Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Parable

Yep, here we are, folks, December 25th. Hmm, what holiday are we celebrating today?

Could it be the Feast of the Unconquered Sun, the Mithraic holy day that marks the lengthening of the days after the winter solstice with lots of food and paryting? Or the old Roman Saturnalia, that commemorates the fabled Golden Age by parying and getting blind drunk? Or could it be the birth of Jesus?

If you picked "c," you haven't been paying attention.

Back in the day (along about 200 AD or so), the Catholic Church had a problem. People were embracing Christianity, sure, but they were still hanging onto the old pagan festivals and gods. What to do? Well, the answer was if you can't beat 'em, assimilate 'em.

Sort of a Borg Approach to Theology.

So a lot of minor gods were identified with saints (Castor and Pollux with Sts. Cosmas and Dismas, for example), and a lot of pagan festivals were also taken into Christianity. One of those was Christmas. See, a lot of Biblical scholars feel that Jesus was born in the spring, not in the middle of winter - all it takes is a deft hand with the calendar.

Unfortunately, everyone still regarded the 25th as the time to party, drink heavily and hand out gifts, and that fine old tradition continued until the end of the English Civil War. England was now in the grip of the Puritans, a radical sect of Protestant Christianity that was very fundamentalist. These people were horrified that folks would have a party to celebrate a birth, even if it was the birth of Jesus. And a fundamentalist can't abide anyone having fun if he can help it.

So the Puritans banned Christmas.

You heard me.

And that ban stayed in place until the Restoration of the English monarchy, and stayed in place in the Plimoth and Massachusetts Bay colonies for several years afterward. Seems that despite all the efforts of Christians to put a damper on Christmas, people still liked a good party.

So, drink up, eat until you're full, and party hearty!

It's Christmas!


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