Christmas, and even send them greetings cards or share a Christmas dinner. However, "you are not allowed to celebrate Christmas with them."
Britain became exposed to Muslim condemnations of Christmas back inDecember 1996. A school in Washwood Heath, Birmingham, was rehearsing its annual carol service. A Muslim teacher, Israr Khan, decided that having Muslim schoolchildren sing Christmas carols was wrong, and harangued the assembled group, saying: "Why are you saying Jesus and Jesus Christ? God is not your God - it is Allah." Several schoolchildren were reduced to tears. When the carol service went ahead, five pupils had been persuaded by Khan not to attend.
One of the Muslim pupils who was then at the school was Rashid Rauf, who was arrested in Pakistan last year, suspected of masterminding the August 2006 plot to send suicide bombers onto U.S.-bound planes, armed with liquid explosives. Rauf had fled Britain in 2002 after he became the main suspect in the murder of his uncle. He is still wanted on an extradition order connected with this murder. OnDecember 17 this year, Rauf was being transferred from court in the Pakistani capital back to his Rawalpindi jail by a relative. The suspected terrorist was allowed by police to visit a mosque, from where he made his escape.
In 2005, Australia's Forum on Islamic Relations recommended that nationally, the term "Christmas" should be scrapped altogether, as it excluded too many people in multicultural Australia. The group recommended that Australia should follow the example set in Britain by groups such as Birmingham City Council, which has called its Christmas celebrations "Winterval" since 1998.
Though churches in Britain have poor attendance, on the night of Christmas Eve Catholic and Anglican churches across the country traditionally have Midnight Masses, and usually these are well attended. This year, however, this integral part of the Christian celebration of Christmas is threatened by non-Christian celebrations of drunkenness and debauchery.
Every weekend in Britain, most town and city centers are taken over by groups of young people engaging in the new national pastime - "binge drinking". Vomiting, falling over, fighting, committing obscene acts, and generally acting worse than animals are common occurrences. Christmas for these individuals is another excuse to engage in even worse "recreational" behavior than normal. The city of Newcastle has been a center of binge drinking for more than a decade. Police, instead of cracking down on such antisocial activities, have decided that Christmas belongs to the louts, and Christmas Midnight Masses are less important. The Cathedral of St. Mary in the city of Newcastle has been forced to hold its Midnight Mass at 8 pm this year.
Police have recommended that Roman Catholic churches in many cities should hold their Midnight Masses early, because of the drunkenness which the police fail to prevent. In some cities, churches will be holding Midnight Masses as early as 6 pm because of possible disruption by drunkards. It is still a crime in Britain to be "drunk and disorderly", but police seem unwilling to enforce the law. As a result, elderly people feel too terrorized to venture out late at night, particularly on Christmas Eve.
In 2006, a British law firm called Peninsula revealed that three out of four British employers had banned conventional Christmas decorations from their premises. The reasoning was that these employers were fearful that they may be sued by employees of other faiths who did not see their own faiths represented in the workplace.
One soccer manager in Britain - Steve Coppell - is so keen for success that he has banned his team from celebrating Christmas in their own way until May 2008. Reading’s soccer team will be forced to spend this Christmas in a hotel. The coach of the team has said: "We have a no Christmas policy this year. We will have ours in May on a beach dressed as Santa. The players can eat what they like then."
Christmas in America is also under threat, again from the demons of political correctness. In 2006, Walmart took the bizarre decision to ban the word "Christmas" from its stores. The Catholic League organized a boycott of the chain of stores, leading to the company deciding in the fall of 2006 to employ the term Christmas in its stores both "early and often".
The Catholic League objected to Christmas being targeted while Walmart had promoted the Jewish festival of lights, Hannukah, which falls around Christmas time. While Walmart banned the use of the term Christmas, it promoted the racially biased artificial festival of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa takes a Ghanaian "first fruits" ceremony and mixes it with East African Swahili terms.
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Ron Everett aka "Maulana Karenga." In 1969 he was expelled from the Black Panthers. Kwanzaa was created as an antidote to the "white" aspects of Christmas. The founder has a colorful history - he is now a Marxist and a professor at California State University at Long Beach. He was jailed in 1971 for the torture of two black women who had been forced to strip naked, somewhat against the notions of "black unity" that Kwanzaa was meant to represent.
