I am thoroughly annoyed by those historically ignorant Christians that try to remind us heathens every December that the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ “the reason for the season”. There is always a Letter to the Editor in my local paper that berates the community for “forgetting” this or one that complains about some folks in customer service using the phrase “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”, as if America is some Christian theocracy & it is our patriotic duty to publically praise Jesus or some shit. The thing that bothers me the most about Christian’s claim on the X-Mas holiday is, here in the States, we celebrate Christmas in a consumer-oriented fashion, with a big emphasis on buying, giving, & receiving gifts. Christ was the original anti-consumer, urging his followers to forgo earthly pleasures in their quest for eternal salvation. Seems to me that J.C. was booted from the American X-Mas scene quite a long time ago; whenever Santa Claus & his sack full of earthly pleasures hit the scene. Anyhow, before the religious blowhards start to test my nerves with their “reason”-ing, I suggest we recall the actual origins of our beloved X-Mas. That way I can prepare shitty, yet truthful, responses to those that complain about my supposed ignorance, just in time for the holiday!
Pre-Christian Era in Europe: Celebrating Solstice Styl-ee
In the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in Europe, the Winter season has always been kinda’ sucky. Depending on where you’re at, it could be snowy, rainy, or just fucking cold. The days are shorter, food supplies run low, and before the invention of electric blankets, the weather really made shit unpleasant. To keep people from losing their God damned minds during the cold months, most civilizations would have a balls-to-the-wall celebration in mid- to late December that would give folks something to look forward to. Celebratory feasting during mid-winter was popular because agriculturally based communities weren’t doing much planting or harvesting (compared to the rest of the year) & these parties marked the last Big Ass meal folks were going to see for awhile, plus lots of livestock was slaughtered to avoid having to feed the mother fuckers during the winter months, so unlike the rest of year plenty of perishable meat was ready for consumption. Party beverages, like beer & wine, spent most of the year fermenting and conveniently would reach their peak alcoholic content levels just in time for these winter get-togethers. The Winter Solstice, a popular focus of these winter festivities, marked the cold season’s turning point & from that day forward the days would get longer & more hospitable temperatures were on the way. The solstice, according to the old school Julian calendar, occurs on December 25th, which explains the date of modern X-Mas celebrations. Check this out: The solstice shin-digs celebrated the Rebirth of the Sun, since from then on the days got longer right? The Christians later transplanted the holiday to celebrate the Birth of the Son. Hmm…
Before the Christian community called dibs on the season, there were slews of regional versions of the winter holiday. Traditional rituals & symbols of these celebrations were adopted by Christian missionaries & linked to Christmas, so as to make conversion as easy as possible. After all, most folks aren’t about to forgo the year’s tightest party just because some new fangled theology ain’t feelin’ it.
MEAN GEIMHRIDH (Irish translation “midwinter”): A generic label used to describe the various celebrations of Ireland’s Celtic tribes and the Druids, dating as far back as 3,200 b.c.e. The early occupants of Ireland were definitely serious about their solstices, as illustrated by the pre-historic sites found in Newgrange (pictured below) and Maes Howe that exhibit their perfect solar alignment on the day of the winter solstice. Ancient Welsh celebrations were associated with the birth of the divine character, Pryderi. Druid festivals are still commemorated on December 26th; Wren Day to the Irish & Welsh and Mummer’s Day (or Darkie Day) to Cornish folk. Festivities used to include the slaughter of a wren, followed by groups of revealers going door to door, singing songs in exchange for food & a good time.
MIDVINTERBLOT (or mid-winter sacrifice): The Swedish polytheistic tribes honored the season with animal and human sacrifice until Christian missionaries finally ended the practice around 1200. Priests would perform the ritual sacrifices at cult sites, sometimes blessing the attendees with the blood of the sacrificed. In group prayers, people asked for fertility, good health, a good life and peace and harmony between the people and the powers in the year to come. One such sacrifice is pictured below.
LENAEA, BRUMALIA: Ancient Athenians, Greeks, and Romans honored the god Dionysis in this all-girl mid-winter ritual, called the “Festival of the Wild Women”. Early in it’s existence, a ritualized killing & eating of a man in a secluded wood area was followed by the “magical” wine miracle, during which priests would present a concoction that was once grapes & water but had become intoxicating wine drink. Eventually, the male sacrifice was replaced with a goat & celebrations expanded to include drunken theatrical competitions. I can emphasize with the wild women of the Dionysis celebrations, because sometimes when I get drunk with a bunch of my home-girls, I want to tear men to shreds too.
ZAGMUK (or SACAEA): In Ancient Mesopotamia, the Sumerians & Babalonians celebrated the sun-god, Marduk, & his battle against the darkness for 12 days with parades on land and through rivers. The festival was marked by a subversion of the regular social order; masters and slaves interchanged, a mock king was crowned, and masquerades clogged the city streets.
