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December 16, 2012 3:40 PM   Subscribe

The Puritan War on Christmas
posted by cthuljew (66 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"On their first Christmas in the New World, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the holiday not at all. Instead they worked in the fields."

Worked the fields... On Christmas... In Plymouth, MA?

Wow. Hard-core! We don't always have snow on the ground for xmas, but you sure as hell won't get anything to grow at that time of year!
posted by pla at 3:47 PM on December 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would be fined five shillings.

New England discovers old law and new revenue opportunity.
posted by arcticseal at 3:49 PM on December 16, 2012


It's something Americans must always remember: their nation was founded by a group of Heretics who, had Clement VII done the right thing, would have been burned at the stake.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:49 PM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


People if we don't mourn the death of Baldur then the Hogsfather won't return the sun.

It's very simple.
posted by The Whelk at 3:54 PM on December 16, 2012 [30 favorites]


The real lesson to take away here is that Puritans ruin everything.
posted by cthuljew at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2012 [35 favorites]


If the kindly Dutch had simply killed the Puritans instead of telling them "Your unpleasantness is trying our tolerance, you had better move on to the New World", North America would have ended up a much, much nicer place.

Also, if the French and Indians had driven the English out.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, if the American Revolution had never happened, maybe we'd have Canadian-style healthcare now, too.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:34 PM on December 16, 2012 [7 favorites]



In a way, I don't mind this.

Now that I'm an adult and past the age where Christmas is magical, I vastly prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas. Thanksgiving is like Hipster Christmas. You get to celebrate all the important family togetherness and be grateful for the things you have without all the emotional baggage, consumerism, and obnoxious religious overtones of Christmas. The only prescribed action is getting together with people you care about to share a meal, and you're completely free to expand upon that in whatever way you want.

This isn't to say that Thanksgiving isn't without stress or strife. Certainly hosting Thanksgiving dinner is an incredibly stressful affair, and messy family issues can and often do spill forth at the dinner table. Yet nobody ever wistfully anticipates a "Thanksgiving Miracle" to magically fix financial problems or bring estranged relatives together. Nobody obsesses over planning the perfect Thanksgiving, and nobody becomes despondent when it doesn't happen. There are no obnoxious Thanksgiving novelty songs to sing, and there aren't any must-have Thanksgiving presents to fight over in the stores.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:37 PM on December 16, 2012 [23 favorites]


Nobody obsesses over planning the perfect Thanksgiving

WUT?
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, if the French and Indians had driven the English out.

I wouldn't be too sure of that. Ex-French colonies tend to be a lot poorer than ex-British colonies because, while both were exploited, the British were more likely to do at least some reinvestment in infrastructure and education. (Wife visited Madagascar a couple of years ago. The real one, not the place in some alternate Disney universe. Her take: Rural Mexico is, of course, the third world. Kenya makes rural Mexico look like the first world. Madagascar makes Kenya look like the first world.)
posted by localroger at 4:47 PM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The real lesson to take away here is that Puritans ruin everything.

Here's one of the interesting ironies that four hundred years of progress brings about. That church the Pilgrims founded in Plymouth? It's still there, and it's Unitarian Universalist. In fact, many of the original congregations that those intolerant, fundamentalist puritan settlers founded in New England are still in existence, but have long since become major Unitarian institutions.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:59 PM on December 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


Ironic? I think it explains a lot. I've found Unitarians to be some of the most conservative, uptight people I've known who still describe themselves as "liberal".
posted by dunkadunc at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just trying to figure out the best way to post this on my Facebook timeline so as to tweak as many of my uptight relatives as possible. Yay Christmas!
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think it was Eddie Izzard who pointed out that the US was founded by people who were mainly upset that the Church of England didn't have enough of a stick up its ass.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2012 [31 favorites]


Being atheists, myself and my wife disavow the religious aspects of the Christmas holiday. Luckily there really aren't any of those left - save the increasingly rare anachronistic manger.

Unfortunately we also abhor the gift giving, as it's basically consumerist grist and does not really lend spirit to mindfulness and a recognition of the cyclical nature of life.

So we and our new family of two are thoroughly ensconcing ourselves in the winter solstice holiday. It's based in science, has practical implications and actually marks something novel about the day that few other holidays do.

