Religion

The True Meaning of Christmas

Have you ever been accused of getting so wrapped up in the holiday season that you’ve forgotten the “true” meaning of Christmas? Or maybe you weren’t directly accused but unwittingly joined the captive audience of a Christian delivering a soapbox speech imploring you to “keep the Christ in Christmas”. Well, next time this happens, if you’re feeling called to be equally obnoxious, you can assure the concerned party that you’re well aware of the true meaning of the Christmas season, and that Christ is just one in a long line of gods that have been celebrated on or around the winter solstice.

Most historians agree that it’s unlikely that Jesus was born in December for reasons ranging from a lack of notable celestial events (a la the north star) to the unlikelihood of shepherds tending to their flocks on a frigid December eve. Winter has been a time for festivities in many cultures long before Christ or Christmas. Most of the celebrations were in honor of pagan gods and goddesses related to nature, agriculture, and the sun. It seems that before science had revealed much about weather patterns or meteorology, the pagans paid special attention to the “sun gods” as a bribe to be sure they came back after winter.

So the theory goes that circa 325 A.D., Jesus’ birthday was assigned to December 25th because it was already a time of celebration, and pagans would more readily convert. Although there is some disagreement about that, it is evident that pagan traditions have been integrated into the modern Christian festivities. Did you deck the halls with boughs of holly this year? Sung a yuletide carol? Eat a big meal? Participate in a gift exchange? If so, ever wonder what the heck it had to do with Jesus? The decorating of evergreen boughs is a pagan tradition that started because the evergreen trees were the only ones that had not lost their leaves in the wintertime. Sure, one could decorate a leafless December maple branch, but it wouldn’t be quite as festive. Yule was celebrated in northern Europe to honor Mithras, the pagan sun god, with the burning of the yule log for 12 hours on the night of the winter solstice. December 25th, in particular, was a day of gift-giving in celebration of the birth of the son of the goddess of nature (Isis). In Rome, they celebrated Saturnalia, which honored Saturn, the god of agriculture with the exchanging of gifts and merrymaking. So, with the exception of the nativity, the Christmas celebration already existed before Jesus’ birthday was assigned to December 25th. The food, the gifts, the merrymaking, the evergreen décor. The only part I’m unclear on is the figgy pudding.

So do we need a god or gods to make the season special?

Christmas needs no deeper meaning than that on the surface of the holiday season. Christmas is when you curl up in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa, and feel cozy as you view the freezing snow outside. Christmas is when you find joy in giving – choosing a gift for someone you care about and taking joy in watching him or her open it. Christmas is when family, friends, and loved-ones spend time together laughing, eating, and making memories that last a lifetime. That’s the true meaning of the season. The gods celebrated and honored may vary, but the love, giving, and happiness are consistent. So don’t feel guilty for shopping or eating too much. Reach out to loved ones, enjoy the festivities, make memories – join the time-honored tradition of celebrating each other during the season of the winter solstice.

Merry Christmas!

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34 Comments

  1. There's a good entry on the Institure of Liberal Values of New Zealand page about the "true meanings" of Christmas and its heritage, but I can't get to it right now due to them exceeding their bandwidth…

    So I'll just link to the latest Point of Inquiry episode instead.

  2. Joshua,

    I am going to have to second you in your Bogart-honouring. I'm getting a Masters in film studies, so I can think of few deities more appropriate for or worthy of my Christmas admiration than Bogey himself!

  3. Rebecca, you describe Christmas in a bias Pagan/Atheist

    perspective,which is very misleading and ill informed..

    There's much more to Christmas,than what you describe

    or been exposed too.

    Also in the Jewish tradition,this time holds Special Purpose that reminds

    the people,how faith sustained them through a terribly bleak moment in their history.

    Yes,theirs been Gods and other celebrations,but here in America

    your entitled to celebrate an equinox or solstice,However primarily

    Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Christ..

    Fundamentally that's what were celebrating(right day or not)

    and also tells me You don't understand,the true meaning of

    Christmas,it's not the people that gets this wrong..

    Your free to have your beliefs Rebecca,let the Christians have theres

    Take care M.Dmon

  4. Hello Thad,that was beautifully said,
    unfortunately some think I am an idiot..

    However,I sincerely appreciate your reflections and message
    you shared.I would add that I don’t mind: we celebrate these
    occasion on holidays,that serve to remind us to remember certain deeds,people,sacrifices…

    I think we respectfully commit to this,and I humbly appreciate
    Americas traditions..Thanks again my friend,
    Take care M.Dmon

  5. Yes, please don't blame Rebecca for my posts…

    My purpose wasn't to take anything away from those who celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. I was just expressing what Christmas means to me, which is love, giving, and family – a concept that has been consistent regardless of which god is being honored during the season.