ZIEMASSVETKI (“winter festival”): Ancient Latvian & Baltic people celebrated the birth of their highest god, Dievs, on December 24th. Feasts always contained bread, beans, peas, pork, pig snout & feet. Carolers (Budeļi) went door to door singing songs and eating from many different houses. In the Middle Ages, Christians in the region adopted the celebration and it is now held on December 24th, 25th, and 26th.
SATURNALIA (Roman) or KRONIA (Greek): The Greeks had the festival of Chronos & the Romans celebrated the commemoration of Saturn’s temple from December 17th to the 23rd in their biggest annual shin-dig, during which revealers would let loose & party hardy. Gambling was allowed, sacrifices were made, and merriment ensued. Slaves were exempt from punishment during Saturnalia & were even allowed to diss their masters, since the holiday was also celebrated with a temporary role reversal between servants & served at formal dinner parties. In 274, the Roman emperor Aurelian adopted the sun god called Sol Invictus (“the unconquered sun”) & made him the primary deity of the empire. Sol Invictus wasn’t exactly a single god; he was more like a generic representation of many solar deities found throughout the empire. It is believed that Aurelian also set the date for the honorary festival on December 25th, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the birthday of the unconquered sun”), & it eventually took the place of Saturnalia. Aside from the similarity of the dates, these Roman celebrations lent the practice of gift giving to the modern X-Mas holiday.
YULE (or Jul, Joulu, joul, etc.): This one was celebrated by pagan Germanic peoples from late December to early January, based on the lunar Germanic calendar until the introduction of the Julian calendar, when the holiday was firmly planted on December 25th to coincide with Christmas. Celebrations throughout Northern Europe involved feasting & ceremonial slaughter, as documented in the Icelandic sagas and Medieval historical accounts. Yule was, and is, primarily celebrated in the cold-as-fuck region that covers Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland) & Northern Germany. Understandably, fire and it’s associated pagan deities were central to Yule events. Plenty of modern Christian symbols & themes originated with this Scandinavian celebration. It is believed that Scandinavian Yule symbolism is so strong in Christmas tradition because Northern Europe was the last region to convert to Christianity and so it’s pagan culture has had less time to be diluted or redefined by the Church. Some of these surviving Yule symbols include (obviously) the Yule Log (honoring the life-saving warmth of fire during those freezing Scandinavian winters & pictured below), The Twelve Days of Christmas (The Yule feasting party lasted… wait for it…12 days!), and the Christmas Ham (The ritual of slaughtering a boar during Yule was meant to honor the pagan god Freyr on his feast day, December 26th).
Christmas Cometh: Happy Birthday, J.C.!
We’ve established that all over Europe people were celebrating life & commemorating the solstice in various ways before Christianity held sway over the continent. But then what happened? By the 4th Century, Christianity became a major force in the Western world & The Church, centered in Rome, pretty much started to run shit. From it’s beginning, the immaculate conception & the nativity were central to the theology of the Church, but no where in the New Testament does it give a date for the birth of Christ. The first time commemoration of the nativity on December 25th is mentioned is in the Roman manuscript Chorography of 354 & the holiday had minimal popularity throughout the rest of the century, with various pope’s condemning it & embracing it as they saw fit. It wasn’t until Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800 c.e. that the celebration finally got some notoriety.
It is pretty obvious that the actual birthday of the man that would become known as The Savior is not found in late December. First off, the shepherds that were said to be tending their flocks when Christ was born would not be doing that sort of thing in the ass-chilling December weather. The sheep, or whatever livestock the shepherds oversaw, would have needed to be sheltered from the wind, rain, and cold during the winter season. Secondly, Mary & Joseph were in Bethlehem because a Roman law required them to travel there in order to register for a census. These census’ were not done in mid-winter because roads were difficult to travel & it wouldn’t make sense to send census takers on a mission they could not complete. The bible does indicate that when Jesus was conceived, the mother of John the Baptist was six months into her pregnancy. Biblical accounts indicate that while serving at a distant temple as a priest, John’s daddy got a divine heads-up he would be a father & when he returned home in mid-June (according to historical records), he & his wife got down to business. Nine months later, in March, John was born & if you add six months to that, J.C. was likely born at the end of September.
Haters Diss the Holiday & Try, Once Again, To Fuck Shit Up For Everybody
Puritans, as their name suggests, were up-tight fuddy-duddies and whenever possible, they tried to force their un-fun habits on others. Christmas was one of their main targets in the 17th century, both in England and the New World colonies. In1697, when King Charles I was overthrown in the English Civil War, the new Puritan rulers of Britain banned the holiday and inspired angry rioting throughout Canterbury and other English cities. They locked up the churches to prevent Christmas festivities & caroling was considered an illegal, lewd, and profane practice. It wasn’t until King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 that the Christmas season was brought back to England, but after years of hearing how evil and corrupt the old ways were, Christmas was brought back with a more somber & religious tone to it. In the colonies, these same Puritan party-poopers banned X-Mas in their New England settlements, but colonists in other regions celebrated the holiday as they saw fit. Protestants disliked Christmas because they saw it as a tradition of the Roman Catholic Church that should be done away with, just like the sale of indulgences and the Pope’s religious leadership. They were annoyed by Christian celebration that included so many elements of pagan holidays. Never the less, people like to party so the pro-Christmas masses eventually won the battle.