My kids will "Know" Santa like they know the man from Caps for sale, same with Easter and all personality based holidays (I think that's all of them). I am hoping we can influence our peers to move away from a feux religious celebration and look to acknowledging events which are objectively unique - relatively.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 5:36 PM on December 16, 2012


Why not celebrate Yule instead? If you've got a northern-European background that must unarguably be the most conservative and traditional choice. Actually, I would say that the way most people spend the season is mostly based on ancient pagan traditions already, and certainly not something you would find in the bible. So why not go back to the traditional midwinter solstice traditions?

That is actually only slightly tongue-in-cheek. I'm sure most people here in Scandinavia goes all of the "Christmas" season (Jul) without saying a single word that can be properly related to Christianity. (<14% goes to Church during the season according to the latest numbers.)
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone interested in the history of Christmas and it's commercialization in the United States needs to read Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle For Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday (brief summary here)
posted by J.W. at 5:42 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Baron Humbert von Gikkingen: "Why not celebrate Yule instead? If you've got a northern-European background that must unarguably be the most conservative and traditional choice. Actually, I would say that the way most people spend the season is mostly based on ancient pagan traditions already, and certainly not something you would find in the bible. So why not go back to the traditional midwinter solstice traditions? "

My family basically does that. It's the darkest, most depressing time of the year, so we have a big feast to raise everyone's spirits. Good times!

I just hope no giant Triffid of a tree invades our house this year. There's no room.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:49 PM on December 16, 2012


Why not celebrate Yule instead?

Just be careful no one sets your longhouse on fire while you're passed out drunk, and then tries to stab you when you run outside.

It happens a lot more than you'd think.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:00 PM on December 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


My family basically does that. It's the darkest, most depressing time of the year, so we have a big feast to raise everyone's spirits. Good times!

That brings to mind the other problem I have with Christmas. After a month of anticipation, lights, food, and parties, come December 26th the ride's over. The tree gets thrown out, the lights get turned off, the decorations get packed away, the relatives go home, and everything goes back to normal despite it still being dark, cold and miserable out.

Yeah, the solstice has passed and the days are slowly getting longer, but we could still use some of that good cheer past New Year's Eve.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:06 PM on December 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are no obnoxious Thanksgiving novelty songs to sing, and there aren't any must-have Thanksgiving presents to fight over in the stores.

Sshh! Say that too loud, and someone will think "Business Opportunity!", and next thing you know we'll all be bitching about stores playing Thanksgiving songs before we've even celebrated Halloween.
posted by fings at 6:12 PM on December 16, 2012


There are no obnoxious Thanksgiving novelty songs to sing

Jingle bells was actually written as a Thanksgiving carol. /snark
posted by J.W. at 6:20 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


That brings to mind the other problem I have with Christmas. After a month of anticipation, lights, food, and parties, come December 26th the ride's over. The tree gets thrown out, the lights get turned off, the decorations get packed away, the relatives go home, and everything goes back to normal despite it still being dark, cold and miserable out.

Yeah, the solstice has passed and the days are slowly getting longer, but we could still use some of that good cheer past New Year's Eve.


You understand how I feel about November 1st!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:21 PM on December 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


That brings to mind the other problem I have with Christmas. After a month of anticipation, lights, food, and parties, come December 26th the ride's over. The tree gets thrown out, the lights get turned off, the decorations get packed away, the relatives go home, and everything goes back to normal despite it still being dark, cold and miserable out.

I think if more people embraced a more seasonal approach to celebrating Christmas -- toning-down the Christmas decorations/celebrations in Advent (approximately between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve), and then doing the bulk of celebrating during Christmastime (a.k.a. the Twelve Days of Christmas) from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Dec. 25 to Jan. 6) -- then that would stretch things out. I know how to promote this to people who celebrate a religious Christmas but am not sure how it would work for those who celebrate a secular Christmas.
posted by Ranucci at 6:26 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think if more people embraced a more seasonal approach to celebrating Christmas -- toning-down the Christmas decorations/celebrations in Advent (approximately between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve), and then doing the bulk of celebrating during Christmastime (a.k.a. the Twelve Days of Christmas) from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Dec. 25 to Jan. 6) -- then that would stretch things out. I know how to promote this to people who celebrate a religious Christmas but am not sure how it would work for those who celebrate a secular Christmas.

