Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Putting aside religion as most followers of Christ do each year for Christmas, I decided that this Christmas I would delve into the messaging of this important Christian holiday.
Spoiler Alert: If you have a tree inside your home and if you by chance found gifts under it this morning, they were not left there by a jolly old, rotund man, dressed in a red suit who according to ‘history’ and evidence offered by NORAD has just somehow circled the globe in a single night stopping at all of the homes with gifts for good little boys and girls.
Okay, let’s deal with a couple myths. The man known as Jesus or simply Christ or the Christ, was not born on 25 December or any day in December. It’s likely that he would have been born in the Spring, perhaps June but possibly as late as the Jewish festival of Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles). There are several reasons why December can be ruled out completely, including the reported lack of rooms at the inn, a census being taken at the time, and the position of the stars visible at that time of year from Bethlehem, Israel (Judea and Samaria).
In any event, the first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on 25 December was in the year 336 AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. In 345 AD Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated by Christians on the 25 December.
The widely celebrated gift-giving part of the commemoration of the birth of Christ began during the first half of the 1800s, particularly in New York City, and was part of a broader transformation of Christmas. Public festivities and merriment were moved into the home and toward a child-focused holiday. Many have tried to reverse engineer this move, attempting to link this gift-giving with the gifts alleged to have been brought by the ‘Three Wise Men’, following the birth of Christ, but there is no evidence to support that story.
Corporate America was quick to latch onto this and has spun these events into an annual consumer-lead spending spree, perfectly timed with most company’s year-end push for sales and the ever-elusive profit. In fact, some estimates place the importance of Christmas on a company’s bottom line at near 80 per cent of annual profits. For this reason, advertisements will link gift-giving with demonstrations of love and affection.
But what of Santa Claus?
The Bishop of Myra, in what was Greece at the time and now Demre, Turkey, was a wealthy man who often gave secret gifts to the poor. Due to his kindness and the many miracles attributed to him he was made a Christian saint after his death. In the 16th Century, after reformation, stories of St. Nicholas fell out of favour, so he was re-branded through a previously established partnership between businesses and the church for purposes of gift-giving.
In the UK he became ‘Father Christmas’. Early in the United States, he was ‘Kris Kringle’ (from the Christkind). Years later, Dutch settlers took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St. Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas’ or as modern Christians now say, ‘Santa Claus’. The creation of a ‘Santa’, while not the original aim, also made it possible for parents to find safe harbour during the rest of the year, from a demanding child, who might not accept their refusal to buy a wanted toy, if that child knew the truth–that his parents had bought all the gifts under the tree on Christmas. So, parents lie to their children and in doing so educate them to become better liars when they’re older.
Christians have a long history of a promise of a gift or something better in exchange for obedience. Jews are more apt to focus on the ‘here and now’ and we all know only too well, what Muslims are waiting for in their ‘heaven’. So, it should therefore be no surprise that from a very young age those who advance this modern Christmas theme are knowingly or not reinforcing the message of ‘free stuff’ for compliance and linking it to love, friendship and worse, to G-d. Christians say that one should not “take G-d’s name in vain”, but the correct translation is to not “give G-d’s name” in vain. In other words, not to ascribe something that is not from G-d to G-d.
Celebrating the birth of Christ, if that’s your thing (and it’s not mine) should focus on truthfulness, kindness and caring for one another. Gifts to the needy, charity for the poor and visiting the sick are all worthy acts for this day and every day in between it and the next Christmas.
But teaching our young impressionable children that it’s okay to lie provided the gifts match expectations, I believe, misses its mark.