    Merry Christmas. :)

  6. Hello my friends,I remain casual at all times,

    I don't recall deliberately giving rebecca a hard time,

    even if I may of misquoted her,I'll apologies.

    My bad!

    Still my points remain valid,even though the names

    and faces were changed to predict the identity of

    the innocent..

    But as for the "caricature" thing extrach,

    It take more caricature to admit when your wrong,

    than it does to say that your right..Truth will set you free..

    Take care my friends,

    Merry Christmas M.Dmon

  7. First of all, Mikal, it’s not rebecca who wrote this blog entry. And second, why do you consistently keep confirming the point people on the blog are trying to make about believers? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you are a carricature, a made-up persona intentionally saying the wrong thing in response to most blog entries.

    And I didn’t mean that as an insult, just an observation …

  8. I've given you credit for many things, I've also pointed out the many points on which you've been wrong. I do both. I have no reason not to do both.

    It does seem though that your grip on the english language has expanded from near unintelligable scribbleings, to deftly telling puns. I do beleive that you have either gotten a freind to interpret for you or that exarch was correct in that you had simply been acting in a way designed to enflame.

    To address your first post on this subject (and yes I know I'm not the person you were posting too, however when posting in an open forum you do leave yourself open to responses from a larger group than just whom you have posted for) I have to utterly disagree with you. I believe you missunderstand the reason behind the entry.

    YOU WROTE: Rebecca, you describe Christmas in a bias Pagan/Atheist

    perspective,which is very misleading and ill informed..

    There’s much more to Christmas,than what you describe

    or been exposed too.

    Nothing there was misleading. It was biased, but there is nothing wrong with that. Biased to the history behind christmass and it's actual connection to christianity. See christmass has become a CULTURAL even rather than a RELIGIOUS one. What makes it cultural instead of religious is the cross section of celebartors, rangeing from hardcore fundies to athiests.

    YOU WROTE: Also in the Jewish tradition,this time holds Special Purpose that reminds

    the people,how faith sustained them through a terribly bleak moment in their history.

    Yes,theirs been Gods and other celebrations,but here in America

    your entitled to celebrate an equinox or solstice,However primarily

    Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Christ..

    No one is disagreing with the intent of the season in America. However what was being stated was that Christ is not required to celebrate the season. That you don't need Jesus to love your freinds and family. It was not meant to say that others can't celebrate the birth of a false prophet (sorry couldnt help expressing my views on that.)

    Speeking on my personal view, I see no reason to celebrate more today than any other day, though it is easier now to spend time with your family as the western world takes the day off.

    YOU WROTE: Fundamentally that’s what were celebrating(right day or not)

    and also tells me You don’t understand,the true meaning of

    Christmas,it’s not the people that gets this wrong..

    As was pointed out in the blog entry, the "MEANING" of Christmass has changed over the years. It was simply a history lesson.

    So… a bit of an aside. Mikal, I tihnk you missunderstand the point of skeptics. So I'd like to set you straight on who we are and what we believe. Skeptics do not make claim to legislate over others. We do not care what it is you hold to believe, we do care that you do not propagate such ideas as science. When you do, especialy in public, we tell you that you are wrong, we explain why you are wrong. But as said before we do not tell you that you cannot hold your belief (as you seem to think we do).

    You seem to think we are pushing to outlaw religion, and psychics (and possibly other ideas, though you have yet to express on other subjects). We are not. We do, as said before, confront such concepts with reality, as is our right, just as it is your right to hold scientificly false ideas.

    I hope that is clear to you. I also hope that, just as you have made an attempt at being civil, you notice that I have done the same. I also commend you for cleaning up your posts compared to those before.

    I also ask you to go back and re-read previous posts, because a good portion of the negative responses you handed out came expressly from you not understanding what was written. I do hope you can tell this is not antagonistic, but a statement of fact. If this was a forum as opposed to a comment section I would be happy to go back and point out such instances, but constrained as I am I ask you to do this yourself.

  9. My people celebrated Jul since long before the coming of christianity. Partly it is simply a celebration of the fact that the days are getting longer and there will be spring once again instead of eternal darkness and cold (which would be bad. )

    A more pragmatic reason is that this is a good time to bring fourth the good food from storage, open the cask of mead, and fortify onself for the cold dark days that are still ahead.

    Of course, these days we have christianity, central heating, and global warming, but some of the traditions still remain.

  10. Um Miller,where do I start.

    Didn't I ask you to put your suggestions in a box?