That's pretty much how my parents celebrate Christmas. It isn't at all uncommon for them to still be pulling boxes of ornaments out of the basement on Boxing Day. Then, the decorations slowly come down after Epiphany, hopefully to all be gone by Valentine's Day. It kind of bugged me growing up because it was different, but now I've made peace with it.
posted by meinvt at 6:40 PM on December 16, 2012


After a month of anticipation, lights, food, and parties, come December 26th the ride's over. The tree gets thrown out, the lights get turned off, the decorations get packed away

You do realize there are, like the song says, twelve days of Christmas, right? If you take down the decorations before Jan 6 you're doing it wrong.
posted by localroger at 6:58 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never thought of the Puritans as cultists before I read that. Which may simply mean I was ignorant about Puritans. Fair enough. But doesn't it go against human nature, a bit, to belong to a cult and repeatedly do things you would never willingly do if left to your own devices? How does that become the status quo?
posted by Glinn at 7:11 PM on December 16, 2012


toning-down the Christmas decorations/celebrations in Advent (approximately between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve), and then doing the bulk of celebrating during Christmastime

The proof that the war on Christmas was lost decades ago is that the radio is blaring festive songs throughout gift-buying season and not during the actual Twelve Days of Christmas. (Dec. 25-Jan.5)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:46 PM on December 16, 2012


Unfortunately we also abhor the gift giving, as it's basically consumerist grist and does not really lend spirit to mindfulness and a recognition of the cyclical nature of life.

Give consumables! My mom made me like a metric ton of cookies this year and I gave out home-made fudge and peanut brittle. Everyone likes candy! win win! Wheeeee!
posted by The Whelk at 8:02 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


My Massachusetts Puritan ancestors are not the same as my wife's Virginia Church of England ancestors.
posted by BWA at 8:45 PM on December 16, 2012


After a month of anticipation, lights, food, and parties, come December 26th the ride's over. The tree gets thrown out, the lights get turned off, the decorations get packed away, the relatives go home, and everything goes back to normal despite it still being dark, cold and miserable out.

That's because you're doing it wrong.

A week after Christmas comes New Years Eve.

The tree and decorations have to stay till January 6, which is Twelfth Night, under-celebrated in the US, I'll admit, but definitely worth a party.

Once you've moved past Twelfth Night, you're officially in Mardi Gras territory, so the party can continue into the spring.

Man, being from Louisiana is so much better.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on December 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


Puritans - so uptight the English drove them out of England.

I do think it's too easy to pile onto the puritans - they were a complex bunch. But the point of the article is secure.

If you want the party, the story and the gifts, it's the Episcopal church.
posted by john wilkins at 9:02 PM on December 16, 2012


Wow. Hard-core! We don't always have snow on the ground for xmas, but you sure as hell won't get anything to grow at that time of year!

And don't forget that was smack in the middle of the so-called Little Ice Age; one of the coldest intervals in fact. There would certainly have been snow and the ground beneath would have been frozen solid.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:04 PM on December 16, 2012


It makes me sad to think of the poor, starving, pestilence-ridden newbie Puritans huddled in their shacks on Christmas, unable to accomplish meaningful labor in the frigid snow, but also unable to give in to the demands of the season and rest, feast, and celebrate their survival.
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As long as I can pig out and get pissed, I'll be happy enough to wish everyone a merry Christmas.
posted by Decani at 10:16 PM on December 16, 2012


Ironic? I think it explains a lot. I've found Unitarians to be some of the most conservative, uptight people I've known who still describe themselves as "liberal".

I've heard this sentiment a few times and it baffles me. I'm starting to think the New Orleans congregation I was raised in was a total outlier.
posted by brundlefly at 11:03 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't this common knowledge? To this day there are baptist denominations as well as offshoots like Jehovah's Witnesses who don't observe Christmas or try to minify it.

Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration.

No, it was a thick, wonderful veneer in the cases where the chosen date randomly landed on a pagan festival. And as others have said, Christmas plus epiphany is a solid two months of fun. It's great we live in a time when so many are bringing back those festivities.
posted by michaelh at 12:12 AM on December 17, 2012


...are you seriously under the impression that the date for Christmas was chosen randomly? That it wasn't an effort to usurp existing Solstice celebrations?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:40 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration.

