- 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has floated off into oblivion and the Santa Maria has been replaced by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 card debt.
- 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 charged.
- 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 X-Boxes, 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 kiddiepoos?
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- "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 lonely?
- 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 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 "listening."
- 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 2004