    You and exlax has very pretty ways of saying some

    very ugly things..

    birth of a false prophet (is that your expert opinion)

    your right to hold scientificly false ideas

    (who are you to deem all my ideas are false)

    I tihnk you missunderstand the point of skeptics

    (Iam a skeptic,I am the skeptics' skeptic,you teach me well)

    I don't agree that I'm confused about what I posted.

    Everything I said was not based on the urge to flame,

    but the urge to entertain.I still feel that if you denounce

    a religion,deity or belief,it's only half the process.living by

    your words is much tougher!

    I also understand that people wont the cake and eat it too

    Miller.You have the liberty to celebrate any holiday,

    the way you wish,yet every year the meaning will not change

    and it's inaccurate to proclaim that people don't know the

    "True meaning of Christmas" when evidently I do.

    It's the ones that practice to forget,who actually bare this cross

    (I made another funny)

    As for grammar,none of you should talk!

    In fact I know an important secret,that had you played nice,

    I would've shared it with you.Of course you don't know what

    I'm talking about but I do.

    But since we don't participate in love thy neighbor,

    I will not help you here..But it's funny,you guys really

    shouldn't talk..

    Take care M.Dmon

  11. Mikal, N.R. Miller is not the one who deems your ideas to be false. Science, however, does. Which is why we can call them scientifically false. Because they are.

    And concerning the true meaning ™ of christmas, it has already been pointed out in the blog entry itself, and several people have alluded to it in their responses:

    The original meaning of christmas is clearly a pagan feast celebrating the lengthening of the days. The fact that the Romans made christianity their official religion and "absorbed" all celebrations and rituals from rival religions (as christianity has been doing since the very start) doesn't give them any right to make a claim of "ownership" to this (or any other) holiday.

    But it seems many christians fail to see that point. And just as the early pagans could do nothing to stop the christians from stealing their celebration and making their own version of it, likewise, the christians nowadays can do nothing as it is stolen from them and turned into a commercial holiday.

    It doesn't stop them from trying of course, but it's always funny to point out the double standard in their line of thinking.

  12. Okay since my ideas a scientifically false,

    please provide my entire life,with every idea that I've

    imagined,to actually support even making such a

    ridiculous statement

    Also take into the account,that since I work

    in the field of technology it's very possible

    your eating you'll words tonight..

    As for pagan feast or Christian Holiday is really not my point

    So your rant is was irrelevant exlax..Everyone has freedom of

    religion.Pagans has a true meaning,Christians has a true meaning

    and Jews have a true meaning,power to them all!

    That is my point exlax

    Take care M.Dmon

  13. PS I hope everyone celebrated the Christmas they wonted

    I wont your right not to celebrate it,if you respect my right too

    It wouldn't hurt working through this holiday either,

    if that's how you feel.Reject Christmas bounces,and also

    presents.

    This would be the doctrine of the Atheists,

    who refuses to go to church

  14. You'll have to ask N.R.Miller which of your unscientific ideas he was referring to. But don't forget you've already made tons of claims in the comments of these blogs, many of which we pointed out to you as being unscientific, or at least very bad science.

    We don't need to point out what your entire life was like to be able to show that one particular idea is unscientific. We only need to point out the truth about that particular idea.

    Also, you forgot atheists in your little list of christmas celebrations. It seems to be you're trying to make the claim that if you're not religious, you're not allowed to take the day of for christmas to go celebrate with your family. Our point is that as atheists we can do as we damn well please, since there's no law saying how we should celebrate christmas, just a law saying that we get a day off to do so.

  15. actually the scientifically false comments applies to everyone

    I shouldn't be the only one who bares that cross

    To suggest I only make scientifically false statements

    would be seriously hard to prove..(critical thinking)

    and running the mouth again

    As for Atheist,it's a religion as I said,but without a holiday

    since they do what they wont,they should also feel at liberty

    to consider denouncing any form of Christmas cheers Mr.Grinch.

    Holiday vacations and bonus.

    Because they can do what they wont

    Or is it our culture for you heathens,to look a boss in face

    and take a Christmas bonus even though Christ is apart of that cheer

    I don't see why any atheist would disagree,it makes perfect sense

    No Christ,no Christmas!I even invented your door mat

    Take care M.Dmon

  16. seems to be you’re trying to make the claim that if you’re not religious, you’re not allowed to take the day of for Christmas

    Exactly,or go to heaven,or take a Christmas bonus and anything

    benefits of the holiday unless your suggesting you can be atheist

    and Christian at the same time…

    You can call this slit personality,I call it lying to yourself

    Take care M.Dmon

  17. First off, we already explained to you that atheism is not a religion. Saying atheism is a religion is like saying not drinking alcohol makes you a kind of alcoholic.