But they all are - Christmas, Easter (and I wonder whether there isn't an association between Imbolc and Shrove Tuesday), Harvest Festival, even some of the smaller ones and non-Christian year-markers like Halloween (which is the same festival as Guy Fawkes' Night) - all derive from the pagan calendar. Which is hardly surprising, as the calendar marked out the year of the farmers of Northern Europe. The Church was very good at co-opting local temples for its churches and local celebrations for its calendar. So it's hardly surprising that the Puritans rejected these festivals as they were much more interested in rejecting the Catholic Church than Paganism (which likely registered as a blip by comparison).
posted by Grangousier at 3:06 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is hardly surprising, as the calendar marked out the year of the farmers of Northern Europe.

You might have to re-evaluate your thoughts on this, as Christianity was founded as a middle eastern/Mediterranean religion, not a Northern European one. Specifically, the Easter date is based on the Jewish Passover, which is why the holiday is called a variation of "Passover" in non-Germanic languages.
posted by deanc at 4:54 AM on December 17, 2012


This seems like the ideal place to drop a reference to my starring turn in the music video There's no War on Christmas. OK, technically, I'm only on screen for like 1 second, but I'm totally the cutest kid on the video.
posted by Lame_username at 5:01 AM on December 17, 2012


> "Christianity was founded as a middle eastern/Mediterranean religion ..."

... and December 25th was selected as the date for Christmas three and a half centuries later in the Western Roman Empire (i.e., the area that included Northern Europe but not the Middle East.) Easter did indeed derive from Passover, as it already had a set date with the last supper, but plenty of other holidays got co-opted from European festivals.
posted by kyrademon at 5:31 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]




If the kindly Dutch had simply killed the Puritans instead of telling them "Your unpleasantness is trying our tolerance, you had better move on to the New World", North America would have ended up a much, much nicer place.

Also, if the French and Indians had driven the English out.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:32 PM on December 16


The French do not have a fantastic track record in the Americas.

The first Puritan colonists were level-headed, rational, and sincere when you compare them to the climate and ideology in modern America. I think you're confusing "puritans" and "Puritans."
posted by Stagger Lee at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]



Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration.


The Puritans were fully committed to austerity and moderation. The revelling probably won more points against Christmas than the pagan origins ever could. At this point, it's really still about their relationship with Europe and the churches there.

I studied this stuff, so I have some gripes here. I'd love to go over that stupid article in red pen and demand some context, clarity and citations. (Not saying that it's at all wrong, just that it lacks a lot of context and information that I'd like to see. Sometimes "citation needed" just means I want to read a citation.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 5:55 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Puritans waged a war against all kinds of sin and idleness and never made much progress, though some credit their ascetic rationalism with the notion of mass production and modern industry because of its utility, uniformity and standardization. It's interesting to note, however, that the Christmas tree, wrapping personalized gifts, and Santa Claus, were not part of the Puritan landscape, but basically showed up at the same time in the mid-1800's in America, from Europe. The Christmas tree was introduced through the American obsession with the Royal Family (Prince Albert, as a German family tradition). Revolving credit finally allowed Christmas to become what we know today, with long lines of frenzied shoppers waiting for black Friday to stampede the sick and the slow to death.
posted by Brian B. at 6:18 AM on December 17, 2012


Groups of young men called wassailers would march in and demand to be feasted or given gifts of money in exchange for their good wishes and songs.

To be fair, this sounds fucking horrible.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:21 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I must agree with Stagger Lee: the Puritans were complex group and not all the ills of the United States must be layed at their feet, neither should we wish for their retroactive extermination nor felt the French would have done a signifcantly better job.

The Puritans in many ways were a much more physical people: their sexual mores and embracing of the physicality between husband and wife we're ahead of Catholic Church at the time, and they did have many sources of fun, games, and recreation. The view of them as despising all fun, anywhere comes from two sources: 1) the reframing of their activities in the 19th and 20th centuries, and 2) the fact that they actually formed governments that were (mostly) unchecked by royalty,and therefore we're able to put their utopian views into practice.

No, they didn't celebrate Christmas, but as many of you point out, that might be the soundest scriptual decision. Some of you HATE Christmas celebrations, yet still sneer at them, even if you and them agree with many of the criticisms of Christmas. They weren't the best of people, but they certainly weren't the worst, and some of the good of this nation (the US) flows directly from them.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:38 AM on December 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


They weren't the best of people, but they certainly weren't the worst, and some of the good of this nation (the US) flows directly from them.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:38 AM on December 17


I was actually shocked to realize how much of our modern ideas on rationality and science, permissiveness, and democracy grew out of their church, and others like it. There's a lot there to be celebrated. I've got a lot of respect for their sense of moderation and asceticism as well. Yeah, they weren't perfect, but nobody needs me to tell them that. It's actually kind of strange how critical modern Americans seem to be of the Puritans, and how easily the Founding Fathers get off.

