Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Reason for the Season... because the winter is drab and depressing in northern latitudes. Deal with it.

I probably don't need to tell that to most readers of this blog, but I need to get this out of my system anyway. The evidence for this simple fact is overwhelming. Is it just a coincidence that every single culture living in northern latitudes has some sort of mid-winter festival involving fire and lights and feasting? The winter festival was our ancestors' way of dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Late December through February are depressing up here, and we all could use some cheering up.

Further evidence that a Christmas-like winter festival long predates Christianity is the infamous condemnation of Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10:3-4:

3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (KJV)

So that pretty much settles that. The "reason for the season" is to spread some good cheer at a time when those of us who live in harsh wintry climates could really use it.

Now let's be clear about what this observation is not. This is not a volley in the mythical "War on Christmas". This observation does not seek to undermine the religious observance of Christmas whatsoever. The true "reason for the season" may be far more pragmatic than a religious celebration, but the fact that for many people it takes the form of a religious celebration is (more or less) fine by me.

And that's why I am writing this post. There exists a certain subset of people, who, when they see non-Christians celebrating a winter holiday, get this absurd notion that we are co-opting and diluting/distorting their religious celebration. For anyone with even the slightest clue about the history of Christmas and other mid-winter festivals, that's just absurd.

Christmas is one in a long line of many, many, many winter festivals -- and that's okay! It's even okay that Christmas as celebrated by the majority of Christians borrows heavily from pagan traditions that predated the Common Era. (As surely every educated adult knows by now? I hope??) There's nothing wrong with syncretism, despite God's aforementioned condemnation of it in Jeremiah (the Jews were big on enforcing their cultural distinctiveness, you see). Christians are quite welcome to join the whole rest of the world (at least those living in cold climates) in having a nice cheery festival this time of year, with their own spin on it.

But please. Spare us the accusations of cultural co-option. That's just stupid, and any educated adult ought to know it by now. Maybe you can argue that the primary reason for Christmas is to celebrate Jesus' birth. But the general reason for festivals in the December time frame (as well as the reason for the scheduling of Christmas -- remember, virtually all theologians believe Jesus was definitely not born on December 25th) is to combat the winter doldrums. Christians who believe otherwise really need to get over themselves.


  1. Of course, the weirdness is cranked up a level when the celebration coincides (almost) with midsummer nights eve in the Southern hemisphere. Santa, snow, reindeer, when its 100 degrees in the shade.

  2. Yeah, that's what makes Tim Minchin's White Wine in the Sun so confusing for us northern hemisphere-ites :)