X-Mas survived another assassination attempt after the American Revolution, when former colonists saw the holiday as an English thing & along with tea, cricket, and The Queen, America dropped it because it wasn’t down with their British bullshit. During the war, in fact, General George Washington and his forces intentionally attacked the opposition on Christmas Day without regard for a holiday we now consider holy. Fuck ‘um with a yule log, I suppose was approach.
Christmas nearly died out in the States until it was revived by literary authors in the 1820’s. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house..”) was published in 1822 and popular author Washington Irving wrote many short stories about X-Mas family celebrations that American’s would mimic in their own homes. The final notification of Christmas’ comeback was the instant success of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. These written interpretations of the holiday lacked the crazy, balls-to-the-wall, public hedonism of prior years and emphasized the family aspects, the compassion, and the goodwill towards man stuff. American celebrations did not include the drunken door-to-door sing-a-longs of Old Europe, instead focusing on the nation’s children and their blasted happiness. Those authors also popularized the gift giving so central to today’s revelry. By the time Harriet Beecher Stowe published her book The First Christmas in New England in 1850, Christmas shopping was a mighty economic force. Stowe’s tale included a character that lamented the loss of Christmas’ true meaning at the hands of a shopping spree. X-mas became a federal holiday in 1870 and since then America has pretty much embraced Christmas- shopping spree, pagan elements, biblical inaccuracy and all. Modern hold-outs to joining in on the fun, include Jehovah’s Witnesses and hard-core Christian fundamentalists, that continue the Puritan tradition of rejecting pagan symbolism associated with the holiday.
WTF? Who’s the Fat Guy?
Christians like to cite Jesus as the “reason”. American non-theists like to point to the family & generosity as their “reason”. Kids say it’s the presents. Slackers see it as a paid-holiday from work. I say it’s the booze-induced mayhem that draws me into the celebrating. But where the fuck does Santa & his eight tiny reindeer play into it? That fat fuck has been dropping down chimneys with swollen sacks and using elves as slave labor since popular German-American political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew St. Nick for Harper’s Weekly in 1863 (pictured below). Nast was also responsible for the donkey & elephant that represent the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. He was loosely based on the gift-givers of pagan tradition and Odin, a top god-figure of Germanic mythology. St. Nick’s old school tales introduced the Christmas stocking, the creepy catologue of children’s behavior, and the threat of coal being gifted to bratty youngsters.
“Speaking of St. Nick, since when was Santa a fucking saint?”, you might ask. Christian historians look to Saint Nicholas of Myra to answer that question. This holy man is remembered for his charity to the poor. In one notable tale, Nicholas saved the three daughters of a pious Christian man from a life of prostitution by kicking them down dowries so they could marry instead of selling their asses on the street. How kind. Fun Fact: Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers.
Mrs. Claus, the wife of the legendary interloper, wasn’t introduced until 1889, when Katherine Lee Bates made her the main character in the poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh-Ride". She has no real counterpart in pagan or Christian mythology, so I suppose us non-theists can claim her as our contribution to Christmas customs. As for the Christmas elves that run Santa’s whole operation, they come from Scandinavia’s house gnome folklore. Nordic authors & illustrators drew upon regional beliefs in these mischievous little people to birth the modern-day helpers of Father Christmas. The reindeer ride that Santa rolls through the ‘hood in originates with Moore’s poem, A Visit From St Nicholas, where we learn all their fucking names: Dasher, Donner, Prancer, Blitzen, Comet, Ajax, Tito and Vixen. In 1939, Rudolph the Reject Reindeer was invented by Robert L. May for Montgomery Ward’s advertising department. It is my personal opinion that Rudolph’s nasal problems stem from his methanphetine addition, rather than some weird unexplained glow-bug phenomenon, and that Santa recognized his potential as an excellent front man on the sleigh's team, since he’s spun the fuck out & ready to roll without complaint (unlike that lazy-ass pansy, Cupid).
Wrapping It Up: Get it? Wrapping it up!
In conclusion, the Christmas holiday is not owned by the religious types and has, in fact, been a human tradition for as long as we’ve documented that type of thing. Winter has always sucked & people like to avoid sucky-ness, so we party at the end of the year to forget our troubles, give thanks for the shit that keeps us alive, and maintain a sense of sanity that we hope lasts until the thaw. It’s cool to acknowledge the birth of Christ, if that’s your kind of thing, and if you consider the guy your savior, I think it’s the least you can do to celebrate his birthday. But, if your going to bash the way the rest of us commemorate the season, you best check yo’ self in my company. And if anyone suggests I remember the “reason for the season” and celebrate the holiday as it was meant to be celebrated, I’m going to suggest a drunken orgy in town square followed by the ritualistic slaughter of livestock.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have stockings to hang & booze to purchase. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Felix Navidad. Joyeux Noel. Bah Humbug, Bitches.