I'm not an American, so maybe there's a lot of baggage there that I miss out on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to go over that stupid article in red pen and demand some context, clarity and citations.

I gotta admit I skimmed to the end, read, "So the next time someone ..." and thought "needs a better editor."

Now that I'm an adult and past the age where Christmas is magical, I vastly prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas ...This isn't to say that Thanksgiving isn't without stress or strife.

Especially for the turkey.

It's simple: Labor Day > Memorial Day > MLK Day > President's Day > New Year's Day > May Day > Arbor Day > Halloween > New Year's Eve > Easter > Xmas > Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the worst unless you like to eat a lot and watch TV. No thanks. At least at Christmas there's shit to play with, if there are kids around.

I've found Unitarians to be some of the most conservative, uptight people I've known who still describe themselves as "liberal".

ZOUNDS!
posted by mrgrimm at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2012


Here's one of the interesting ironies that four hundred years of progress brings about. That church the Pilgrims founded in Plymouth? It's still there, and it's Unitarian Universalist.

Imagine what the Puritans would think if they found out what's become of Provincetown.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if the French and Indians had driven the English out.

Having seen French Canadian driving I think almost everyone would just be dead.
posted by srboisvert at 9:48 AM on December 17, 2012


...are you seriously under the impression that the date for Christmas was chosen randomly? That it wasn't an effort to usurp existing Solstice celebrations?

I meant that some pagan festivals in some areas of the world happened to coincide with the date of Christmas, which was chosen for its relation to Easter for symbolic reasons. Christmas was merged with or replaced coinciding activities in various regions of the world ad hoc, not by design, and that makes sense because what else can you do when a more important holiday comes along?
posted by michaelh at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2012


Do you have a cite for that, michaelh? Because it sounds really different from my understanding of how the Church chose a date for Christmas. Granted, I was a teenage neopagan, so some of my ideas about how this all works are wrong, and I'd be happy to know more about how Christmas came to be.

But I've always understood -- from sources well outside my Fluffy Bunny teen years -- that Christmas is only on the Christian calendar because of pre-existing religious celebrations of the time which the Church wanted to cash in on. For example I've heard that Mithraism had a "god's birthday" type celebration that was set on December 25 specifically.
posted by Sara C. at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2012


I'm not an American, so maybe there's a lot of baggage there that I miss out on.

The Puritan-Calvinist heritage is of course tainted by witch hunting, but also by their well-known sociological and political beliefs in the so-called elect, with predestined salvation by God. One obvious sign of elect status is prosperity itself, widely believed to have come from God. Therefore, by implication, it can be seen as a terrible wrong to tax the wealthy for the benefit of the non-elect, who are all going to hell anyway.
posted by Brian B. at 10:20 AM on December 17, 2012


For example I've heard that Mithraism had a "god's birthday" type celebration that was set on December 25 specifically.

Yes, as the rebirth of the sun. This was also when the Christian sabbath was changed to Sunday, which was the holy day for Sol Invictus. Mithra was born in a cave from a virgin on Dec. 25. Mithraism and Christianity co-existed in Rome with many common origins, and both believed in pious deeds. The former was for soldiers and nobles and was disbanded and folded into the official Christian religion, which allowed women and slaves, but star watching was banned (which survives today as daily horoscopes).
posted by Brian B. at 10:27 AM on December 17, 2012



The Puritan-Calvinist heritage is of course tainted by witch hunting, but also by their well-known sociological and political beliefs in the so-called elect, with predestined salvation by God. One obvious sign of elect status is prosperity itself, widely believed to have come from God. Therefore, by implication, it can be seen as a terrible wrong to tax the wealthy for the benefit of the non-elect, who are all going to hell anyway.
posted by Brian B. at 10:20 AM on December 17 [+] [!]


Well, I think that membership in The Elect is really tied up in the idea of "competency" more than in opulence. Success was shown through self-sufficiency more than through the hoarding of wealth.