    Perhaps in your head, that makes sense, in ours, it definitely doesn't.

    Now, here's the thing, people get holidays off to get a break from work and to be with family.

    I don't know why you seem to be convinced that only christians should get to spend time with their families. Especially on pagan holidays like Yule/winter solstice, or Ostera (which you call "easter"), or Samhain, or … you get the picture.

    Like I already said:

    If christians get to invent their own holidays and/or names for holidays and take the day off, then why can't atheists do the same? Just because we don't believe in your invisible friend doesn't mean we don't get to spend time with our families and friends too.

    And christ may be a part of that holiday, but so is Santa Claus (another made-up person who you probably tell your kids exists, just like the made-up god and his hypothetical son christ/Jesus).

    I rather think it's christians like you who want their cake and eat it too, but don't want anyone else to do the same.

    I find that extremely selfish.

    It's called hypocrisy. You may not realize you've done it, but it's clearly there in your posts …

    Besides, if you think atheists get to do so much more than you, what's stopping you from throwing away the shackles of religion just like we have, and be just as free?

  18. Exlax has diarrhea of the mouth again

    "First off, we already explained to you that atheism

    is not a religion"

    Actually exlax just because you think your smart,doesn't

    mean you made your case.Alcohol requires is a beverage,

    to get drunk you gotta drink alcohol

    Religion is based on belief,in order to have a religion

    you only have to believe in something,and believing in

    nothing is still a belief

    So you don't prove anything,but that your view life,only

    considers what's you think and excuses anyones else

    enlightened philosophies.

    That is selfish!

    If Christians get to invent their own holidays and/or names

    for holidays and take the day off, then why can’t atheists do

    the same?

    You actually make my point exlax,why don't you!

    Stop stealing from people,who do practice year round,and just

    invent your own day of denouncing.In fact go one step further,

    and denounce anything related to Christmas.Let the motto read,

    No Christ,No Christmas

    You seem to forget,Pagans,jews,etc..will not infringe upon

    on each others belief.Christians don't celebrate Halloween,Jews don't'

    celebrate winter solstice,Why should Atheist be any different?

    They should also(out of respect alone)have to sacrifice

    for their words,position,beliefs!

    "I rather think it’s Christians like you"

    Your an idiot!

    No time have I ever said I was a Christian However to do claim

    to be fair and balanced,so maybe this is why I presented my argument,nothing more,nothing less..

    Take care M.Dmon

  19. Hello Rebecca,I’m done asking you
    It’s a new years resolution of mine to not allow
    anyones personal restraints to continue any longer.

    If you values my objective view,I would ask you respectfully
    treat me like an adult.However if your afraid of my attacking someone please consider I usually tend to respond to attacks,not provoke them

    The reason I’m on moderation is because your friends dress
    pretty their insults however I’m a clear as glass.I will not allow
    someones’ disguised attempts to insult me,go unanswered for me
    that’s natural however if you truly cared,You wouldn’t allow either.

    By the end of the day,If I’m not off moderation,I will leave
    this group,you all can go back to the hive mentality you share.
    What fun must that be

    Take care See all in the next life M.Dmon

  20. Moderated or not, I’m going to quote:

    December 27, 2006 at 11:22 am Mikal Dmon wrote:
    Religion is based on belief,in order to have a religion
    you only have to believe in something,and believing in
    nothing is still a belief

    But it’s not that I believe in nothing, it’s that I don’t believe at all.

    If you don’t believe at all, how can you be a victim of something based on belief?

    This is the one thing most believers always fail to grasp: that there are people who don’t believe (in anything). I don’t disbelieve god (which indeed would be a belief), I just don’t give it any further thought, just like I don’t ponder the possible existence of a pink unicorn, or leprechauns, or a dragon in my basement, or a teapot in orbit around Saturn. In my day to day life, I live my life unbothered by the question whether any of those exist at all, while believers are constantly assuming those do exist, and basing many of the descisions they make on that (unfounded) assumption.

    Therein lies the difference. Belief requires you to assume something that’s not proven to be true. I don’t assume anything, that hasn’t been proven so, to be true, I’ve simply decided not to make any choice either way until there is proof warranting a descision.

    And that’s generally what it means to be a skeptic too. You don’t decide either way until there is sufficient proof to make a viable descision. While you may pretend to be the “skeptics skeptic”, you’ve apparently already made a lot of unfounded choices long ago on a variety of subjects, including things like homeopathy, psychics, accupuncture, etc…

    Being a skeptic and remaining openminded means remaining open to any new evidence, including evidence that says they don’t work at all. (Which incidentally seems to be the most overwhelming kind of evidence in most “beliefs”).

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