Christmas was born out of convenience

Saturday, December 19, 2009; A15

Regarding the letter from Julie Combes about the Dec. 4 Weekend calendar's "Holiday Happenings" [Free for All, Dec. 12]:

The Christians "who began the tradition" of performing Handel's "Messiah" were most likely indeed waiting for breakfast, if not with Santa, than with a hair of the dog. The early Christian church was not so much interested in celebrating the birth of Jesus, its savior, since the Resurrection of Easter was, in fact, what made him the savior. In an effort to stem the revelry that had accompanied the Roman holiday celebrations of Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and Sol Invictus (Dec. 25), which had been celebrated for more than a millennium, and to turn Romans' and early Christians' minds away from Roman gods and to the Christian savior, the early church assigned the holiday of the birth of Jesus to Dec. 25.

This effort was partly successful, refocusing attention on Jesus, but people continued to party heavily on Christmas Eve, without the modern solemnity many are wont to experience. The efforts of Christians such as Handel engendered more reverence in the Christmas season, but you can be sure that many people awaited some restorative victuals -- sing it with me -- "on Christmas Day in the mornin'. "

Justin Redpath-Dascola,



Julie Combes needs to save her sensibility for real problems and embrace the season of tolerance. Combes found the Weekend calendar to be offensive for "appropriating the Christian Advent season as if it were just part and parcel of the secular holiday" and suggested that "Christians who began the tradition" would disapprove.

Humans have celebrated this time of year, when winter's darkness starts to noticeably recede, for thousands of years before it was adopted by the Cult of Mithras in the Roman Empire as its own. Some Christian marketing vice president then "appropriated" it for the early Christian cult, regardless of the evidence that suggests that Christ was born in late summer, to align Christian ritual with the empire's existing popular holidays. The discussion of who stole what from whom does not favor Christians, and their call for a "pure" Christian holiday is particularly absurd.

No one has a monopoly on this time of year. We are fundamentally celebrating the passage of winter and the promise of spring, regardless of what metaphor our culture has wrapped around that celebration. If the pagans who truly "began the tradition" aren't offended by Combes, then perhaps she should give Santa Claus and other perceived corruptions of her view of the holidays a break.

Ken Byrer, Alexandria

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