I do agree that the idea of The Elect is problematic though, and if I was talking about this over beers, I might extrapolate about certain modern American political tendencies that follow that path.

I think you're onto something there. I'd point to it as the greatest failing of that entire movement. I hadn't thought that a lot of Americans would even understand it, let alone levee criticism against the Puritans for it, but I could be wrong there. Mostly, I guess it's probably the witch thing, which for a number of reasons I don't believe to be terribly fair.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:08 AM on December 17, 2012


Yeah, but witch hunting was something that was done by many, many people in Europe in the 1600s though. James I was obsessed with witches (hence the witches in Macbeth). And there were plenty of witch-hunts in Catholic Europe. Saying Puritanism is remarkably flawed in that it is tainted by witch-hunts isn't entirely fair, as just about most of Christianity had that flaw at that time.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:31 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Christian co-opting of the Mithras festivals on Dec. 25 was a very specific and deliberate effort by the Roman Empire to culturally assimilate a competing mythological structure. It is the same thing they did with most every culture they conquered and incorporated - see also how they lifted basically the entire Greek pantheon some centuries prior. It's a great way to incorporate vastly different groups with varying belief and social structures - tell them to keep doing the same wacky shit they're already doing for the feast, and just let them know 'by the way, it's not Mithras who was born in the cave, it was our guy Jesus. More updates will follow.'
posted by FatherDagon at 12:25 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth: A History of Rome Christmas
posted by cthuljew at 1:52 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying Puritanism is remarkably flawed in that it is tainted by witch-hunts isn't entirely fair, as just about most of Christianity had that flaw at that time.

Not at that time. The American Puritans were among the last wave to go after witches, after it peaked in parts of Europe, even among reformers. New England did so under their own authority, designed to be a light and example to the world. It was a remarkable legal, social and political failure, often credited with destroying theocracy in America.
posted by Brian B. at 3:45 PM on December 17, 2012


...often credited with destroying theocracy in America.

I guess that's something we can all be Thankful for this holiday season.
posted by cthuljew at 3:50 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sara C, you can find some jumping off points in the Wikipedia article. The summary area discusses the dates. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas You can also do a cursory Google search for Christmas date Easter etc. I can't tell you where I first read it.
posted by michaelh at 5:31 PM on December 17, 2012


The Wikipedia article has no mention of Easter except as the second most popular time of year for Christians to attend church. It seems to say, consistent with every other source I've ever read, that the date of Christmas was set to coincide with pre-Christian religious celebrations.

It does sound like the date coincides nicely with the Annunciation, but that doesn't mean anything since I'd assume the date of the Annunciation is either arbitrary or counted back from the date of Christmas.
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2012


Here's a link that makes a case for an Easter/Annunciation connection (the idea that Christ was conceived the same calendrical day he died, and he died on the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar, which I guess corresponds to March 25).

I'm not sure about the provenance of the site, though. On the one hand, there's a veneer of scholarship happening, so it's not total bullshit. It seems to be the website of a legit archaeological publication. It mentions specific people who have promoted the theory that Christmas was set based on some kind of Easter/Annunciation correspondence, one of whom, Thomas J. Talley, seems to be for real -- he's a professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York, which is no janky bible college.

On the other hand, in my experience self-avowed Biblical Archaeologists tend to be explicitly devout Christians who probably don't like the whole "hurf durf it's all pagan anyway" aspects of Christmas lore. And their main source for a scholar promoting this idea is a theologian who wrote two books published by small presses for a theological audience, twenty years ago. So it's definitely not common knowledge or even the most widely accepted answer for how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25.
posted by Sara C. at 7:01 PM on December 17, 2012


Sara C, that's the link from the Wikipedia article. You're right I can't ask you to trust the author despite his credibility, but he cited a lot of primary sources with reputable published English translations and his math is sound. I agree that the wrong answer is more popular but it's not for good reasons, just lazy/bad scholarship.
posted by michaelh at 7:48 PM on December 17, 2012


I actually don't think "it's the solstice, stupid" is the wrong answer, at all.

I think both are right.

Also, note that only a very devout Christian (nowadays) knows when the Annunciation is, but even the most godless of heathens knows when Christmas is. I wonder which one is in the depths of midwinter and corresponds to an important astronomical phenomenon?
posted by Sara C. at 8:13 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


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