Thanksgiving is nearly forgotten,
Sponge Bob Square Pants has floated off into oblivion and the Santa Maria
has been replaced by the Santa Claus. The stores are a symphony of Christmas
spirit orchestrated by the shopping elf. The presence of Christmas is,
indeed, presents. Everyone goes "buy buy." Tis the season to run up credit
On Black Friday, the Malls became mauls as the word SALE turned the
counters into grab bags. Scraggly Santas coaxed children onto laps
while cameras clicked a remembrance of this special occasion.
Every year, brains are racked with the annual Christmas
quandary........"who" will receive "what." How much can we afford to
spend and how much will we wind up spending. Nobody wants to appear
cheap. Don't give cash...it's tacky. Gift certificates are a
suitable subtle replacement. And, more importantly, they can be
The children, having been groomed by televisions ads, are no longer
merely requesting their "two front teeth, " but rather, they have
donated their lengthy Christmas "wish lists" to Santa's
surrogates.....Mom and Dad. Visions of I Phones, rather than
sugar plums, dance in their heads. Billions of dollars will be spent
on gifts, wrappings, candy, decorations, and greeting cards in the
frenzied spending spree that appears to begin earlier every year.
Christmas trees ride on hoods of cars en route to rooms where they
will be adorned, ornamented and lit. Christmas stockings enjoy their
yearly hangout by the fireplace waiting to be stuffed.
In the midst of this manic merriment and joy to the world, the more
contemplative ponder "What is the reason for this season?" Is it the
birth of Jesus the Christ, who was born in a manger in Bethlehem on
December 25th? How did Christmas devolve into little more than a
mandatory ritual of gift exchanging done under the guise of family
togetherness and pleasing the kiddies?
Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of the disciples singing
"Happy Birthday Dear Jesus." Nowhere in the Bible is there a command
to honor this day. The Bible is strangely silent. And yet, The
American Book of Days, George W. Douglas, p. 658, speaks loudly on
the topic. "The observance of birthdays was condemned as a heathen
custom repugnant to Christians,"
Some well placed googling reveals that the origins of this holiday
date back over 4000 years, centuries before the Christ child was
born. The twelve days of celebrating, the Yule log, the giving of
gifts and carolers going from house to house can be traced back to
the early Mesopotamians.
The Mesopotamians were polytheistic. Their chief god was Marduk.
Each year, as winter arrived, it was believed that Marduk would do
battle with the monsters of chaos. (I cannot help but wonder if
Marduk frequented the Palisades Mall in West Nyack) To assist Marduk
in his struggle, the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year
which lasted 12 days.
The ancient Persians and the Babylonians also had a similar
celebration which they called Sacaea.
As daylight grew short and the Winter Solstice approached, the early
Europeans feared that the sun would not return. Rituals were held to
lure back the "Prodigal Sun." In Scandinavia, the return of that
warm hearted orb was celebrated with a festival called Yuletide. A
feast would be served around a fire burning with a Yule log.
According to some legends, "Christmas" was invented to compete with
the pagan celebrations in December. The 25th of December was a
sacred day for both the Romans and the Persians, whose religion was
Mithraism, one of Christianity's main rivals. The Church adopted
many of the Pagan rituals in their attempt to make the religion more
attractive to converts.
Google as one may, there is no record of the date of Christ's birth.
However, the computer of logic reveals that it is improbable if not
impossible that it would have been on December 25th. Since the
Biblical account states that the child was born when shepherds were
"abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night" (
Luke 2:8 ), it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would have been
sleeping outside with their flocks during the month of December.
It was not until 350 AD that the Bishop of Rome, Julius 1, chose
December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This was obviously
influenced by the ancient Romans year end festivities to honor
Saturn, their harvest god and Mithras, the god of light. The Roman
feast of Saturnalia was a seven-day festival in honor of the deity
Saturn. It began on December 17. Saturnalia was considered a fun and
festive time for the Romans. As Christianity spread, the Church
became alarmed by the continuing practice among its flock of
indulging in customs such as this Saturnalian feast. If you can't
beat 'em ...join 'em. Slowly but surely, the pagan ritual of using
greenery to decorate homes, moved from being prohibited as idolatry
to becoming an accepted custom of the festivities. Another tradition
at the Saturnalia, involved exchanging candles, clay dolls, and
other small gifts.
Did someone say "small?" There's an endangered word and an
endangered tradition. "Small" these days describes the size of ones
bank account as the calendar flips into January of the new year and
people line up at the return counters of their favorite stores.
The National Retail Foundation provides some sobering
statistics. As of 2010, adult consumers spent an average
of $830 each on holiday food, decorations, and presents. In a
two-parent family, that equates to roughly $1,660. (National Retail
Federation: Consumer Reports). Add this cost to the 2010
average American household credit card balance of $15,788 with an
annual percentage rate of 14.67. (CreditCards.com, Weekly Rate
Report, May 2010)
"Here she goes again, Grinch Andreas"
Not at all. Whether the reason for the season is secular or
spiritual, "giving" is a separate issue. With all due respect,
however, let's not confuse runaway materialism, avarice and gluttony
with the spirit of generosity. Gifts come in all shapes, sizes and
elements and are not necessarily located in the material. Gifts need
not break the family bank nor the family's back.
Is it difficult to imagine how the gift of time must feel to the
One year I worked in a soup kitchen in New York City. Watching the
endless lines of hungry people coming for their small brown bags
broke my heart over and over again. And the only thing I was giving
was my time.
Websites such as Giving @ Home and BeAnElf.com suggest a variety of
services that provide help for people whose cries would otherwise go
unheard. A gift can be something as simple and economical as
Holidays are Holy Days. There are many ways that we can honor them
and one another. Perhaps a little thought might be given to how
these occasions can best be spent. A trip to Walmart need not be
part of the ritual.
Copyright Judy Andreas JUDE10901@AOL.COM