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Repost: The Season & Its Reasons

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. Specifically, as the song goes, “Christmas time is here.” It’s been here since Thanksgiving, now that Black Friday has extended into “Grey Thursday.” That means it’s time for us all to join in a couple of modern Christmas traditions.

First, of course, if “Christmas time is here,” that means there’s a war on. It’s the time of year when a rather loud minority of Christians (at least I believe them to be a minority)  declare there’s a “war on Christmas” underway, and accuse us unbelievers of waging it. And we — shouting to be heard over the Christmas Carols that have been playing nonstop since Thanksgiving morning, and pointing out the Christmas decorations that have been up since Halloween (And, by the way, can we talk about the war on Halloween?) — try in vain to convince them that, if there really is such a war underway, their side is winning.

It’s also the time of year when that same small number of Christians (again, I don’t believe they’re representative of their coreligionists) smugly remind us of the “reason for the season.” It’s in the spirit of that tradition I’m republishing this post from 2007, in which I attempt to break down the seasons and it’s many, many, many reasons.

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The Season & Its Reasons
Originally published December 27, 2007.

The holiday wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory “Jesus is the reason for the season” commentary, and this year Roland S. Martin provides it.

This whole push to remove Christ from the Christmas season has gotten so ridiculous that it’s pathetic.

Because of all the politically correct idiots, we are being encouraged to stop saying “Merry Christmas” for the more palatable “Happy Holidays.” What the heck are “Seasons Greetings”? Can someone tell me what season we are greeting folks about? A Christmas tree? Oh, no! It’s now a holiday tree. Any Christmas song that even remotely mentions Christ or has a religious undertone is being axed for being overtly religious. And I’m sorry, forget X-M-A-S. Malcolm X? Yes. X replacing Christ? No.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very respectful of other religions. I don’t want anyone to be afraid of discussing the Jewish faith when we address Hanukkah. And we shouldn’t dismiss Muslims when the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is held during December. In fact, Americans are so ignorant of other faiths that we can all learn from one another.

But this seeming backlash against Christianity is bordering on the absurd, and we should continue to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.

I don’t disagree with Martin on some points, but the overall tone of his column is basically the same old “Christian appropriation of everything” theme. Much as the “Christian nation” rhetoric serves to remind us that the country does not really belong to the rest of us, the “Christian holiday” rhetoric serves to chide us that if the rest of us non-believers celebrate the holiday we are by default celebrating Christianity, its tenets, and mythology.

But it’s not true. Jesus hasn’t been “removed from Christmas,” so much as he was grafted onto it in the first place. And he wasn’t the “reason for the season” until the season was appropriated by the Christian church. So, it’s appropriate that we’re reminded that “the season” predates Martin’s “reason.”

Archaeologists recently unearthed the church where the tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth on Dec. 25th began, built on top of a pagan shrine for the purpose of appropriating the pagans’ Dec. 25th celebration.

The church where the tradition of celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 may have begun was built near a pagan shrine as part of an effort to spread Christianity, a leading Italian scholar says.

Italian archaeologists last month unveiled an underground grotto that they believe ancient Romans revered as the place where a wolf nursed Rome’s legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.

A few feet from the grotto, or “Lupercale,” the Emperor Constantine built the Basilica of St. Anastasia, where some believe Christmas was first celebrated on Dec. 25.

Constantine ended the frequent waves of anti-Christian persecutions in the Roman empire by making Christianity a lawful religion in 313. He played a key role in unifying the beliefs and practices of the early followers of Jesus.

In 325, he convened the Council of Nicaea, which fixed the dates of important Christian festivals. It opted to mark Christmas, then celebrated at varying dates, on Dec. 25 to coincide with the Roman festival celebrating the birth of the sun-god, Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome’s La Sapienza University, told reporters Friday.

Keep in mind that, although no one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth, it was most likely not Dec. 25th. Biblical and religious scholars have placed the date sometime in the spring. And if it wasn’t the Roman’s sun god that was celebrated on or around Dec. 25th, then maybe it was Mithras.

Because the Bible offers no date for Jesus’ birth, the placement of the nativity is up for debate. However, the presence of shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” [Luke, 2:8] suggests the birth may have actually occurred in the spring during lambing–the only time of year shepherds watched their flocks both day and night. During the centuries immediately following Jesus’ life, Church leaders made no effort to correctly date the nativity. They focused on deaths and feast days, dismissing births as secondary.

But by the early fourth century, Church leaders decided they needed a Christian alternative to rival popular solstice celebrations. They chose December 25th as the date ofhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_as_myth Christ’s birth and held the first recorded Feast of the Nativity in Rome in A.D. 336. Whether they did so intentionally or not, Church leaders directly challenged a fellow up-start religion by placing the nativity on December 25th. The Cult of Mithras celebrated the birth of their infant god of light on the very same day.

It’s pretty clear that the season was celebrated long before the birth of Jesus or the birth of the idea of Jesus, since some people have made convincing arguments that there was no historical Jesus, and that he was mostly or entirely a myth.

Whether you believe in a historical Jesus or not, it’s hard to maintain the “reason for the season” mindset unless you deliberately avoid knowledge of some things. And the “America is a predominantly Christian nation, and in this country we celebrate the birth of Christ no matter what people celebrated before,” won’t help because the reality is that the holiday celebrated as Christmas today has been celebrated for a significant portion of human history, long before Jesus or the idea of Jesus. Like the people in this clip from The God Who Wasn’t There, you have to essentially remain ignorant of history.

There are things you have to just not know, or convince yourself of things that are blatantly false to anyone who’s taken even a cursory look at history, like Sherri Shepherd on The View.(This is the same woman who doesn’t know that the earth is flat.)

For whatever reason, the ladies on “The View” were discussing ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus this morning. Naturally, talk soon migrated to the topic of religion, and Sherri “I don’t know if the world is flat” Shepherd came out to play. More specifically, to spew ignorance and a complete lack of understanding of basic world history! Discussing whether Christians were around during Epicurus’ time (Epicurus lived from 341-270 B.C.), Sherri chimed in, “[The Greeks] had Christians ’cause they threw them to the lions.”

When Whoopi tried to cautiously navigate her through the timeline of basic world events, saying, “I think this might predate that,” Sherri responded, “I don’t think anything predated Christians.” Joy’s attempt to explain the Greek-Roman-Christian chronology was futile, as Sherri insisted, “Jesus came first before them.” Sherri’s argument was all the more powerful due to her convincing “use your finger to write on the table” trick, but she can’t fight the facts. Perhaps if Barbara were on today she would have explained THAT WHOLE B.C. THING (you know, as in, Before Christ).

And with good reason.

When you have to believe something in order to get into heaven, and you will spend all of in hell if you don’t believe it or if you believe anything else, at some point you stop asking questions. You have to, if you don’t want to go to hell.

It is as though you are standing in a room, and at the other end of that room is the gate to hell. You arm is outstretched, and in your hand is the key to that date. Every question asked and answered by scientific inquiry is a step that takes you closer to that gate. Ask one question, and you take a step closer. Answer another one and you take another step. Keep asking and you’re walking across the room. Before you know it, the key is in the lock, and one more question may turn the key.

…At least if the very foundations of your reality depends on that gate staying closed and what you say is on the other side of it staying what you say it is and where you say it is.

In that case, why take chances? Right?

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