In 2001, the Catholic League objected to instructions given out by the principal of the Thomas Jefferson Magnet School of Humanities in Flushing, New York. The principal had told teachers to bring into school items representing Kwanzaa and also the Jewish and Muslim faiths. There had been no mention of Christian items.
In 2008, Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford issued an edict to its students and staff, apparently on the advisement of the state Attorney General, prohibiting anyone from speaking or writing the word Christmas in any university literature or public area.
In 2002, a teacher of first-grade students at a school in Sacramento, California, was ordered by her principal not to mention the word Christmas in front of children.
In 2007, even the image of Santa was deemed too much for one citizen of Warwick in New York State. Annually, the PTA group at Sandfordville Elementary School in Warwick would hold a fund-raising event around Christmas, called "Breakfast With Santa". One disgruntled mother wrote a letter of complaint, claiming that Santa is a representation of Christmas, and therefore is an endorsement of Christianity, contravening "separation of church and state", even though it was not held on a school day. The PTA offered to amend the event. As a result, "Breakfast with Santa" was changed to "Winter Wonderland Breakfast" and in a nod to unrepresented faiths, Santa was joined by the non-denominational "Frosty the Snowman."
Santa may be associated with the Christian Saint Nicholas, but his descent down a chimney and his clothing of red with white trimmings have also been linked to pagan rites. The shaman of certain Siberian tribes would engage in midwinter festivals when he would enter via the smoke hole of the winter yurt (hut) and climb down the wooden post that supported the roof. Once inside, he would distribute the hallucinogenic Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria, which is red and white in Siberia and Europe) to those inside, perform rituals, and again leave via the chimney.
Amanita muscaria in its European (red) form, by Adrian Morgan.
Georg Steller, a visitor to Kamchatka, noted in 1744 that reindeer who in winter would eat the semi-fungal Cladonia lichen to survive, also liked to eat these mushrooms: "When the Koryak encounter an intoxicated reindeer, they tie his legs until the mushroom has lost its strength and effect. Then they kill the reindeer. If they kill the animal while it is drunk or asleep and eat of its flesh, then everybody who has tasted it becomes intoxicated as if he had eaten the actual fly agaric.". It seems Donner, Blitzen, Prancer, Vixen and their friends may have had a bizarre way of helping Santa to fly.
For some people, Christmas is an important event even if they have no religion. This year, a nine-year old Scottish boy found himself excluded from his school's annual Christmas party, because his mother had earlier banned him from attending religious education classes. Douglas Stewart's mother was mortified when he was not allowed to attend the school party, and said: "I've helped out at the Christmas party before and it's got absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. Douglas was heartbroken he couldn't go. It was cruel."
The days of Oliver Cromwell have long passed, but some Christians think Christmas has moved far from its original purpose. In 2001, a Methodist minister from Manchester, northern England, said that the commercialism of Christmas has led to it becoming a time of "madness". As suicides peak at Christmas, and thus the celebrations cause misery for some it should be banned, Reverend Martin Swan argued. He added: "The Father Christmas aspect of Christmas has nothing to do with Christians."
In the United States, Evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong, who died in 2003, argued that Christmas as it is currently celebrated has little to do with the known details of Christ's birth. He has written: "But it is impossible to 'put Christ back in Christmas,' since He was never in Christmas in the first place!" Armstrong's argumentshave some weight.
Nativity scene, painted by Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510)
The nativity scene as we know it from Christmas cards, school plays and tableaux was first instituted by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. St. Francis assembled actors, an ox, an ass and a crib. The only mention of the manger was made in the Gospel of Saint Luke, where shepherds "came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." (Luke 2: 7-16) There are no mentions of animals looking on, though the image is attractive and in keeping with Saint Francis' recorded love of animals.
Saint Francis would be horrified at the variations of the Nativity Scene as practiced in the province of Catalonia in northern Spain. Here there is an additional figure in the portrayal, known as "El Caganer" – whose name in polite English means "the Great Defecator." This figure is a shepherd wearing a red cap, who is situated on the periphery of the Nativity Scene, evacuating his bowels. Apparently the custom of depicting this figure is of ancient origins, and may represent the soil being manured in winter to allow for new growth in spring. Models of the pooping shepherd can be bought in various forms, such as pooping grannies. In Germany, France and the Netherlands, counterparts of ElCaganer can be found. In France, these are called "Père la Colique" or "Father Bowel Trouble."
