17 December 2010

How the Christians stole Xmas

This is the time of year when Christians tend to complain that their favourite holy day is being trampled upon by pagans. Christ, they insist, is being removed from Christmas. The holiday is too commercial and too secular. The too commercial I sympathize with, but as for the too secular, I must protest. After all, the Christians stole Xmas from the pagans, so they can hardly complain about the pagans enjoying the holiday in their own way.

The Xmas season is the season of the winter solstice, and this was celebrated well back into neolithic times, long before there were Christians. To the ancients, it was the time of year the sun came back to life. The world would continue. The sun god was reborn.

It has been celebrated in some form or another by many cultures. In cold climates, people prepared for the hard winter to come. Cattle would be slaughtered so they wouldn't have to be fed during the winter, making this almost the only time when ample fresh meat was available. Wine and beer had now fermented and were ready for drinking. It was the last, best feast of the year. In December the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the origin of many of our Xmas customs. Schools were let out, gifts were given, and there was much feasting and drinking.

This in fact is rather how my family has always celebrated Xmas: Santa Claus, gifts under a tree, turkey dinner with all the trimmings—and not a jot of religion in it. A Saturnalian holiday sans Saturn. Indeed one of the best things about Xmas is that it is a holiday that can be enjoyed by people of any faith or of no faith, thanks to its pagan roots. Xmas is now a major festival and public holiday in most countries of the world, including many that aren't Christian.

No one knows when Christ was born, either the date or the year, so imposing it on the solstice was as good a choice as any and in fact rather clever—replace Saturn with Christ and Saturnalia becomes Christmas. But to many of us, it's nothing more than a merry time. Ho, ho, ho.


  1. Most researchers agree that Christ was born in April, not December.

    An interesting review of the 'overlay' of Christianity compared to pagan history can be seen with the movie 'Zeitgeist'.

  2. I tell people basically this same thing every year. Keep spreading the word!

    The only thing I disagree with is your suggestion that Xmas is a non-Christian word for the holiday. The greek letter Chi (X) or alternately Chi Rho (XP), as the first initials of Christ, were used as shorthand for Christ by early Greek Christians, to avoid persecution.

    So when you see X used in place of Christ, it was originally a nod to when Xtians were in hiding, just like that stupid fish.

    Of course, modern Christians have no concept of history (if they did, they'd see the bible as an anti-historical collection of legends and myths) And that's why they think "Xmas" is some kind of secular plot to "cross out" Jesus