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Scrooge was a sissy. A few ghosts melted his anti-Christmas resolve, and he turned coat. The Grinch looked sinister, but alas, he was on the very cusp of pulling off a remarkable Christmas Caper when his tiny heart was swelled by a song. These rank amateurs of Holiday Haters have nothing on me. Being the northern hemisphere it is cold, dark, and gloomy—I have a hard time even understanding why anyone would want to make this dreary time of year into a holiday season, but I try.
Christmas began about 4000 years ago, despite the fact it’s only been about 2000 years since the birth of Jesus. For those who complain that America is trying to take the “Christ” out of Christmas, remember that the Christians borrowed the holiday from the pagans, and they seemed plenty willing to share.
The first known Christmas can be blamed on the early Mesopotamians who celebrated a 12 day new year around the winter solstice (the 12 Days of Christmas). Their chief god, Marduk, was set for his annual battle against the forces of chaos (the forces that were making the sunlight dwindle), and the Mesopotamian King was supposed to be killed to go fight at Marduk’s side. Seeing how hard it is to get a good king, however, they tried to pull a fast one on their god; they found a prisoner already condemned to death, and let him spend a day as the king. He got all the king’s treats, clothes, and respect. Then at the end of the day he was stripped and slain so he could go fight at the shoulder of god. This worked out well for the king, who got to live, and the prisoner, who at least had a nice day out of the dungeons before he was killed.
It was the Greeks who introduced mistletoe. Don’t ask the details though; they involve Zeus, a nap under the mistletoe bush, and an erotic dream. Ever after the plant was revered as having powers of fertility, but it always makes me want to shower.
Later on the Scandinavians watched the days grow short, and the nights grow cold and very, very long and they feared that the sun might not be coming back. I understand that fear. They would send men to climb to and wait on the top of the mountains and watch for sunlight. When they spied some they would come home to tell the good news, and the village would celebrate the Yületide—the change of sunlight’s tide. They’d go out into the wood and choose a big tree, cut it down, drag it home, and light it on fire. The feast was set to continue for as long as the wood burned; it could take several days.
The Romans decked their halls with green laurels and trees decorated with candles. This feast, called Saturnalia, was a time for masquerades and feasts and the trading of presents, including “lucky fruits” … not so lucky for us, because they were the forefathers of fruitcake. This was the festival the early Christians saw. The festivities went on with such vigor that these Christians knew they had no hope of stopping it—such pagan parties were forbidden. Instead of stopping it, they adopted it. (If you can’t beat ’em …)
It wasn’t until around 350 AD that Ceaser appointed 25 December to be The Mass of Christ. It wasn’t the same Christmas we know, but it had several elements in common. With so many traditions and cultures integrated into one holiday, I don’t think anyone should get upset if the White House greeting cards say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or (for all the atheists out there) “Have a nice day.”
I guess the cold and dreary time of year entices people to celebrate just to ward off the gloom. Personally, I think that bears have the best idea.