Now, in Catalonia, there is even a figure of President Obama as El Caganer! (Warning – offensive picture)
In 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, Dr. Rowan Williams, echoed some of the same points made by Garner Ted Armstrong. Dr. Williams has said that the Magi who are only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew were of an unknown number, and were certainly not "Three Kings". He mentions that there is no Biblical evidence of animals, and has said that Christ was probably not born in December.
Christmas, though seen as a vital part of Western heritage, has over its history become infused with pagan traditions connected with the midwinter solstice. It has become a major commercial event, with toy stores and bookshops doing the best part of their trade at this time. It has also become a festival of lights in the long dark nights. In America and increasingly so in Britain, it is customary for home owners to decorate their homes with illuminated Christmas scenes. Some of these are so spectacular, they become tourist attractions in their own right.
The few details of Christ's birth that can be gleaned with certainty from the Gospels maintain that the event occurred in Bethlehem, which is now in the Palestinian West Bank. When the Palestinian intifada broke out in September 2000, the consequences for Christian tourism were dire. Bethlehem announced that year that there would be no festivities. As Palestinian Muslims have become more militant, the number of Christians living in the Holy Land has dropped considerably due to physical threats and land theft. Sixty years ago, 20% of the population of the locale were Christian. Now that figure has dropped to 2%.
In 2007, the number of Christian tourists to Bethlehem has shown a healthy increase, with an estimated 65,000 visitors, four times the number who came in 2005. Christmas is even celebrated in Jordan, where the majority of the population is Muslim.
Christmas as Islamist Target
Christmas terror attacks being planned by Muslims are now becoming as established traditional customs as carol-singing and Christmas trees. The phenomenon is not new. In 2000, a large group of Muslims from GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, now known as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, or AQIM) planned to bomb the annual Christmas Market at Strasbourg, northeastern France. This market is situated beneath the towers of the cathedral. The terrorists, all from Algeria, were living as citizens in France, Germany and Britain.
On December 8, 2006 Derek Shareef, a black convert to the Nation of Islam, appeared in court, charged with plotting to carry out grenade attacks upon Christmas shoppers in the Cherryvale shopping mall in Rockford, Illinois. In September, 2008, he was given a 35-year jail term.
Last Christmas, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, former head of a Student Society at City University, who had attended the notorious East London Mosque, attempted to blow up a plane full of people as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day. This year, in Portland, Oregon, the lighting of the Christmas tree in the center of the city was a proposed target for Mohamed Mohamud, a Somali migrant. He has recently been placed in protective custody, as other prisoners seem to want to attack him. On December 11 this year, an Iraqi-born jihadist, who had spent years living in Britain, tried to set off pipe bombs and a car bomb in Stockholm, Sweden. Fortunately, only two people were slightly injured as incompetent jihadist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly(pictured above) managed to blow himself up by accident.
Hopefully there will not be more Islamist attacks this Christmas, though Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries constantly endure oppression on a scale far worse than the “discrimination” that sends groups like CAIR running to the ACLU....
In Britain, Islamists have flourished unabated ever since 1989, when the authorities failed to prosecute Muslim leaders who were calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie. In its climate of toleration for the intolerable, Islamists have been pampered in ways that no Christians would be granted in “Muslim” countries. And the latest act of Islamist party-pooping comes from a group that declares itself to be unaffiliated to other Islamic organizations. It is highly likely that this group is another wing of the Al Muhajiroun group. It calls itself “Xmas is Evil.” Its press release has a parody of the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” With no irony whatsoever, the press release suggests that pedophilia naturally follows from Christmas festivities. The group suggests that to counter social decline, the nation should adopt Islam.
The group seems to think people are unaware that the prophet of Islam had sex with his wife Aisha when she was only nine years old. But for these individuals, they do not see a disconnect in their condemnation of Christmas as a precursor to child molestation.
The Christian message of Christmas is one of "glad tidings" and "peace and goodwill to all". Whatever your faith may be, and however you may choose to celebrate this Christmas, may you all enjoy peace and goodwill in your lives. And for those who are serving their country overseas, away from your families, may you, in particular, enjoy a very special and Merry Christmas this year.
This is an updated version of an earlier Family Security Matters article that appeared in 2008.
The Editor, Family Security Matters.